The Supreme Court Bench has failed to fill all of its vacant seats despite the repeated appeals made by retired justices and lawyers. As a consequence, the court currently does not have its complete complement of 21 justices, leading to an excessive workload on the existing jurists who are already overwhelmed with a significant number of cases. This has constituted a delay in the quick dispensation of justice.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, expressed his concern regarding the decreasing number of justices on the apex court bench and the resulting burden it has placed on their workload. During a valedictory ceremony for retired Supreme Court Justice Abdu Aboki on September 15, 2022, Ariwoola, who was then serving in an acting capacity, highlighted that the departure of one justice had led to an increased workload for the remaining jurists.
With the deaths of Justice Sylvester Nwali Ngwuta and Justice Centus Nweze as well as recent retirements of Justices Musa Muhammad Dattijo and Adamu Augie, the Supreme Court is now faced with a more precarious challenge. The number of justices has dwindled to just 10, the lowest it has ever been in contemporary history. Dattijo restated this fact in his valedictory speech in Abuja, last Friday, which has shaken the very foundations of the apex court in many ramifications. This development raises concerns among Nigerians who have long hoped for a swift dispensation of justice.
The authorities must make efforts to get on board enough Justices to boost their rank and avert a constitutional crisis.
Interestingly, over the past two decades, the Supreme Court has not been able to reach its full complement of 21 justices. This is noteworthy considering the continuously growing list of cases, partly due to the contentious and litigious nature of our democratic system. The court experienced a critical milestone in January 2017 when Uwani Abba-Aji was sworn in, bringing the total number of justices to 17. However, this period of success was short-lived.
Approximately two years later, former President Muhammadu Buhari acted upon a court order that sparked controversy and led to the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria at the time, Walter Onnoghen. Consequently, Onnoghen was ultimately removed from his position by the National Judicial Council. In addition, the retirements of Kumai Akaahs and Sidi Bage further diminished the number of justices to 14.
Efforts to increase the number of Supreme Court justices, both before and after the mentioned period, have been unsuccessful in achieving the desired results. Currently, the vacant positions remain unfilled. In June 2019, former President Muhammadu Buhari requested the immediate past CJN, Tanko Muhammad, to commence the process of appointing an additional five Justices to complete the total of 21 Justices. However, despite several years passing since this directive was given, it has yet to be implemented.
At the moment, the chances of litigants receiving quick justice are very low. Court appeals can drag on for years, even decades, leading to some litigants passing on before their cases are resolved.
Onnoghen had alerted the nation that the court’s schedule was booked until 2021 with appeals, reiterating this in January 2019. For example, the Supreme Court rejected 14 pre-election suits in January 2019, before the main elections, citing Section 285 of the Constitution. The 2019 pre-election and general election cases, which had a time-sensitive nature, gave rise to a backlog of cases.
Consequently, there were delays in non-election litigations and a substantial burden placed on the judges, allowing them very little time for personal matters and their families. In contrast, in other jurisdictions, their highest courts are actively making noteworthy contributions to the field of jurisprudence.
Certainly, the workload of the Supreme Court has indeed increased significantly over the years, resulting in an immense burden. In light of this, we propose the implementation of a decentralised apex court structure. This entails establishing divisions within the Supreme Court dedicated to each state or the nation’s six geopolitical zones, akin to the structure observed in the Court of Appeals. The purpose of this arrangement is to foster a robust federal structure, ensuring that matters related to the states or the interpretation and application of state laws are addressed at the respective state Supreme Court level.
Few interpretations of Constitution and policy cases, as well as local matters like land disputes and commercial transactions, will reach the Supreme Court in Abuja.
Establishing court divisions in each state or geopolitical zone would ensure that such local cases are handled at the highest court within the state, while only a select few cases of national significance or trans-border commerce would be escalated to the apex court, thereby reducing the workload of the Supreme Court. A filtration system should be established to determine the kind of cases to be heard by the highest court.
In 1976, the Court of Appeal had three divisions in Lagos, Enugu, and Kaduna. However, to reduce travel distance, and cost, and enhance efficiency, there are now 19 divisions. It is noteworthy that while the Court of Appeal is expanding, the Supreme Court remains unchanged. Therefore, President Bola Tinubu should prioritise reforms that facilitate the swift promotion of Court of Appeal justices to the Supreme Court.
Considering the possibility of other Justices retiring soon, it would be prudent for the President to formally request the Chief Justice of Nigeria for additional nominees. This would help strengthen the numerical capacity of the court to a satisfactory level in the immediate future. As a more lasting solution, we propose the revision of the Constitution to limit the President’s authority in appointing Supreme Court Justices. Instead, a neutral entity should be entrusted with this responsibility.
Having 21 justices for Nigeria’s apex court may be appropriate. The United States Supreme Court has nine justices, while the United Kingdom and Canada have 12 and nine, respectively. In the US, around 7,000 to 8,000 new cases are filed each term. Nigeria’s challenge lies in using technology to enhance justice administration and optimise constitutional arrangements.
Stop Privatisation Of TCN, Others
The Trade Union Congress (TUC) of Nigeria is strongly opposing the Federal Government’s plans
to privatise the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), Nigeria Post and Telecommunications Services (NIPOST), and Federal Medical Centres (FMCs) across the country.
The labour union said it was antithetical to the last-minute rush to privatise the assets, despite the previous administration having only a few weeks left to depart. At the union’s National Executive Meeting held in Abuja towards the end of President Buhari’s tenure. TUC President, Festus Osifoh, asked the Federal Government to halt the distribution of N8 billion which had been reportedly released for the asset unbundling of NIPOST until the incoming government took over.
TUC recalled that the previous privatisation of public resources during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration lacked transparency and favoured regime officials and their cronies. Additionally, many of the privatised entities were unstable as the State continued to provide monetary assistance, particularly for the DisCos and GenCos.
We support the TUC’s stance on the privatisation of public assets. The decision to privatise should be left for the President Tinubu-led administration to handle. Privatisation, if executed properly, can bring in capital, expertise, and best practices for the administration of state-owned enterprises.
However, the privatisation of the energy sector in Nigeria, which took place 10 years ago, has not yielded the desired results. In fact, the power supply condition in the country has regressed. Despite a report by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) that the Federal Government has subsidised electricity supply in the country with N35.27 billion, the position remains dire.
Nigeria’s electricity supply is currently oscillating between 5,000 and 7,000 megawatts, which is inadequate for a country with a population of over 200 million. The 11 DisCos and three GenCos are facing various challenges such as under-capitalisation, debts, and technical difficulties, which are affecting their ability to deliver expected services to Nigerians. Unfortunately, five of these companies have been taken over by banks because of their financial distress.
This current state of the power sector demands a complete review of the energy privatisation programme. It is evident that the intended objectives of the privatisation exercise have not been met. To resolve the issues plaguing the sector, it is crucial to acknowledge that a hasty privatisation of the transmission company may not provide a permanent solution. A repositioning of the sector is necessary to ensure better performance and meet the expectations of Nigerians.
The TCN’s technical and commercial inefficiency can be traced back to the public sector management that dominated the electricity sector before privatisation. The transmission system, or national grid, is inadequate to handle the total generation capacity, and the authorities have been slow to expand it.
The privatisation of the transmission arm of the power sector by the Federal Government should be approached with caution. The Tide has always advocated the sale of national assets with prudence. Developing economies require significant State intervention in infrastructure development because of their fragility. However, private-public partnerships can still play a role.
The DisCos have been frequently requesting bailouts, despite receiving enormous sums of government intervention. This shows that Nigeria is not yet prepared for full-scale capitalism. If the TCN is sold quickly, it will cause perpetual economic enslavement for the country. Therefore, any government asset privatisation must adhere to processes that encourage competition, enhance efficiency, and decrease direct government participation in their operations.
Since its inception in 2004, the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) has privatised 142 enterprises, but regrettably, 37 per cent of them (52) are not performing well. The BPE has attributed this poor performance to the hostile business environment in the country, which has caused many private or privatised national enterprises to either close or move to neighbouring countries.
The Nigerian government has been attempting to privatise Nigeria Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) for almost a decade because of the poor state of its fixed-line infrastructure and high levels of debt. Despite Nigeria being one of the world’s fastest-growing telecoms markets, NITEL’s established lines have decreased to fewer than 100,000 from five times that amount in 2001. The total number of subscribers to its Nigeria Mobile Telecommunication (MTEL) mobile unit has dropped to a few thousand from over 1 million. The latest attempt to sell the firm is just one in a string of efforts by the government.
Unfortunately, the greed of past Nigerian leaders has raised questions about the efficiency of our privatisation programme. Clarity and accountability are crucial in privatisation, but Nigeria’s history of corruption has created distrust and suspicion. To address this issue, separate auditing and legislature oversight committees should be established to monitor privatisation deals and prevent fraud.
Transparency in privatisation can create a perception of honesty and accountability, reducing mistrust from citizens. If carried out with sincerity, divestment can benefit various groups. Workers become shareholders, consumers receive better services, fresh graduates and the unemployed can secure jobs following expansion, and the government is relieved of subsidies or subventions.
Towards Sustainable Food Security
On October 16, 1979, a global movement was initiated by over 150 countries to acknowledge the vital impact food has on human lives. World Food Day was established to raise awareness about food security concerns and foster unity in the battle against hunger. This year’s event took place on Monday, October 16, emphasising the importance of addressing food-related challenges.
Resently, the Federal Government added a new impetus to this clarion call with the recognition of and declaration of Nigerian Farmers’ Day to celebrate the hardwork and sacrifices of farmers across the country to provide much-needed food for every citizen of the country. This ties into the global effort to ensure food security for humanity.
The global challenges of climate change and the conflict in Ukraine have raised concerns about the security of supply chains, which has resulted in higher prices for food commodities. This increase in prices is causing worries, particularly in the Middle East and African nations where people are especially vulnerable to food crises. The situation is creating unease among communities as they face the potential consequences of limited access to affordable and healthy food.
Every year, World Food Day focuses on a different subject, highlighting the importance of various aspects of food production and consumption. In the past, themes such as ‘Family Farming’ in 2014 and ‘Our Actions Are Our Future’ in 2018 had been chosen. For the year 2023, the theme is, “Water Is Life, Water Is Food. Leave No One Behind.” It makes the vital connection between water and food. Without water, there is no food, and there is no food security without water security.
The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Dr QU Dongyu, rightly emphasised this when he highlighted the importance of prioritising water in policies and planning across various sectors. He outlined five key actions that need to be taken to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). He also called for stronger partnerships between governments, the private sector, academia, civil society, and all stakeholders to work together for a secure water future.
Over the years, Nigeria has been putting efforts aimed at ensuring food security. Part of it was the establishment of the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), in line with its developmental functions as enshrined in Section 31 of the CBN Act 2007. The ABP was established to create economic linkages between smallholder farmers (SHFs) and reputable companies (anchors) involved in the production and processing of key agricultural commodities.
The core aim of the programme is to provide loans (in kind and cash) to smallholder farmers to boost agricultural production, create jobs, and reduce food import bills towards the conservation of foreign reserves. However, stakeholders and farmers alike have argued that despite the huge investment in the programme, Nigeria is yet to boast of food sufficiency, because the majority of the targetted audience of the programme who are farmers have not benefited from it.
Nigeria has ample resources and land for agriculture, allowing it to produce its food. To boost agribusiness, the government should prioritise improving its profitability and attractiveness. Technological advancements are needed to manufacture farm tools and equipment for mechanised farming. Additionally, addressing terrorism is crucial for creating a safe environment that allows farmers to resume operations.
Before crude oil discovery in 1956, Nigeria’s economy relied on agriculture as a primary source of foreign exchange. In recent years, the country has shifted its focus to agriculture as a revenue stream to reduce dependence on oil. During the 2016 recession, the agriculture sector grew by 4.1per cent, while the oil sector shrunk by 13.7per cent. However, Nigeria continues to grapple with food insecurity and meeting domestic demand despite this growth.
Interestingly, as the world observed the World Food Day, the Rivers State Governor, Sir Siminalayi Fubara, decided to revive the Songhai Rivers Initiative Farms, aligning with the United Nation’s goal of achieving Zero Hunger by 2030. This initiative aims to promote sustainable agriculture practices, provide farmer training, and enhance food security in the State. The governor’s investment in these efforts addresses immediate food security concerns and ensures long-term sustainability in the region.
The Songhai Rivers Initiative Farms, established in 1980, has encountered various challenges that have hindered its productivity. Fortunately, the governor has stepped in to tackle these issues and ensure the farms can flourish. Through the governor’s intervention, the necessary infrastructure, equipment, and resources are being provided to support the farms.
Revamping the Songhai Farms marks a momentous stride towards attaining food security in the state. This initiative, through the generation of employment opportunities and enhancement of agricultural productivity, will fortify its economy. Furthermore, it will elevate food security not only for the residents of Rivers State but also for the neighbouring states, propelling the state into a central role within the framework of sustainable food security.
The governor’s dedication to revitalising the farms is truly commendable, as it not only addresses local concerns but also aligns with global initiatives to combat hunger and enhance food security. In line with this, the United Nations has designated 2023 as the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables, emphasising the imperative of healthy diets in achieving sustainable development.
World Food Day 2023 is a critical event that underscores the importance of a sustainable food system capable of providing healthy and nutritious food for everyone. It serves as an opportunity for people to unite and explore strategies to eradicate hunger and enhance nutrition, particularly among vulnerable populations.
Therefore, the resuscitation of the Songhai Rivers Initiative Farms is laudable and appropriate, as it demonstrates the Rivers State Government’s commitment to enhancing food security within the State. This initiative not only aims to improve agricultural practices but also aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger by 2030.
Curbing Underage Prostitution
Needless to say, the reality of child abuse and prostitution is an apodictic phenomenon in Nigeria, as in many developing and developed countries. This development has become an agonising threat, with multiple correlated implications, in addition to denying the fundamental rights and dignity of children as acknowledged in the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The attention this incident draws is based on the awareness of the prominence of children in families and societies as future generations and leaders of tomorrow. And as potential standard-bearers of any nation, they need to be properly cared for and nurtured, thereby providing an enabling environment for them to develop their potential to take on such great responsibilities.
Child prostitution has devastating consequences for children individually and society as a whole. Undermining these consequences can lead to serious and far-reaching problems, not only for individuals but for society as well. To address the threat, law enforcement agents have been conducting raids on brothels and residences across the country to apprehend those involved in the dastardly act.
For example, the police in Lagos State emancipated 24 ladies including a 13-year-old who were trafficked from Akwa Ibom State for prostitution. Four members of the syndicate that brought the girls, most of them from Oron in Akwa Ibom, were also arrested. The trafficked girls were rescued in shanties used as hotels around an abattoir area at Agege. Preliminary investigations revealed that the traffickers charged men N2,000 to sleep with the girls who were then given N5,000 at the end of the month.
Furthermore, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) arrested eight underaged girls in Benin, the Edo State capital, for allegedly contravening section 17 of the Agency’s Act. The arrest was made by the Benin Zonal Command of the agency, comprising Edo and Delta States. The arrest of the underaged girls followed a raid on two brothels in the Aduwawa axis of the state.
Similarly, the Rivers State Police Command recently said its operatives rescued three underaged girls and arrested three male suspects during a raid on a brothel at Azikiwe Street, Mile Two, Diobu, Port Harcourt, the state capital. Policemen from Rumuolumeni alerted the Azikiwe Police Division following a complaint from a relative of one of the underaged girls, who was compelled into prostitution. The list is endless.
Nigeria has numerous underaged girls living and making a living in the streets. This has been attributed to economic factors and exposure to all forms of risks. The result is the proliferation of prostitution among young people, with its attendant problems. The causes of child prostitution in the country are largely economic, sociological, and socioeconomic factors. The effects of prostitution are psychological reactions, psychosocial damage, and political implications, which dent the nation’s image.
NAPTIP recently lamented that about 60 per cent of the female sex hawkers in Italy were Nigerians. It described the situation as not only pathetic but “highly unacceptable.” In other words, there is no question about whether the population of Nigerian girls who are engaged in sex hawking in the European country is sizeable because it is indeed significantly so. This is awful and constitutes a monumental national embarrassment.
By the agency’s disclosure, it is evident that many of the federal and state governments’ intervention schemes to curb underage prostitution have been largely ineffective and inadequate. Many wives of the heads of subnational governments are also known to have pet projects whose objectives are partly woven around the curtailment of this menace, but those projects too have failed to achieve the desired results. This is disconcerting.
Many young Nigerians are discontented, and some of them do considerable atrocious things to survive. However, while it is true that the seemingly intractable socioeconomic challenges of the country pose a veritable allurement for people to take precipitate actions to survive, there are also the issues of weak moral fabric and warped value system that make some young people and adults alike to disparage ethical, moral and sometimes legal abuttals in their quest for survival.
The questions are: how did we get to this contemptible state? How come that young girls who ought to be at school are flaunting the major streets of Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Ibadan and other cities, hawking their half-naked bodies to any willing buyer? Why has sex become the fad among many students of our institutions? Where lies the future of these young ladies, and what can society do to protect their nobility?
More irksome is the all-embracing organised sex trafficking, even within the country. Many young Nigerian girls are being trafficked from one state of the federation to the other just for sex. Recent research conducted by Sympathy Worldwide Foundation, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) fighting sex slavery and child trafficking, reveals that several young girls are being trafficked from the hinterland to the cities but as the promises of their “do-gooders” fail, the girls take to the streets to use the same means to help themselves.
We call on the government at all levels, anti-prostitution NGOs, parents, churches, mosques, the police and all relevant stakeholders to take concrete steps to end prostitution which is still a crime in our law. People trading in prostitution or keeping brothels should be prosecuted, while men patronising, defiling or seducing our young girls should be brought to justice. The relevant authorities should also intensify their spirited campaigns against the illicit act.
Since poverty and unemployment are the major causes of prostitution, our governing authorities should stop paying lip service to these deprivations. The family institution needs to be re-invigorated. If parents were at home performing their parental obligations, their daughters would probably not have taken to the streets. Nigeria possesses an enviable rich cultural and religious heritage which includes living a chaste life and respect for the body and soul.
We have ascertained that neighbourhood and peer influence, weak financial, emotional and spiritual support, and molestation experience are some causes of child prostitution. We all must deploy strategies to massively generate awareness of the consequences of engaging in multiple sexual acts among the girl-child. This will help dishearten potential child prostitutes in the country.
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