ENHANCING TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY IN THE JUDICIAL SECTOR
In October 2016, while most Nigerians slept, the Department of Secret Services (DSS) conducted a raid on some private residences in different parts of the country. It was discovered that the DSS had raided the homes of 9 Court Judges which eventually led to their arrest. They were arrested on allegations of corruption and financial impropriety. This incident and the series of events that followed brought to bear once again one of the salient issues Nigeria is plagued with which is corruption.
Prior to this event, an ‘idea’ had been birthed, with the aim of tackling the scourge of corruption in the country, with a focus on the third arm of government- The Nigerian Judiciary. This idea was borne out of the evident need for reform in the Nigerian Judiciary, emphasized by the increasing loss of trust by Nigerians in the court system, and the country’s anti-corruption institutions. A public perception survey conducted in 2013 revealed that, 15 percent of respondents stated that lower court officials were likely to demand bribes from citizens, while 14 percent believed that the same was likely among the higher court officials. The public rightfully perceives that very few instances of corruption will have serious consequences, thus corrupt officials continue to perpetuate themselves with impunity. Concurrently, another survey found that among all Nigerian institutions stained with corruption, the Nigerian courts received the largest bribes with respect to total amount per bribe from citizens.
It was based on this that the Rule of Law and Empowerment Initiative also known as Partners West Africa Nigeria (PWAN) with support from PartnersGlobal, conceptualised and implemented the ‘Social Accountability in the Judicial Sector’ project funded by the United States Embassy Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL), from June 2016 to May 2017 in the FCT and Kano state, with the aim of improving integrity, accountability and transparency in the judicial sector. The project utilized the innovative Court Observation Methodology; which involved engaging ordinary Nigerians including young persons and women as court observers to- (1) Monitor Daily Court Proceedings; (2) Monitor Selected Criminal and Anti- Corruption Cases; and (3) Determine Court User Satisfaction using Court User Survey Questionnaires. The project released findings from the court observation on a quarterly basis, which were shared with relevant stakeholders such as the Judiciary, as well as the general public.
PWAN encountered challenges at the initial stage of implementation, especially with access to the courts, as the project aimed to demystify court processes; an objective which wasn’t received too well by some, especially coming after the arrest of Judges by the DSS. PWAN was able to mitigate this through strategic engagement with stakeholders including the Judiciary, Nigeria Bar Association, media to mention a few which led to provision of access to court proceedings, as well as specific court documents.
The project has become our flagship project because it has contributed to improving transparency and citizens’ access to the judiciary by providing information which helps stakeholders to better understand the structure and how the judiciary work. For example we found that there are no time lines to guide administrative processes in the courts from the time the cases are filed at the registries, assigned by the Chief Judges, to when the files are moved to the assigned to the court where the matter is to be heard.
PWAN also developed a ‘Court Observer App’, which aimed to replicate the project all over the country, and ensure sustainability of the initiative, by providing a platform for lawyers, judicial staff, and court observers to monitor court proceedings.
The success of the project also prompted other Civil Society Organizations such as CLEEN Foundation and Centre for Socio Legal Studies (CSLS); and Government Organisations, specifically the Presidential Committee on Anti-Corruption (PACAC), to adopt the court observation methodology, in their efforts to contribute to criminal justice sector reform. PWAN is contributing to strengthening the platform for engagement between Civil Society and the Judiciary, which in turn has improved external accountability mechanisms for the Nigerian Courts.
PWAN has taken the methodology one step further, by observing the level of compliance to the Administration of Criminal Justice Act/ Law in the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, Lagos and Ondo States, via a project which is currently being funded by the MacArthur Foundation. It is our hope that this project achieves more successes than its predecessor, and also contributes to our objective of Enhancing Citizens’ Participation and Improving Security Governance in Nigeria and West Africa broadly.
 http://www.thisdaylive.com/articles/all-eyes-on-courts-as-judges-take-seats, http://www.premiumtimesng.com/opinion/101606-the-role-of-the-judiciary-in-combating-corruption-in-nigeria-by-tayo-oyetibo-san