By: Hameed Ajibola Jimoh Esq.
It is always said in an adage that ‘a child beaten (in a high degree) is bound to cry’! This adage is regarded as a metaphor in this article in relation to the social injustice in Nigeria! Hence, this topic.
Social Justice is justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society. See: Wikipedia online. Also, social justice refers to a fair and equitable division of resources, opportunities, and privileges in society. Therefore, social justice is the belief that the social benefits and privileges of a society ought to be divided fairly. Social justice is worth pursuing because it defends people from suffering deprivations due to unfair prejudices and because it tries to provide everyone with the essentials for a good life. It is sometimes referred to as ‘distributive justice’. Hence, social justice emphasizes ‘inclusion’ and ‘fairness’. See: investopedia.com. ‘Social injustice’ on the other hand, refers to wrongful actions against individuals within society. This occurs when the unequal get treated equally while equals get treated unequally. Homophobia, ageism, and discrimination are three common social injustice examples. See: scalar.case.edu/fsso-11.
In Nigeria, with due respect, it has often been said that ‘military rule’ in the Nigerian history was the worst of rules that Nigeria ever experienced, considering some of the ills that accompanied that regime. However, ‘democracy rules’ in Nigeria have not been ‘fair’ in difference to the military regime! In my humble view, Democracy rules in Nigeria only become the worst of the two regimes. Chapter II of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended)-herein after referred to as the Constitution provides in section 17 for Social Objectives thus ‘17.—(1) The State social order is founded on ideals of Freedom, Equality and Justice. (2) In furtherance of the social order— (a) every citizen shall have equality of rights, obligations and opportunities before the law; (b) the sanctity of the human person shall be recognised and human dignity shall be maintained and enhanced; (c) government actions shall be humane ; (d) exploitation of human or natural resources in any form whatsoever for reasons other than the good of the community shall be prevented; and (e) the independence, impartiality and integrity of courts of law, and easy accessibility thereto shall be secured and maintained. (3) The State shall direct its policy towards ensuring that— (a) all citizens without discrimination on any group whatsoever, have the opportunity for securing adequate means of livelihood as well as adequate opportunities to secure suitable employment ; (b) conditions of work are just and humane, and that there are adequate facilities for leisure and for social, religious and cultural life ; (c) the health, safety and welfare of all persons in employment are safeguarded and not endangered or abused ; (d) there are adequate medical and health care facilities for all persons ; (e) there is equal pay for equal work without discrimination on account of sex, or on any other ground whatsoever; (f) children, young persons, the aged are protected against any exploitation whatsoever, and against moral and material neglect ; (g) provision is made for public assistance in deserving cases or other conditions of need ; and (h) the evolution and promotion of family life is encouraged.’. In Nigeria, rather than a ‘social order’ to exist, some of what have been existing so far from my humble view, is ‘social disorder’. Also, rather than there to be a ‘social justice’, some of what have been existing so far from my humble view, is ‘social injustice’! All thanks to some of our politicians! Citizens do not enjoy equal rights, obligations and opportunities despite the existence of law establishing equality before the law! Some well influential and politically connected citizens seem to enjoy such unequal rights i.e. higher rights than those enjoyed by other less privileged citizens. Sanctity of the human person is not recognized and human dignity has been so suspended to such extent that human dignity of citizens has been deprived of less privileged citizens by some of the government’s security and law enforcement agencies. There has been exploitation of human and natural resources in a corrupt manner, which is contrary to the good of the community and the national interest, notwithstanding that there are laws and established government agencies aimed at preventing such corrupt practices in Nigeria. Just of recent, the Economic and Financial Crimes and Commission (EFCC) was reported by the media to have said that the recently suspended Accountant-General of the Federation returned properties worth over 30 billion naira illegally and corruptly acquired by him. Also, some politicians who were convicted and sentenced by courts of law have been granted Presidential pardon against the crimes which bothered on ‘corruption’, while other citizens continue to lavish in the prison! The independence, impartiality and integrity of courts of law, and easy accessibility thereto have not been maintained as envisaged by the Constitution. Also see Articles 3 and 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, 1990, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (2004 as amended). From this provision, it is clear that the door to approach a court of law in time of need is open to every citizen of Nigeria without any discrimination. Also, this right to access Nigerian courts are also conferred on even a foreigner whose country is a member of the African Unity, as the words used in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, 1990, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (2004 as amended) is ‘individual’ and not ‘citizen’ as used in the Constitution to only cover only Nigerian citizens. This right to access Nigerian courts in compliance with laid down procedures is also conferred on every individual who is a member of the United Nations as conferred by Articles 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights Resolution 219A (III) of 10, December, 1948, to which Nigeria is a member. To this point being made by the above referenced laws, it is clear that the right of every citizen of Nigeria to access the court of law for remedy is sacrosanct. Nevertheless, here comes the challenge of citizens departing from the path of approach to court for judicial determination rather, they engage in self-help, jungle justice, vengeance, retaliation, among others. It must however be clarified that it is not really that those citizens or individuals do not know that court of law exists or that the court is to be approached for redress, but because, the trust that majority of citizens have in the judiciary is dying though in a gradual process due to social injustice in the system! Citizens no more have faith in a just determination of disputes by the impartial umpire- the Court- and in the court’s system rather they prefer to do their things or decide their matters in their own ways, the situation which if allowed to stand, would lead to anarchy and chaos making things to fall apart and forbidding the center to hold itself together. It is important for the reader and the government to be bothered by this sudden gradual loss of judicial status as the last hope of the common man and to investigate the likely causes of this great challenge. In my humble view and with my respectful reasoning, I have observed some of these causes which I would like to share. I understand that though, there might be contrary view from the reader, this view remains mine as I reason. One of the causes is the alleged judicial bribery and corruption which has had its way into some judicial officers. Members of the public no doubt, do not forget these allegations so easily. It remains in their memory and forms parts of their considerations in dealing with the judiciary or the way that they perceive the judiciary. The National Judicial Council which is the symbol of the judiciary and the Courts must continue to do its best by ensuring that allegation of corruption against any judicial officer is duly investigated and the perpetrator should be disclosed and not to be covered to be allowed to escape disciplinary measures/punishments. Also, the National Judicial Council should keep sensitizing members of the public on the courage to report any suspected corrupt practices against any judicial officer as judges are also not exempted from discipline by the National Judicial Council. Judicial appointment should also be on merit for those qualified as required by law. Another cause in my humble view, is compiled cases in court which is experienced in the Nigerian courts starting from the lower courts to the Supreme Court of Nigeria. The court is becoming very difficult to have a quick determination of disputes, despite that justice delayed is justice denied! Due to the number of adjournments in even tenancy matter in court, a landlord is compelled to tolerate recalcitrant or stubborn tenant to remain on his premises for many years more in addition to the tenant’s refusal or inability to pay his rent. There is no doubt that a court system will not effectively work where a judge has to sit to hear about not less than twenty (20) cases a day and will have to record proceedings in his hand written, give ruling and or judgment as the circumstances determine, etc. Even at the Court of Appeal, adjournment is a curse! Even at the Supreme Court of Nigeria, it has been reported that no date for a fresh matter earlier than the year 2024 (though, I do not know how true this fact is). So, how will a litigant believe in a crawling judicial process?! These adjournments have occasioned a compilation of cases in court as cases keep approaching the courts for determination. This overwhelming cases in court awaiting judicial determination have caused a setback in the relationship between the bench and the bar as both now engage in confrontation at some occasions even though they are all Ministers in the Temple of Justice! Judges no more have the relief to have time to converse and communicate with the bar. Some Senior Advocates of Nigeria too, with due respect, make narrations that also take away the time of the court. Judges now function as personnel undergoing pressures. Another pressure is that National Judicial Council must not query them, so, they have to just do their best! Furthermore, judges are human beings. They undergo all natural characteristics of human beings. So, they could not work as a robot. No matter their passion and dedication to hear matters, they have to relax and prepare for their official duties. So, there is the need for them to also not over burden themselves with compilations of cases. Also, executive interference in the independence of the judiciary is another challenge. Executive arm of government at both the Federal and State Governments, have been alleged to disobey validly made courts’ orders. This situation annoys the trust of the members of the public in approaching a court of law, especially the poor and the less privileged. Poor budget allocation to the judiciary is another cause. All these make the majority of members of the public to always cry for social justice like ‘a child’ beaten in the high degree!
Furthermore, government’s policies at both the Federal and the State governments have not ensured that all citizens, without discrimination on any group whatsoever, have the opportunity for securing adequate means of livelihood as well as adequate opportunity to secure suitable employment as mandated by section 17(3) of the Constitution. Employment opportunities have always been not on merit and on fairness and equality! There has been discrimination in consideration of employment including appointments to government’s offices. Also, conditions of work are majorly unjust and humane, and there has been no adequate facilities for leisure and for social, religious and cultural life. In fact, some private work places, have a serious disregard for social, religious and cultural life of their employees. Also, the Constitution in section 17(3)(c) mandates that the health, safety and welfare of all person in employment are safeguarded and not endangered or abused. In real sense, there have been cases of unhealthy working environments in some of our employments. Also, section 17(3)(d) of the Constitution mandates that government’s policy shall ensure that there are adequate medical and health facilities for all persons. Despite this important provisions of the Constitution and other Health Laws, some of our medical facilities are almost becoming the worst! Medical negligence arising from: wrong medical advice; wrong laboratory diagnosis; wrong medical prescription; wrong medical surgery; etc., have become the norms in medical facilities (both public and private). So, if one is to check the requirements of this section 17 of the Constitution, one would realise that they have been in disregard than in compliance! This section 17 being Chapter II of the Constitution has been held to be non-justiciable and this worsens the unjust social conditions of the nation.
Furthermore, section 14(2)(c) of the Constitution has mandated every government to provide security and welfare for the citizens as a primary purpose of government. Nevertheless this provision, terrorism and economic hardship have taken over the life experiences of the citizens. Commodities in markets are not affordable to the common citizens and kidnappers have almost held the entire nation hostage by incessant kidnapping and successful demand and receiving ransoms from their numerous victims and even taxing communities for materials, else, they risk their lives and properties!
Finally, therefore, in my humble view, majority of the Nigerian citizens have been beaten in high degree and so, they are bound to cry as a result of the social injustice that has pervaded Nigeria as a country! Hence, this paper humbly calls for compliance with the provision of section 17 and 14(2)(c) of the Constitution by the Nigerian government and some of her influential and connected citizens so as to ensure ‘justice, fairness and equality for all’!
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!