On October 10th, 2019, the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), saddled with the responsibilities “to facilitate collaboration and partnership building with relevant institutions and arms of government and the public sector to achieve buy-in, and involvement and public support” as one of its seven terms of reference; recommended the re-establishment of a jury system for criminal cases, especially corruption cases to President Muhammadu Buhari.
This is aimed at ensuring public participation of Nigerians in the anti-corruption fight, and n government as enshrined in Section 14 subsection 2C of the Nigerian constitution which states that “the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this constitution”.
Indeed, the jury system is considered as justice of the people, by the people and for the people via the verdicts of an empaneled jury in court. Upon the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999, most Nigerians sucked in a lot of optimism that the new democracy would blow a wind of change that would make all Nigeria’s problems become history.
Too much had gone wrong during the 16 long years of unbroken military era (between 1983 – 1999) that democracy seemed to be the magic wand that would right all wrongs and restore all the locust years.
President Olusegun Obasanjo (GCFR) who was key figure in the regime that abolished the citizens driven jury justice system in 1976, was inaugurated as the fourth republic’s first President. But it looked as though his only avenue for public participation in governance would be by elections.
Corruption, bad governance and injustice settled in quickly with that government, until Nigeria’s corruption perception became a global opprobrium that the Independent Corruption Practices and other related offenses Commission (ICPC) was established in 2000 and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in 2002.
By this time, corruption had taken firm root in our national polity and become institutional and a means of transaction. Subsequently, the cost of corruption had to be factored into every transaction cum business that was to be undertaken, especially with government agencies and officials.
It slowly began to dawn on the average Nigerian and general public that corruption is indeed of no advantage to the masses like it is to the public officers. For every Naira the masses make via corruption, the political class makes a thousand dollars, leaving us worse off as helpless losers.
Two goals now became important to the masses: how to stop corruption in government and injustice and bad governance; and how to integrate the masses in the process of achieving the first goal. Civil society organizations began to multiply and more Nigerians started engaging in activism; however, this calling was for an exclusive few whose recommendations could not be enforced on government because they have no role legitimately conferred on them by the law.
Since politics is a game of number, so also has become the fight against corruption and injustice. What the corrupt may have in excess (funds to keep corruption fighting back, the masses lack; but what we have in excess, numerical strength, they lack). The real question is how to galvanize this number in such a way that we’d all speak in the same voice in condemning corruption and injustice and bad governance.
On the other hand, beyond the beer parlors and the streets where jungle justice, which leads to no sustainable change, prevails; where would the voice of the citizens ring loudest, carry more weight, gain legitimacy and be binding on all irrespective of class or creed?
“The jury system is designed to be practiced in the hallowed chambers of the temple of justice, which is enough legitimacy conferred on the citizenry to determine the social order and any verdict cum decision reached as a jury panel is in exercise of the equal rights as stakeholders in the country”.
Well, thus far, the judiciary has been the only indispensable arm of government with the powers cum authority to interpret our constitution. Little wonder the manga carta law instituted in England in 1215, focused on enforcing social order, resisting injustice and promoting good governance by putting what the political class lacks, numerical strength of the citizens behind a process that establishes jury system as the vanguard of the will of the people.
The jury system is designed to be practiced in the hallowed chambers of the temple of justice, which is enough legitimacy conferred on the citizenry to determine the social order and any verdict cum decision reached as a jury panel is in exercise of the equal rights as stakeholders in the country.
So, what is a jury system? A jury system is the judicial process that empanels citizens as public adjudicators to review the evidence and facts of a case in order to give a verdict of guilty or not guilty for criminal offenses; and in the case of a grand jury, investigate a person or group of persons to indict them or determine if there is enough incriminating evidence against such person that would warrant a prosecution.
The magna Carter Law which is the principle behind the jury system also stipulates that “No free man shall be arrested, or imprisoned, or deprived of his property, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any way destroyed, nor shall we go against him or send against him, unless by legal judgement of his peers, in tandem with the law of the land.”
Contemporary, do we have the good governance, the human right and dignity, access to justice, fair and equitable justice and other qualities which the Magna Carta law promises and guarantees? How many Nigerians even know their rights compared to citizens in Jury practicing countries and can enforce it?
It would stupefy you how much rights citizens’ have enshrined in the Nigerian constitution, but because we have zero interaction with the constitution that binds us together as a people which has become a mere book cum abstract document only sacred to the lawyers.
Interestingly, even the law enforcement agents find it so easy to cross the lines because they are hardly challenged by citizens citing the contents of the constitutional provisions, and they as law enforcement personnel’s cannot be guided by constitutional provisions which is barely understood and is a power to citizens which they would continually be depriving us its utilization until we can find a way to make it (the provisions of the constitution) work for us.
The jury system is likened to raising cum training citizens soldiers by making them jurors; organizing the soldiers into an orderly group of army by giving us ranks and specific roles as a legitimately empaneled jury; then arming us with the powers of the constitution to by putting the empaneled jury in the hallowed temple of justice to adjudicate on cases and give verdict based on the facts of the case where the judge guides as the technocrat war veteran based on issues of the law.
“With a jury system, there shall be no sacred cows because the army of jurors (coupled with the success of the whistle blowers policy) scattered across public and private organizations would make it uncomfortable for anyone to be corrupt”.
Who would not fear and respect a well armed and organized army of determined, selfless, fair, honest, equitable and patriotic personnel’s led by veteran Generals? This is what a blend of incorruptible judges and credible jurors would be- feared and respected; with the sanctity of the temple of justice unable to be desecrated.
Fighting corruption and injustice has been one of the many battles the jury system was designed to fight, because the level of institutional corruption being promoted by the political class who reap bountifully compared to the masses who lose more than we can ever gain in terms of infrastructure deficits, poverty and low standard of living, low human capital development, now requires the force and power of this well respected and armed army of jurors.
The fight against corruption is a collective responsibility, as it breeds injustice in its wake! Where the average Nigerian had been playing along collecting stipends from corrupt deals initiated by the top brass, because of the fear of the ramifications of standing alone, and the entire employees finds it arduous to unite against their boss because of the alarming rate of injustice where the boss would always get away with acts of corruption either because the authorities to discipline play by the same rules or he can easily get a pliable non-veteran judge to do his bidding;
The presence of a staff who had served as a juror in a jury panel who has worked with a veteran incorrupt judge to find a corrupt public officer guilty, would cause any public officer to jettison acts of corruption, knowing that he would meet with huge resistance if he tries to continue to cow his staffs to be corrupt, and an army of witnesses would be fearless to act as witness when he is tried by an organized empaneled jury army.
With a jury system, there shall be no sacred cows because the army of jurors (coupled with the success of the whistle blowers policy) scattered across public and private organizations would make it uncomfortable for anyone to be corrupt.
The menace of corrupt judges would also be tackled. Judges who have initially made themselves pliable to corrupt persons in the past would easily be identified. In the past, if instances of corrupt judges were not reported, it stayed within the legal professionals corridor. But where the general public and citizenry have become an integral part of the adjudication process, an instance of subversion of justice attempted by any presiding judge in a jury trial would announce such judge to the whole nation as corrupt.
There would be no way therefore for corrupt judges to ply his trade in the full glare of jurors and the nation at large. Judges would be unable to give verdicts based on technical laws, and certainly, where facts and evidence are what decide the guilt or otherwise of a case, conviction rates for corrupt persons would drastically increase.
Most corrupt public officers prefer to stall their cases and prevent it from going to trial because they know that there is always sufficient evidence against them, due to their brazen and primitive acquisition of wealth. Since jury trials have nothing to do with legal maneuvers, and the facts of the case are laid bare to jurors in open courts, politicians would begin to pull back from corruption and Judges would find it almost impossible to save their corrupt politicians from facing the ramifications of their actions in court as decided by the people who he stole from!
Social order has also being a contentious issue, especially in the face of serial disobedience of court orders. Many have said that disregard of court orders or disobedience to court rulings leads to absence of rule of law and equals to civil disobedience. But why would any sane government, especially the Executive arm, consciously ignore the rule of law and disobey court orders?
Why would a government that came into power on the back of the Nigerian constitution go on to desecrate the same constitution that gave it its powers as well as the judiciary, and defines the roles and powers of the judiciary as the custodian of judicial powers and the interpreter of the constitution.
This can hardly happen when you have a well armed army of jurors behind the courts and justice system, and the awareness of the fact that the public is fully versed in the provisions of the constitution, and can cite it at the shortest notice to use it in their defense, keeping the collective arguments hinged on the provisions of the constitution and laws whenever any issue on rule of law and human rights arise. Imagine having 25% of the entire Nigerian population well abreast with the provisions of the constitution?
All acts of abuse of court orders would be stopped in its track, rule of law would take precedent over every other argument to any matter, the public interest in Laws and Acts to be enacted by the legislature at local and state and federal levels would lead to more realistic, quality, equitable, citizens sensitive and practical laws, and implementation of laws would receive public support.
A united citizenry armed with the authority of the court and the powers of the constitution, are more powerful than an army of gun toting soldiers or financially buoyant fiendish and unpatriotic politicians. United we stand on the foundation of the constitution and exercising this power in the hallowed chambers of the court. Deepening citizens inclusion in governance beyond election is more realistic viz the globally acceptable jury system.
The recent stakeholders’ roundtable that reviewed the proposed jury service Act bill produced by The Jury Justice and Rectitude Advocacy Initiative (The Jury Movement), which was cohosted by the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), raises salient issues; including the operational cost of the jury system, the absence of reliable national database, issues of national and institutional corruption on the part of jurors.
While all these relevant questions didn’t impede the stakeholders to agree that the jury system is necessary for Nigeria now, experts were able to douse our fears and do justice to these questions. First, the cost of education is found to be high, almost making it a luxury; but the long term implication of Illiteracy makes the route of illiteracy a penny wise pound foolish choice.
We have tried injustice and corruption for too long, it’s time we use the jury system, to regain the respect of the courts as the last hope of the common man for justice to prevail. Secondly, did you know that about than half of the monies released to the judiciary always leak out due to the same corruption, just as we have it on authority that every retiring Chief Justice of Nigeria gets a N2Billion parting severance package beside his other retirement package.
Retiring justices of the Supreme Courts, President of the Court of Appeal and the justices of the Appeal courts also have huge severance packages upon retirement. Therefore, should be still mull Jury system expensive when billions of Naira is annually paid out to retiring Justices? That would be penny wise pound foolish.
Secondly, we would have more than 30% of Nigerians whose information in the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Nigerian identity Management Commission (NIMC) databases are accurate and up to date. Irrespective of how skewed or uncoordinated Nigeria’s database management system may be, with the information in it, millions of patriotic Nigerians can be traced and invited for jury service.
The proposed Jury service Act bill proposed three layers of contact verification, after which a prospective juror can have access to update his contact information on their profile page of the Jury Service department (JSD). Furthermore, the jury selection process is more citizens driven, so more of the people that would be involved in the jury system would be Nigerians who need not be directly contacted but can interact remotely with the JSD in identifying and screening out dishonest and unpatriotic and non-credible citizens from serving on jury panels.
The fact that there is institutional corruption in Nigeria does not imply that all Nigerian citizens are corrupt and dishonest. Holding such an opinion would be self indicting, because I believe that there are millions of Nigerians who have not bowed their heads to the Baal of corruption and have a very high moral discipline and sense of justice. It goes to say that “remove the beam in your eyes because the mote in your brothers eyes is not present or next to nothing- emphasis mine”!
In a recently conducted survey, we realized that most of the respondents believe that there is a strong correlation between justice, corruption and patriotism. If we can get a patriotic Nigerian who abhors injustice and sues for fairness and equity, the chances are higher that he would be incorrupt; so also if you combine any two of the three traits, you would find that the third would automatically be found.
So, if a jury system can promote justice and patriotism, it would invariably help to sustainably fight corruption! We must create the avenue to drive patriotism and promote justice on a large scale and by the citizenry, as this would ultimately lead to good governance and deepen our democratic values. If democracy is government of the people, for the people and by the people via elections, and jury system is justice of the people, by the people and for the people via the courts; then it means that both would deepen good governance and justice and the rule of law and democracy; because the people are the life of the society
The all important question is: do you feel ostracized by the government and crave for more specific roles in government? Do you think you can be a juror and forgo ethno-religious sentiments as a patriotic Nigerian? Do you believe that an army of jurors in Nigeria would make government more accountable transparent? Do you think that a deeper knowledge of the laws of our lands and constitution would have any positive impinge on the rule of law and patriotism and governance?
Do you imagine that any thing good can come out of a process that gets citizens from diverse backgrounds, to sacrifice their time to decide if a person is innocent or guilty, beyond the legal field and into our social system? Do you believe that the impact of jury duties on an army of jurors would compel them to influence his society to moral rectitude?
Is there any challenge in Nigeria that we have united against that Nigerians have been able to prevail over, especially if we have the courts on the side of the masses? Do you believe that Nigerians would be even more respected and government take citizens more seriously if we have a jury system?
Do you think the jury system would open more avenues for deeper participation and inclusion in governance? If you have a positive response to more than 5 of these questions, then I’m sure you believe a jury system is best for Nigeria!