• Monday, April 15, 2024
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Championing social justice through the judiciary

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Tuesday, February 20, 2024 was the World Day of Social Justice and it serves as a stark reminder that achieving fairness and equity is the bedrock of every society.

When social justice is compromised, the very fabric of society begins to unravel. In Africa, the greater pressure is always on the Executive and the Legislature to ensure democracy, good governance and fight corruption.

However, equally important in upholding social justice is the role of a robust judicial system due to its interpretative, dispute resolution and enforcement role.

Read also: Losing faith in the Judiciary will not do Nigeria any good Egwu

Yet the Judiciary in West Africa is plagued with a myriad of problems – inadequate funding, poor infrastructure, political/governmental interference, bribery and corruption. Biased appointments of judges and unfair removal of sitting judges continues to happen.

Sometimes the judicial system is manipulated to usurp constitutional rule, stifle dissenting groups, and to gag freedom of expression with the political opponents, the Media and CSOs.

This is compounded by inadequate legal aid against a backdrop of high legal fees for a sub-region where over 30percent of the population live below the poverty line. Rural populations and vulnerable groups in West Africa often face significant barriers to justice making it seem as though justice is on sale to the highest bidder!

Although these challenges are daunting, they are not insurmountable. What is required is to reform the judiciary, a strong governmental leadership and commitment to effect the reform and a civil society courageous to hold the judiciary accountable.

For instance, prioritising the development of legal infrastructure by investing in new courthouses, especially in rural and slum communities, upgrading existing facilities, establishing mobile legal clinics and leveraging technology for virtual consultations, legal aid hotlines, and community-based legal assistance programs to bring legal services closer to rural populations, can effectively address the challenges faced by those in remote areas.

Civil Society organisations and the Media and citizens must continue to be vibrant and courageous and lead the fight against bribery and corruption in the judiciary because the Judiciary is not only vital to guaranteeing equitable justice, but also in ensuring the rule of law and sustainable development.

Read also: We must break up the mafia in the Supreme Court for Nigeria judiciary to grow Agbakoba

Businesses will not thrive, and investors are unlikely to invest in societies where justice is compromised. In an era of media pluralism, therefore, citizens must also be vocal and determined in holding the judiciary accountable through public support and applause when the judiciary do well and public naming and shaming, when they err. This will energise and embolden the judiciary to resist Executive and Legislative interference, deal with systemic corruption, demand for its own reforms to ensure fairness and equity in the judicial services to advance social justice.

 

.Dr. Aniagolu is the Regional Director, Ford Foundation, West Africa.
www.fordfoundation.org