It was a harvest of commendations as Chief Magistrate Kikelomo Odeyemi-Ayeye, launched a new book on the need for statutory amendment to the structure and administration of courts of limited jurisdiction in Nigeria.
The 160-page book titled, Such Other Courts: Inferior Courts? Inferior Justice! focused on the designation of Magistrate’s Court as an inferior court which has caused a division in the treatment, welfare, pension, allowances and benefits of judicial officers heading the courts.
Unveiling the book, Admin Judge Lagos State Judiciary, Justice Oyekan-Abdullahi (Mrs.) described the book as a reference book for lawyers and legislature adding that that the tag “Inferior Court’ which the constitution placed on Magistracy must be removed,
She said “The ‘Inferior’ referred to here, is not on the personal or the person sitting on the Magistracy but in the tag which the constitution has put them. We need that tag to be released and if anyone reads this book, he will see the urgency and the need that this must be done’’.
In his remarks, Mr. Kemi Pinheiro SAN, Chairman, Lagos State Law Reform Commission (LSLRC) commended the author for the diligence and time expended in writing the book.
He said ‘’I am very impressed, the author made far-reaching recommendations and reforms in the judicial sector. I must say that 70 percent of Nigerians’ first relationship with the justice sector is at the Magistrate’s level. Therefore, it boggles the mind why we then call the Magistrate’s court an inferior court. Inferior means subservient, substandard. I do not think that a duly constituted court is a substandard court. Yes, it may be a lower court but that does not make it substandard’’.
‘’The problem stem from the fact that the constitution has failed to formally recognise the Magistracy in the hierarchy of courts. I think it is time, and that is one of the things we are doing at the Lagos State Law Reform Commission. We are taking a second look at the Magistrate’s court law, proffer far reaching reforms and we intent to engage the Attorney General’s office and the Judiciary in Lagos State to see how far reaching these reforms will be’’.
Speaking at the occasion, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chairperson, Nigerian in Diaspora Commission stressed the need for judicial reforms warning that ‘if the Judiciary fails in Nigeria, we have failed as a nation’.
She stated that she found it awkward when the legislative arm of government is being described as Upper or Lower House and some Ministers are referred to as Senior or Junior Minister.
According to her, the focus should be on institutions, the service, diligence, putting in your best and ensuring that the system works.
She urged stakeholders present at the event to take the conversation to those that should listen and hear.
In her closing remarks, the author, Chief Magistrate Ayeye called on policy makers especially the Chairman, House Committee on Judiciary to re-enact the Magistrate Court Law, 2009.
She maintained that Magistrate’s Courts are not inferior by any standard and should be treated as a Court of limited jurisdiction, as obtained in other countries.
She stated that the present status of Magistrates has affected their payroll, pension, condition of service and their dignity.
‘’It has affected the condition of service, it has affected the dignity of a person who is much more than you are calling him. We have superior courts, we agree but we are not inferior. We are lawyers, we are much more than we are being subjected to. The status of inferiority has affected us. Things should change so the quality of justice being dispensed can be improved.
According to Magistrate Ayeye ‘’the term ‘inferior’ which refers to courts presided over by ‘judges’ with no legal training should not find its way into our lexicon as relating to ‘Magistrate Courts’ in Nigeria, by virtue of the very fact that Magistrate Courts are courts of general jurisdiction but limited and are legal practitioners of many years standing’’.
She expressed gratitude to her family, friends, admirers and well-wishers, for their continued support.
In his foreword, the Minister of State, Labour and Employment, Mr. Festus Keyamo, SAN commended the author ‘for daring to venture into this often forgotten area of our jurisprudence’.
The Minister said the author has drawn from her experiences as a Magistrate and painted a vivid picture of how other courts (as distinct from the Superior Courts of Record) operates.
‘’I must commend the author for daring to venture into this often forgotten area of our jurisprudence. The author has copiously shared her personal experience in this book and these would be of immense benefit to young lawyers who are starting out in practice. This book is a veritable resource and I do not hesitate to recommend it to legal practitioners, magistrates, law students, political and thought leaders as well as laymen’’, he stated.