Following the outbreak of novel coronavirus in Nigeria, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Tanko Ibrahim Muhammed on 23rd March, 2020 ordered the suspension of all court sittings except in matters that are urgent, for 14 days.
On Monday 6th April, 2020 when it remained just a day for the order to terminate, the Chief Justice of Nigeria extended the suspension.
However, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana has urged the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Ibrahim Muhammad to prevail on judges in the country to “hear urgent applications via Skype or Zoom during the lockdown”.
In a letter to the CJN encouraging judges to embrace technological tools to attend to cases during this lockdown period, Falana said, “Since the Federal Government has relaxed the lockdown by allowing markets, shops and stalls selling food and groceries to open to customers between the hours of 10:00am and 2:00pm daily, the National Judicial Council ought to review the suspension of court sittings to enable them attend to urgent matters to ensure that thousands of people who are either awaiting trial or under investigation are not subjected to unlawful detention.”
According to him: “The review has become necessary in view of the fact that motions for the bail of many criminal suspects and applications to secure the enforcement of the fundamental right to personal liberty of other detainees are pending in several courts in all the states of the federation and in the federal capital territory.”
“In addition, the return dates in respect of several ex-parte orders made by magistrates for the remand of a number of criminal suspects which have since expired are due to be quashed or renewed to extend time for further investigation.”
He continued: “More so that the heads of the various courts are vested with the power to designate judges and magistrates to attend to urgent matters in accordance with the laws establishing such courts.”
“However, in order to observe the ‘social distancing’ directive, we suggest that arrangements be made for judges to hear urgent applications via Skype or Zoom.”
Falana said, already, that strategy had been adopted in Kenya where 4,800 prisoners had been released by judges after hearing their cases through Skype and Zoom, referring to a report by CNN.
Femi Falana quoted the report: “We prioritised getting a lot of people out of prison, especially petty offenders. Those who are in prison for a short term and those who have been there for a long time, but have just about six months and below to go,” according to Anne Amadi, Chief Registrar of the Judiciary in Kenya, while speaking with CNN.
“As of Friday last week, we managed to decongest the prison by about 4800 inmates from different parts of the country.”
“All our 39 high court stations have released people. Most of them, a good number, through Skype or Zoom,” the Kenya Judiciary Chief Registrar added.