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Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, the judicial branch remained susceptible to executive and legislative branch pressure. Decisions at the federal level were indicative of greater independence. The judiciary was influenced by political leaders particularly at the state and local levels. Understaffing, underfunding, inefficiency, and corruption continued to prevent the judiciary from functioning adequately. Citizens encountered long delays and frequent requests from judicial officials for small bribes to expedite cases.
The Ministry of Justice implemented strict requirements for level of education and length of service for judges at the Federal and State level. However, there were no requirements or monitoring body for judges at the local level, and this led to significant corruption and miscarriages of justice.
The recommendations of the 1993 Esho Panel, set up to investigate corruption in the judiciary, called for the "withdrawal" of 47 judicial officials. No judges have been removed for irregularities cited in the Panel's report; however, Justice Usman Kusherki was removed on January 23 for his July 2002 aborting of the ANPP national convention. During the PDP convention the 21 PDP governors threatened to take their states' votes away from the president if he did not make certain concessions. For nearly 24 hours it appeared that the Vice President was thinking about breaking ranks and fighting against the president for the nomination. In the middle of the night, Obasanjo contacted this judge to get an order to stop the convention so that he would not have to give in to the governors to get his nomination. The judge refused and was dismissed within weeks, purportedly due to his actions regarding the ANPP convention 7 months earlier.
The regular court system is composed of federal and state trial courts, state appeals courts, the Federal Court of Appeal, and the Federal Supreme Court. There are Shari'a (Islamic) and customary (traditional) courts of appeal in states that use those bases for civil or criminal law, including in the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja). Courts of the first instance include magistrate or district courts, customary or traditional courts, Shari'a courts, and for some specified cases, the state high courts. The Constitution also provides that the Government establish a Federal Shari'a Court of Appeal and Final Court of Appeal; however, the Government had not yet established such courts by year's end. The nature of the case usually determined which court had jurisdiction. In principle, customary and Shari'a courts had jurisdiction only if both plaintiff and defendant agree; however, in practice, fear of legal costs, delays, distance to alternative venues, and individual preference caused many litigants to choose the customary and Shari'a courts over other venues. In some states, cases involving only Muslims must be heard by a Shari'a court. Other states with Shari'a law still permitted Muslims to choose common law courts for criminal cases; however, societal pressure forced most Muslims to use the Shari'a court system. According to the Constitution, persons charged with offenses have the right to an expeditious trial. Criminal justice procedures call for trial within 3 months of arraignment for most categories of crimes; however, there were considerable delays, often stretching to several years, in bringing suspects to trial (see Section 1.d.). Most detainees were poor and could not afford to pay the costs associated with moving their trials forward, and as a result they remained in prison. Wealthier defendants employed numerous delay tactics and in many cases used financial inducements to persuade judges to grant numerous continuances. Such practices clogged the court calendar and prevented trials from starting.
Trials in the regular court system were public and generally respected constitutionally protected individual rights in criminal cases, including a presumption of innocence, and the right to be present, to confront witnesses, to present evidence, and to be represented by legal counsel. However, there was a widespread perception that judges easily were bribed or "settled," and that litigants could not rely on the courts to render impartial judgments. Many courts were understaffed, and personnel were paid poorly. Judges frequently failed to appear for trials, often because they were pursuing other means of income. In addition, court officials often lacked the proper equipment, training, and motivation to perform their duties, again primarily due to inadequate compensation.
In both common law and Shari'a courts, indigent persons without legal representation were more likely to have their sentences carried out immediately upon being sentenced, although all accused persons have the right to appeal. The Government instituted a panel of legal scholars to draft a uniform Shari'a criminal statute to replace divergent Shari'a statutes adopted by various northern states; however, states continued to apply their individual codes.There were no legal provisions barring women or other groups from testifying in civil court or giving their testimony less weight; however, the testimony of women and non-Muslims usually was accorded less weight in Shari'a courts. In violation of mainstream Shari'a jurisprudence, some Khadi judges subjected women to harsh sentences for fornication or adultery based solely upon the fact of pregnancy, while men were not convicted without eyewitnesses unless they confessed. There were no developments in the 2002 Human Rights Violations Investigation Panel (HRVIP) recommendations regarding the possible reversal of the Auta Tribunal's conviction Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni-9 in 1995. There were no reports of political prisoners.
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