The Kano State Judiciary came into existence in 1968, after the creation of states out of the defunct Northern Region of Nigeria by the then Federal military administration of General Yakubu Gowon; before then the courts in Kano were under the judiciary of northern Nigeria. This report beams search light in the broken-down and dysfunctional state of select courtrooms across Kano state
To a new comer, the structure currently housing the Upper Sharia Court, Dambatta, Kano State is everything but a chamber where justice is dispensed.
The court situated in Dambatta Local Government Area, is currently under massive infrastructural decay, and yet neglected.
“Before I came, I have painted a great picture of the court in my mind but I got disappointed by what I saw; it appeared not very much different from the buildings in my village,” Harira Suleiman who was at the Dambatta Shariah court to file for divorce says in an encounter with this reporter.
On 17th September when this reporter visited the premises of the court, business of the day were ongoing despite the structural lapses. The roofing sheets were found rusty, toilet facilities poor and the court lacks pipe-borne water.
In the offices, the ceiling fans were hanging idle just below a leaking roof and some meters away from weak furnitures. in a bad condition, the roof is leaking, the furniture at the judge’s offices is in a bad state
Despite this condition, the judge at the Dambatta Shariah court, Abbas Magashi, said he hears up to 10 cases in a day. He bemoaned the current state of the court.
“We have light but all the fans are not working. During rainy season, the rain drips into my office; during proceedings, the roof above my head is leaking. So, once it starts raining, I will have to suspend the sitting and leave the courtroom till the rain stops. Look at the window, look at the furniture here, the ceilings are all rusted and we are short of staff; our staff strength is 10 including me,”he said.
His words were corroborated by Mohammed Kabir, a staff of the court.
“I have been working here for over 5 years; there has never been any renovation activity here. Our toilets are locked up because of the poor state they are in; the collapsed toilet you are seeing was built by a Good Samaritan in this community and since its collapse, no one has done anything about it,” Mr Kabir said.
The magistrate court at Dambatta situated few kilometres away from the Sharia Court is among the 26 courts built by the regime of Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso in 2013; since its commissioning on May 7, 2013 it had not been connected to the national grid neither does it enjoy water supply. Moreover, the court’s power generator had remained faulty for a long time. The court sits twice a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays) as the court’s magistrate, Al- Mustapha Hassan, sits in two other courts: Dawakintofa and Nomansland.
Kamal Idris one of 5 registrars working in the court who says: “Since we moved into this building after its construction, we have not been connected to the national grid. We also do not have access to pipe borne water.”
In Kano, Nigeria’s most populated state according to 2006 census figures, judges, lawyers, litigants and other judiciary actors suffer in the face of poor facilities in the state’s courts.
Other courts, same story
The Upper Sharia Court, Kofar Kudu is located at the centre of Kano metropolis. It is located directly opposite the Emir of Kano’s palace. When this reporter visited the court on 12th September, proceedings were ongoing; the judge was being fanned with a hand fan, while the smell of urine fills the air.
Zulai Ahmed, one of the litigants who had filed a case for divorce at the court says her greatest nightmare whenever she visited the court is the state of its toilet facility.
The court only has a pit latrine.
“I am a pregnant woman who needs to use the toilet very often, the first time I came here and was directed to the toilet, I couldn’t bear the sight of what I saw. It made me threw up and had to hold on to the urine until about 4p.m. when I got home, in order not to get infections from the dirty toilet,” she said.
At Zungeru Chief Magistrate Court in Fagge Local Government, the prevalence of mosquitoes, even in day time, is the first indication of dilapidation and neglect.
The court’s cell, stinking, has no toilet forcing detainees to defeacate on the ground.
Salihu Sani, a lawyer who has usually handles cases for his clients at the court said it lascks basic requirement of a modern court.
“The courtroom is not convenient at-all, the gallery is not up to standard, most of the ceiling fans are not working; the court doesn’t look like a modern court. The magistrate’s chamber doesn’t look like a chamber while the registry itself is not up to standard. During sittings, the fans are not functioning or there is no light; the unpleasant atmosphere in the court makes it hard for us lawyers who wear black suits to comfortably argue our cases,” Mr Sani says.
Kofar Kudu court complex hosts two magistrates courts, Court 18 presided over by Chief Magistrate Mohammad Idris and Court 53, presided over by Magistrate Fauziya Isah. Despite the unfriendly atmosphere at the courts complex, the magistrates sits from 9a.m. to 4p.m. daily, adjudicating over between 7 to 8 cases daily.
The principal registrar for the 2 courts, Bashir Lawan, believes only financial autonomy for the judiciary will solve their problems. “The authorities are not saying anything about the issue, that is why we want them to grant us financial independence to enable us manage and rehabilitate our courts ourselves. Our appeal to the government is if they can’t rebuild these dilapidated structures and build for us new ones, they should complete those new structures they have started building,” Mr Lawan said.
The Kano High Courts of Justice
However, the headquarters of the Kano State High Court of Justice located at the Audu Bako Secretariat is a direct opposite of what obtains in courts at the rural areas.
The court enjoys facilities such as steady water and electricity supply as well as an air conditioning system.
On 11th September, when this reporter visited, the building was being renovated. General renovation which included painting of the entire building and changing of some facilities were being carried out as at the time of visit.
There is also the high court of justice at Miller Road in Fagge LGA, which is the second most important high court in Kano, in terms of number courtrooms and judicial functions. The sum of 150 million was budgeted for general renovation of the high court building at Miller Road in 2016; while the sums of 50 million and 250milliion were appropriated for in 2017 and in 2018, respectively.
An official of the court who has worked there for 12 years spoke on the state of the court.
“For over 12 years that I have been working here, I haven’t witnessed a single renovation exercise; however, the building is now being repainted. We are the second-ranking high court; we have more courtrooms than even the headquarters: we have 9 courtrooms while the headquarters have 6 courtrooms. However, we have only one toilet facility, there is no toilet facility for the registrar, and the floor of the court complex is not paved. Our store had been locked down because it had become infested with snakes and rats.”
Exhibits flying around
One striking similarity across all the courts visited by this reporter is the lack of storage provision for keeping exhibits.
In most of the courts covered by this reporter, exhibits were seen mostly seen strewn all around the premises.
Mr Bala Nomau, a lawyer spoke on implication of this development.
“Evidence handling affects justice delivery a great way. Our courts rely on evidence mostly in form of exhibits to arrive at their decisions. Where there is no safe keeping of exhibits tendered in court as evidence, surely there will be negative effect on justice delivery; it may also lead to miscarriage of justice.
“The law says exhibits and other important records of court are to be kept in proper custody: in an exhibit room under the care of an exhibit keeper who will ensure their safety and availability at any time they are needed. The authorities in charge should ensure that provisions are made for these facilities where there are none and where these facilities are available, should ensure they are utilised for the betterment of our cases in court. Many persons are in prison today because of poor handling and management of exhibits in court,” he concluded.
Where is Kano’s judiciary budget?
It is worthy of note that these courts remain in deplorable condition despite Kano state government’s annual budgetary allocation to courts.
This reporter looked into the state budgets for recent years. The budget document was obtained from the Ministry of Budget and Planning, Kano State.
In 2018, 50 million naira was budgeted for the general renovation of magistrate courts while 1.7 billion was for same purpose for high courts of justice in Kano.
Out of these, 150 million was appropriated for the erection of fences at the newly constructed magistrate and divisional high courts at Tudun Wada, Rano, Gaya, Gwarzo as well as the Zungeru magistrate court.
General renovation of magistrate courts across the state for the period 2016 – 2018 reveals an appropriation of 100million for 2016 and 50million each for 2017 and 2018, respectively.
This reporter noticed that similar budget items being repeated over the years
For example, the judiciary budgets for between 2016 and 2018 included the construction of 4 Divisional High Courts at Bichi, Gezawa, Wudil and Ungogo. The sum of N240million was allocated for the project in 2016, N140 million was allocated in 2017 while the N300million was allocated in 2018.
Within the three-year period, a total of 680milion went into the construction of these high courts.
A total of 63 million was appropriated for sharia courts of appeal within the state, between 2016 and 2018. The budget document also shows a purchase of 100 sets of power generators for 100 courts across the state (for each of the years under review) at the cost of 12million per year.
Still within the three years under review, the sum of 15 million naira was allocated for the general renovation of sharia court of appeal and the sharia courts department buildings.
There is also another budget line for the general renovation of 35 old court rooms across the state, accounting for an appropriation of 100million in 2016 and 50million in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
The construction of shari’a courts dept. office complex within Shariah Court of Appeals (SCAs) premises and construction of permanent site for 3 Upper Shari’a Courts of Appeal (USCAs) at Shahuci, Rijiyar Lemo and Yankaba, it will also cater for construction of 20 more shari’a courts at desirious locations across the state. The construction of libraries for Shari’ah courts as a budget line appeared in budgets for the three-year period with a total appropriated sum of 100million in 2016, and 50million in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
State judiciary react
The Public Relations Officer for Kano State Judiciary, Baba Jibo Ibrahim, while responding to a question on the level of budget releases to the judiciary and if any efforts had been made to rehabilitate the dilapidated courts in the state, said:
“You know the hand of the court is always tied as regards construction or rehabilitation; the state judiciaries do not enjoy financial autonomy, as stipulated by Section 121 of the constitution which says: all money for the credit of the judiciary in the state should be given to the heads of courts. Without the monies the courts cannot do anything in respect to buildings or rehabilitations.
‘’The state of our court rooms in Kano is good and bad; good in the sense that the previous and present governments of the state have embarked on building and rehabilitation of some courts. Because Kano is the second most populous state in the country, the courts are inadequate for the loads of cases being filed in the state; there is need to establish new ones so as to bring justice closer to the people,” said Ibrahim.
He added that a fact-finding committee had been set up by the Chief Judge of Kano state, Justice Nura Sagir Umar, which was mandated to visit all courts in the state to see their true state and report back their findings to the government.
“If we get our financial autonomy, the chief judge can issue directives on buildings and rehabilitations of courts. We can’t do anything ourselves without the autonomy, unless we channel it through the government,” he said.
When this reporter attempted to interview the chief registrar of the High Court of Justice Kano State, Jamilu Shehu Suleman, on budget releases, he claimed he was not in the position to speak on budget and releases.
State government officials could not be reached for comments on budget releases.
This investigative report was supported by the premium times Centre for investigative journalism
The Savannah Centre for Diplomacy, Democracy and Development (SCDDD), with support from Ma…