The courts system in Nigeria and elsewhere has been composed to settle disputes, ensure public order, prosperity and sustain societal peace. This has been the practice of civilized states to ensure that as important as justice is, it’s not left in the hands of political and social interests.
The courts system in Nigeria as presently constituted was established by Nigerian Constitution of 1999. Though the 1999 Constitution is not the first legal framework that established the court system in Nigeria, it is the most recent legal provision for Courts. The constitution provides the institution with hierarchy and jurisdiction to try and convict citizens and institutions for various offences against both the private and public interests. The Constitution specifically provides for a Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, the Federal High Courts and The High Court of States and the Federal Capital Territory, The Customary Court of Appeal of States and the Federal Capital Territory, The Sharia Court of Appeal of States and the Federal Capital Territory. Others are The Magistrate Court, The Customary Court, Sharia Court, Election Tribunal and the Code of Conduct Tribunal respectively.
For courts to play the very important state function of dispensing justice for the good of all citizens, it engages employees in different capacities ranging from judges to security personnel and put them in an environment to enable them perform different tasks pursuant to the dispensation of justice. In assessing the workplace environment and employees’ performance in Nigerian courts system, the paper operationalises key terms, appreciates the nature of workplace environment in Nigerian courts and examines the negative impact of nonperformance of emmployees in Nigerian courts. The paper further highlighted various ways to improve workplace environment for better employee performance.
Operational Definition of Terms
- Workplace Environment: Workplace environment refers to the location, surroundings as well as the physical and non physical conditions in which employees operates.
- Employees Performance: Employee performance refers to the ability of an employee to accomplish his or her mission based on the expectations of an employer/organization.
- The Court System: The court system refers to the entire processes, procedures and conditions embarked upon to achieve the interpretation and settlement of disputes among parties in line with set down laws of the state.
The Workplace Environment in Nigerian Courts system
There is evidence that before 1955, Nigeria had what was best described as a judiciary or Court system. At that time, the entire country had a single justice and under him, there were judges, magistrates, registrars and Clerical officers, many of whom were expatriates. While expatriates always occupied the exalted positions of judges and magistrates, Africans were mostly registrars and clerical officers. Under the unitary arrangement, judges and magistrates were expected to serve in any part of Nigeria (Ademola, nd).
When it became obvious that Nigeria was better as a federal state, some argued for a unitary system for the courts as they believed the system will bind the regions that were to be created better. This was however not the case as there was a major challenge in terms of distributing of staff to the regions and Lagos. The country therefore, like other organs of government, regionised the courts/judicial system.
Even under this new arrangement, as it had always been, the judges and magistrates were perceived by many as the most important personnel in the court system. While this opinion may be substantiated as these category of employees wield a lot of influence, suffice to say that because of the very many activities of the courts, other line employees are hired to perform various roles in the discharge of justice. Therefore, as Ademola (n.d) insists, the various positions held by employees, high or low is not to be taken as a conclusive index to their importance in general scheme of justice system. It is the collective efforts of all categories of employees that lead to quality justice at all levels of the courts as provided by the constitution.
Overtime however, employees’ performance in the justice system has been deteriorating and affecting the dispensation of justice to citizens. The courts have, especially in recent time been accused of miscarriage of justice or as a tool in the hands of political elites or the rich and privilege in the society (Shehu, Bin Uthman and Osman, 2017). This accusation is a direct affront on the employees of the courts as employees of any organization are seen as the determinants of such organizations.
Many reasons can be adduced for court employees’ underperformance in workplace environment:
- Lack of growth opportunities: Employees goals vary- while some may just be after job stability, others may want to progress within an organizations. No matter what employees want, there must be opportunities for upward movement. Once employees perceive that there no room for growth even in the face of hard work, such employees can become frustrated and unproductive.
- Lack of variety: Lack of variety leads employees to monotony of work and causes lack of inspiration in workplace.
- Lack of communication: The inability of an organisation to communicate set goals, objectives and targets and other developments with employees constantly and consistently misdirect employees focus as each may be pursuing objective that may be parallel or not very crucial at a particular period.
- Work related stress: Lack of rest arising from very busy schedule of work eventually leads to staff underperformance.
- Interference of political issues: Because of political factors within or outside of workplace environment, employees’ morale towards work is sometimes dampened. This situation leads to underperformance of staff.
- Bad work environment: This may not necessarily be aesthetical. Work environment can be said to be bad when the general vibe in the office is negatively and highly disorganized to an extent that employees can hardly cope with as they perform their tasks.
- Lacks of challenge: If duties are monotonous, it is very easy for employees to switch to autopilot. Sometimes, it is only when management challenges the capacity of staff that they innovate or create solutions to organizational problems.
- Lack of incentives: Incentives are seen as stimulants that may result to better employees’ output. So, when organizations fail to provide reasons for employees to feel obligated to achieve more, it leads to bad attitude to work.
- Lack of direction: When leadership of an organization is unable to clearly define its goals/objectives and clearly demonstrate the ability to pursue set goals/objectives, the employees lack a sense of direction.
- Lack of resources: This is the inability of staff to perform their jobs owing to unavailability of materials, facilities or tools with which they combine with their manpower to produce.
The Impact of Court Employees Underperformance on Justice Administration in Nigeria
As a result of the forgoing nature of workplace environment in Nigerian court system, the quality of justice administration in Nigeria has been on a steady decline (Nwabueze, 2007). The underperformance of the Nigerian court system has specifically affected the delivery of justice in the following ways:
Unnecessary delays in justice administration. For instance, as at 2016, over 5000 cases dating as far back as 2005 were said to be pending pending at the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
- Deliberate attempts to block negotiations
- Corrupt practices among parties to cases
- Open hostilities among parties to cases
- Refusal or delay in making trial records available
- Rising rate of jungle justice as a result of lack of confidence in the court system
- The informal cost of prosecuting a matter before a Nigerian Court
- Breach of oath of secrecy by concerned officers of the courts.
How to improve workplace environment for better employees’ performance in Nigerian Courts
Since performance of court employees determines the success or otherwise in justice delivery to citizens, attention must therefore be paid on the value that individuals add to the system in a particular period. To achieve that, employees should not only be considered as the single most important component of justice administration. In addition to manpower, they must be provided with a workplace that supports the task they perform. To do this is to ensure the following:
Provision of tools that support task: Staff who have all the tools they require to perform their task are most likely to achieve set objectives for the court and indeed for the entire system. Such tools can be computers, safes, recorders, projectors printers, paper among others.
Correct and timely communications: Sharing valuable information such as the set goals, prepares employees to timely perform their task in line with leadership direction.
Creation of opportunities for organizational growth: Staff performance is influenced immensely by availability of space and opportunities for staff growth. The believe that one has a chance to work towards a certain organizational position tend to drive individuals towards extraordinary performance and by so doing, they contribute in pushing the wheels of justice system forward.
Motivation and incentives to staff: Job motivators and incentives are very important in boosting staff performance in work place. Motivators and incentives vary from prompt payment of salary and allowances to award and recognition of employees for hard work and extraordinary performance. When employees are rest assured of their financial and health security, they dare to break new grounds to the benefit of their organisations.
Provision of social services for employees: To release work related stress and increase performance, resources like sports and gaming facilities can be provided by government for staff to take advantage of at a location not to far removed from staff residences. This strategy helps to keep staff together to enable them share resources.
Periodic employee rotation: To avoid monotony of work, employees should be periodically moved to different sectors or departments. This exercise will not only enrich their experience, it will also bring satisfaction and check possible irregularities that may have arisen if an employee is allowed to maintain a particular job position for too long a time.
Avoidance of Political Interference and Control: Nothing destroys justice administration as much as political interference and control. Once the justice system is influenced politically, there is likelihood of negligence of work environment and court clients and eventually the diversion of the course of justice in favour of those who have political power or those whose can afford “justice”.
Avoidance of corruption: Like a cancer-warm, corruption which has eaten deep in every sphere of Nigeria’s national business has infected most of the employees of the courts in Nigeria. It is common to find employees of the courts asking for or taking bribe; from the judge to the typist to perform various official roles. This state of affairs has led to the miscarriage of justice in favour of those who can afford to bribe their way through the court system.
Granting of full financial autonomy to the judiciary: Financial autonomy for the judiciary is non-negotiable if the courts are to perform their constitutional role maximally. A financially independent court system can provide for its employees better and faster than if it were to wait on its financier (the executive and the legislature) who often times uses the finances as a bases to “negotiate” justice.
It is no doubt that the courts system has been embraced as the most civilized method of dispute resolution in modern societies since the beginning of modern history. The system has also continually been manned by supposed seasoned employees. In discharging their legitimate duties however, these employees are challenged by several factors including their work environment which is supposed to provide them the requirement to perform.
In Nigeria, the work environment for judicial workers has been a far cry from what would trigger employees’ performance to quality justice administration. The situation has far reaching consequences on Nigerian citizens. There are delayed court judgments, politically, ethnically influenced and purchased judgments. So that even when there are a few judgments that are concluded in their merits, they are over-shadowed or adjudged in bad light. For Nigeria to pursue its agenda of development and occupy it rightful space in the comity of nations, all efforts must be made to clean the court system of corruption, ensure their financial autonomy as well as shield them from political interference. This is the only way Nigeria can fix the justice system for it to compete with its peers elsewhere.
- Ademola, A. (n.d). Personnel problems in the administration of justice in Nigeria. Retrieved from www.schlarship.law.duke.edu on September 23, 2019.
- Nwabueze, B. (2007). The judiciary as the third estate of realm. Ibadan: Gold Press Limited.
- The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
- Shehu, M.I, Bin Othman, M. F. and Osman, N.B. (2017). Nigerian justice system: The ideal, hope and reality. Journal of Management Sciences, 15 (3).