Exclusive! Furore over Lagos judges annual retreat in Brighton, UK

Ogunsakin Mustapha
14 Min Read
Lagos Judges at a new legal year ceremony

75 judges of the Lagos State Judiciary are set to proceed to Brighton, United Kingdom for their one week annual retreat and conference, amidst heated debates and controversy amongst lawyers and justice stakeholders on the propriety of such massive travels in times of economic hardships Nigeria faces currently.

The conference is scheduled to be held from July 15- 19, 2024. Apart from the judges, some of their support staff will also be on the trip raising fears of grounding the wheel of judicial proceedings in the state.

Besides, many stakeholders complain about the huge cost to the purse of the government when facilities abound within the country that could accommodate such a conference. The cost includes air transport fares for a minimum of 90 passengers, hotel accommodations, estacodes, and other allowances that may run in hundreds of millions of Naira.

To the stakeholders on different platforms, rebuilding of the Lagos High Court, Igbosere, Lagos burnt during the #endsars riot in 2020 and other facilities’ collapse should be the priority of the Lagos State Judiciary rather than ‘this jamboree’, being embarked upon by the judges.

Lagos Judges at a new legal year ceremony

The retreat is coming a few weeks after some of the judges just performed the 2024 Hajj in Saudi Arabia, where they spent about three weeks on their religious obligations. All the cases before their courts were stalled throughout the time they performed the Hajj rites.

Many also argued that the judges should’ve waited for their annual vacation to start before embarking on their travels.

It is the tradition of judges in Nigeria to embark on their annual vacation between mid July to early September every year. It is therefore not only Lagos judges. In fact, Federal High Court judges are currently on a conference within Nigeria, even before embarking on their annual vacation. Most federal courts therefore are not sitting this week. Gavel International also gathered that Supreme Court Justices are also set to embark on vacation at this period.

Lawyers as well also use this period to embark upon their own conferences and vacation. Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Annual General Conference is scheduled to hold in Lagos between August 23 and 28. The International Bar Association (IBA) 2024 conference will be held in Mexico September 15-20, 2024. The bar and the bench therefore use the season for vacations and conferences in preparation for a new legal year.

Justice Kazeem Alogba, Lagos State Chief Judge

Reacting to the criticism, Lagos Chief Judge, Justice Kazeem Alogba said that there’s nothing wrong with judges having their annual conference whether within or outside the country. Besides, he said the funds they are going to use was already budgeted and approved by the Lagos State House of Assembly.

He further dispelled the fear that judicial proceedings will come to a standstill. “The retreat is well planned to take place during the Settlement Week when only arbitration, mediation, and conciliation is expected to take place. There are staff designated to handle arbitration. The Settlement Week is a provision of the law to enable settlement of disputes without getting in proper court trials. This is the time the retreat will take place”, he said.

He also disclosed that the trip is being made on a very lean budget. According to him, transportation for instance is cheaper since bargaining was done based on the numbers of people traveling. “Nobody, including myself, is flying first class. We are all flying premium economy. The judges are also not getting their full estacodes but meager allowances compared to what their contemporaries in the executive or legislature are getting for such travels. The accommodation is a three star hotel rather than a five star hotel”, he said.

Justice Alogba gave further insight into the activities of the judges while in Brighton. He said the judges will have full sessions for two straight days, after which they will meet with their counterparts in Brighton and other parts of UK for cross fertilization of ideas. “We are also going to strategize over our activities in the new legal year,” he said.

Asked to give the total cost of the trip, the Chief Judge replied that the Finance and Administration Department are putting finishing touches to the cost and therefore he would not want to give estimates.

Gavel International investigations however estimates that a premium economy return ticket from Lagos to Heathrow Airport, London costs $1500. This multiplied by the current exchange rate of N1,500 to one dollar gives N2,250 million, multiplied by 90 equals N202.5 million. 

Let’s say their hotel, feeding and shipping allowance is another₦1.2million for five days, again ₦108 million. This does not include estacodes for the judges and support staff which should make our estimated cost jump to N500 million.

Granted that the United Kingdom is the country where our laws emanated from, and as the leader of the Commonwealth of Nations, the association of countries once colonized by the UK, it may be expedient that our judges travel to avail themselves with modern trends in law and judicial administration. This the judges could do through interactions with British judges. As Justice Alogba acknowledged, there had been times in the past that even British judges acknowledged parts of our system and even “borrowed” from our judges’ experience. What has never happened however, is to see British judges traveling en masse to hold their retreat in an African Country, or any other country, even if that country is a Commonwealth nation. It will be interesting to see the reaction of the British citizens on their revered judges spending a colossal amount in pounds sterling for a retreat outside British shores.

Not a jamboree – Lagos Attorney General, Alhaji Pedro

Alhaji Lawal Pedro, Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Lagos State
Alhaji Lawal Pedro, Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Lagos State

Lagos State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Alhaji Lawal Pedro SAN in a chat with Gavel International insisted that the judges retreat or conference is not a mere “jamboree’, but a time of serious work, interaction and planning.

Below is the dialogue that ensued:

Que: The concern people have is that it’s not yet their vacation period, so what happens to all cases they are handling if 75 judges travel at the same time. Moreover, why can’t that conference be held in Nigeria? Are there no facilities for us to hold it here, despite the challenges we have in this country?

Ans: Vacation starts in Mid-July. So practically, if judges, one week before vacation within which they have no cases adjourned on dates in that period, decide to go for a conference even choosing to travel for it, individually or collectively, why should anything be wrong with that? When members of the Executive or Legislative travel, there is usually no noise about it. Now, this is the vacation period or at least, close to the vacation period for judges, so how is it a problem? The IBA is also coming up very soon, it will be during the court period and lawyers will attend en masse with no questions asked. I look at it from the perspective that when these judges travel for the conference, they will also have the opportunity to meet with justices from other jurisdictions and learn from the experience. 

So it is not a mere jamboree that they would be going for. They will also have been invited, so there would obviously already be facilitators for the event, who are also judges. If it would be an experience that they would learn and benefit from, just for one week and even fall within their vacation period, then why not? I don’t think there should be any problem.

I know people would probably explain about the amount of money it would cost collectively, but I must point out that it would be better that way than for different judges to go individually, in which case they would be leaving as they please. So a collective travel of all judges for the conference would be more practicable. I think the matter should not be blown out of proportion and we should not allow people who are not attune or familiar with the justice system to interfere.

They are only going for this conference which would allow them meet with justices in other jurisdictions, particularly within the Commonwealth and UK. It is not in France or Madrid and they are only going there just for a few days to allow them to rub minds with other justices with a view to develop our own Justice system, then there is nothing wrong with it. Judges must also be encouraged and motivated to carry on with it. If other arms of government travel and even lawyers travel at will, but these judges want to go on this one trip which even has its own advantages, then it may have been an issue. But no one can say that judges shouldn’t travel during vacation.

Que: Alright sir. What about the finance aspect? Who would sponsor the trip; the State government or the judiciary?

Ans: Don’t forget that the judiciary is independent in Lagos…

Que: But I learnt that the Lagos State government sponsored 9 judges to Hajj this year…

Ans: No, that is a lie. No such thing happened. The only ones who could have gotten such treatment, if it hasn’t been canceled yet, would be those who were part of the Hajj Tribunal, which I have served in before. The Hajj Tribunal is like a committee used to caution recalcitrants and persons who misbehave in Mecca; sometimes the committee would get some people arrested and tried to prevent them from disgracing the country in Mecca. Such persons, if caught, would face the penalty of not going to Hajj for at least the next 3 years after commission of offense.

So I know for a fact that some of the judges who went to Hajj paid for themselves to go but when the Hajj Authority people changed some requirements over there and most people could not even afford it, the President had to step in at such a point but people do not understand this. They just think the President spent money on this with no reason. There were also categories of people like the Hajj Guards, Doctors, Nurses, and those offering other services whose trips were paid for from the money people paid for Hajj, because they went there to work. Aside from this, the only other thing the government handled was feeding costs.

So anyone accusing the judges on this matter should at least be fair to them because these judges are only going there to rub minds with and learn from other judges for just one week. The date for the conference would be around 15th of July, and they would be back from 20th of July. One week taken out for this purpose would not be out of place and a collective travel plan would even be cheaper, so let us encourage our judges.

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