By Mike Ochonma…tasks states on establishment, utilization
The federal government of Nigeria has declared that the establishment of Small Claims Courts (SCC) has been of tremendous benefit to the economy, hence its efforts to ensure that all states of the federation key into the policy.Jumoke Oduwole, special adviser to the president on Ease of Doing Business, made the declaration at the opening ceremony of a two-day Peer-to-Peer learning session for all state judiciaries on Small Claims Courts organised by the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) in Lagos.She revealed that seven states comprising Lagos, Kano, Ogun, Edo, Ekiti, Nasarawa and Jigawa that have so far established the courts have recorded speedy settlement of business disputes involving micro, small and medium-scale enterprises (MSMEs), while Bayelsa, Kaduna, Sokoto and FCT Judiciary were at the verge of launching theirs.Oduwole stressed that the rationale behind the courts arose from the need to urgently address the speed of adjudication, particularly financial claims, and to reduce cases from the dockets of the high courts over a simple commercial dispute.According to her, most MSMEs require liquidity to carry on their businesses. In instances where a financial claim arises from business interactions, best practice requires a speedy court settlement of such claims between parties. This ultimately shows an improvement in the quality and efficiency of judicial processes.She further noted that the establishment and operationalisation of the Small Claims Courts within the aforementioned seven states’ magistracy has addressed this issue. All financial claims of N5 million and below are heard at the SCC. Special registries, as well as the appointment of special sheriffs specifically for these courts, have also been put in place.“These courts provide easy access as well as inexpensive and speedy resolution for debt and liquidated money recovery disputes. These courts are regulated by the Practice Directions issued by the Chief Judge of the State pursuant to Section 274 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended),” she said.Oduwole explained that the learning session, which was attended by registrars, magistrates and judges from across states of the federation, was designed to create an avenue for states that were yet to establish SCC to interface with other states’ judiciaries that operate the courts to share their knowledge and experiences.The programme was also aimed at equipping delegates with the knowledge of initiating the process of establishing SCC from setting up of a committee, drafting of the practice directions, assignment and training of magistrates and court registrars, proceedings at the Small Claims Court from hearing to appeals, publication of performance reports and judgments of the court.“There will also be a presentation on the SABER Disbursement Linked Indicator (DLI 8) on Quick Determination of Commercial Disputes via establishment of Small Claims Court with its verification protocols and the need for the States to achieve certain milestones before benefiting from the disbursement,” she said.
She implored the delegates to take advantage of the programme to champion the establishment and operationalisation of Small Claims Courts in their states for quick dispensation of justice to assist MSMEs in their commercial activities.Kazeem Alogba, chief judge of Lagos state, in his keynote address said the SCC has had very successful operations in the state.“The success of the SCC in the state has had a ripple effect in decongesting the magistrate courts, speedy resolution of small claims, improving the economy of the state and the economy at large. It has also positively impacted on the global outlook of the nation,” he said.He lauded PEBEC for organising the programme, saying he would like to see more of it as it enables the gospel to be spread round the country.