By Alex Enemanna
It was the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy who during his inaugural speech on January 20, 1961 said, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
He had sought to inspire young Americans and adults to see the importance of civic action, public service and selfless commitment to the development of their fatherland. Several decades later, it is still seen as a landmark speech, with no shadow of the lesson embedded therein lost.
Generation after generation, the voice of J.F Kennedy continues to resonate across the human race, reverberating across the continental landscapes and instilling the value of patriotic selflessness in national service in the psyche of many.
Here in Nigeria, it has almost become a cliché, offering a door of escape to political actors who use it as their default auto-reply to our questions on accountability, our questions on the provision of infrastructure, our questions on the security of lives and property and our questions on oiling the wheel of the economy to make it virile to create job opportunities for our teeming young population. They just flash, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” to make you a prisoner of conscience while they walk away with their shoulders high, carrying their baggage of contagious ineffectuality with utmost pride.
Heard of the name Fatai Abiodun? Here is one head wearing many caps, with each of them giving him a special perfect fit. Call him an ICT expert, a journalist, an advocate and in a very short time to come, a duly certified lawyer, you would not be wrong. A fine specimen of what an ideal gentleman represents, he is one of the multi-talented young Nigerians who believe there abounds regions of indigenous solutions to the everyday problems holding us by the jugular, yet our obsession for the imported temporary relief we often mistake as solution has totally blind-folded us.
Fatai is a certified Oracle Database, Certified Cisco Network Associate, Certified Information Technology Infrastructure Library, Certified Structured Query Language Expert, and Certified Software Developer among others.
Baffled by the erratic and provocatively slow process in the administration of justice in our country, he thought of how he could be the solution, using his vast experience in the field of information and communication technology. For him, whatever that affects justice, affects all. If justice could be delivered in record time, he believes the society will be better.
He is troubled that many individuals have either resorted to self-help or bottled up their grievances because the way to justice is full of man-made delays, delays that span for weeks, span for months, span for years, multiple years, from trial court, appeal and in some cases the Supreme Court.
“Most times, the joy of justice is eroded because of the injury of delay. At other times, the winner may not even be alive or in sound health condition to experience the joy of victory,” he echoed with the signature of frustration on his face.
My beloved reader, you shall be alive to celebrate your victory! Your joyful moment shall not be shared only by those who didn’t know your period of grief! Shout Amen if you believe.
A graduate of Computer Science from the cerebral University of Uyo Akwa Ibom State, it was during his employment contract with an Abuja-based consultancy firm, a period he was deployed to the Supreme Court to provide technical solutions that he came face to face with the challenges judges were passing through in their assignment of adjudication, including the archaically outdated issue of analogue filing of process, writing tons of pages with paper and pen, then passing same to the secretary to type, then start proof-reading again. Litany of processes indeed.
When these long back and forths are done, it could take weeks and months. Human factors as well, including missing pages could also alter the course of justice while these obsolete processes are on.
“So when I went home, I came to the conclusion that most things that pose delays in justice delivery are man-made. The same thing that has been happening in the judiciary since the 80s are still things we see today. As a counsel, the court gives you three weeks to file your process. What would you be doing with three weeks in a report you can file within one week if you are serious about what you do? After the adoption of the Final Written Address, the court would tell you to come back within 90 days to collect judgment and that has been the tradition because then it was paper and pen. The judge will pass it to the secretary to type and the accuracy of what s/he types is not totally guaranteed.”
So together with his firm, 4Tune Technologies Ltd, this Agboluaje, Ibadan-born fine gentleman of few words and truckload of actions deployed the first ever plug & play e-filing for the judiciary, made available to every court in Nigeria. It is a ready-made, reliable, efficient and easy-to-use application that incorporates e-case management, e-causelist and many other features, including archiving.
The software offers a technological innovation that domesticates manual processes into an electronic format, allowing lawyers to file their cases irrespective of wherever they are, and what time it is without necessarily parading the court from Lagos to Abuja for instance countless times for ordinary submission of file process, wasting scarce resources and time. Many lawyers have lost their lives even before hearings could commence in the case they are prosecuting. Others have been permanently incapacitated.
Thankfully, 4Tune Technologies Ltd has eliminated all that with this e-court application designed with the latest technology framework that has been in operation in our judiciary system since 2021. Apart from the installation, the firm had equally taken the pain of holding special training for court administrations, the hosting authorities for this app. They have been properly tutored on how to make use of it to do away with bottlenecks that impede justice. So the software is the bridge between the lawyers and the court and not any courier service company that may never deliver.
Fatai maintained that because lawyers’ reports are in electronic formats, it eases the stress judges themselves deal with. With their secured platform, they can go to any paragraph of relevance from the report of the counsels, highlight, copy and paste, the same thing every other person does with their mobile phones, including the not-too-lettered. It takes off the pain of passing through a new phase of typing by the typist and several weeks of delay that comes with it. Under digitised means, a judge can dispense justice in record time while the litigants go home either satisfied or with a rumpled face, depending on which side of the stick s/he is holding. What is important is that justice has been served and quickly so.
Who would not think of innovative ways of doing things after the COVID-19 experience that almost brought the global community to its knees? Who would not want to leverage on the solutions of technology to get problems solved, especially in the judicial sector which is the powerhouse of our corporate co-existence because of the role it plays in settling disputes and repairing relationships?
To ice the cake further, 4Tune Technologies Ltd has moved beyond the introduction of an e-filing portal to roll out an even more robust initiative and that is the virtual sitting. In the same way businesses, corporate organisations and even families have adopted virtual meetings as an avenue to discuss issues that border on their growth and development, the firm sees no reason Nigerian courts should not adjudicate virtually. Today, we see large organisations including banks hold their Annual General Meetings virtually. Peculiar challenges in the country, including security concerns have made our courts overdue for full entrenchment of virtual sitting as obtainable in other parts of the world.
Interestingly, Fatai and his team have demonstrated an iron-cast capacity to make this work. The testimony from the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) where this has been fully domesticated has been mind-blowing. Thankfully, the court under the presidency of Hon. Justice Benedict Kanyip (OFR) has been receptive and supportive of ideas that would address impunity in industrial relations and the virtual sitting of the court is one of such. It has maintained a lead in the use of technology to carry out its jobs.
NICN is not alone here. The Tax Appeal Tribunal (TAT) has also decided not to be left behind in the new world order where the solution has been brought to our palms.
All these put together make it imperative for us to start the gradual process of disabusing our minds from the archaic philosophy that judges are not meant to be seen but heard. “Are they egungu that cannot be seen? Almost all the courts have a website and the profiles of the judges are there with their pictures, so what else are you hiding? The lawyers who are before them know them. Judges are dealing with humans, so why would they not be seen? The justice system has evolved and we must not be stuck in the past,” he counselled.
The testimonies from the courts where this technology has been fully domesticated have been amazing. From FCT, Jigawa and Yobe state judiciaries where it has been deployed, the goodness of this technology has been applauded. It has made judges’ work a lot easier. Counsels and chambers also have access to the e-court’s archive to make use of what they have filed in the court in the past for future use.
Through the virtual court, several judgements have been delivered and streamlined for any interested party. They are safely available on the websites of those courts and can be accessed any time, any day.
Instructively, all heads of court in Nigeria were officially informed about this technology free of charge through a letter. Thanks to the likes of Justice Fadima Aminu of the Federal High Court Damaturu who through her personal efforts ensured that the Federal High Court adopted this solution for deployment. Again, she did not only support and utilise this solution, she has equally continued to market it to all her colleagues who are ready to veer off the old system to more digitised means of carrying out their jobs. She told them how the e-filing system and virtual system helped her to timely dispense of her pre-election cases in preparation to the 2023 elections.
Also worthy of commendation is the leadership of the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS) Damaturu command that approved the establishment of a virtual courtroom in Potiskum prison, thereby eliminating the challenge of transporting inmates from Potiskum to Damaturu, a distance that covers nearly 100 km, along with a disturbing security situation there. But with this virtual courtroom, lawyers will just go there and get connected to the court with a click of a button. Again, the credit goes to Justice Fadima who is leading from behind.
Today, both the Jigawa State High Court and the Sharia Court of Appeal are enjoying this solution and in the coming days, Kano and other states have equally demonstrated readiness to join the league. It is equally user-friendly and tailored in such a way that anyone who can send or receive an email can use it. No stress, no hassle. Isn’t this super amazing?
Now let me shock you — 4Tune Technologies Ltd under the leadership of Fatai Abiodun has been doing all these at a zero charge as everything is totally free for the Federal High Court since 2021. This is anchored on its strong conviction that no sacrifice is worth sparing for the oppressed to get justice and for the desolate to get succour. From the installation process to training, finishing, maintenance and upgrade, the firm has fully shouldered the costs since 2021, including the internet data as part of its own contributions to strengthening the Nigerian judicial system.
“It takes the collective efforts of all to make our system work. You will agree with me that the judiciary is underfunded when compared with the executive and legislative arms of government. We cannot continue to pay a deaf ear to some of these glaring challenges. For us at 4Tune Technologies, our satisfaction arises from the fact that people are able to access our solutions and it has contributed in great measure to the administration of justice. Everything should not be about money,” Mr. Fatai emphasised.
4Tune Technologies Ltd is also willing, ready and available to partner with organisations of like-mind in building a judicial system that will enjoy the confidence of all, where our people will go and get justice and be alive to celebrate the joy of victory.
For states and heads of court in the country who are yet to adopt this solution, it is my appeal that you hastily take a step in order not to be left behind by your peers who are currently doing exploits with this beautiful innovation. Ways of doing virtually everything is dynamically evolving, so we must leave the past and focus on now in order to be fully prepared for the future.
As I bring this piece to a close, it is worth remarking that with his talent, zeal and large heart for selflessness in service to the fatherland, somebody is reserving for himself a proud mention in the page where names of those who were part of the much-needed solution for an enhanced justice delivery system will be mentioned someday. Kudos Abiodun and his 4Tune Technologies Ltd.
Enemanna, an Abuja-based journalist writes from firstname.lastname@example.org