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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

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War over judiciary

• Courts pushing Nigeria to anarchy –Bode George

• We won’t replace law with mob emotions –CJN

• Tinubu ready to implement reforms –Fagbemi

Lagos Peoples Democratic Party Elders, led by former national vice chairman of the party, Olabode George, has warned of a looming anarchy over the actions of the judiciary in giving conflicting judgments.

At a meeting in Lagos, yesterday, attended by elders of the PDP, including former deputy governor of the state, Kofoworola Bucknor Akerele, George said it was not the best of times for the judiciary in Nigeria because, according to him, what is oozing from the third arm of government is offensive to millions of Nigerians and when the judiciary is compromised, democracy is gone.

He said because of conflicting and contradictory judgments coming from a few judges, the faith of many Nigerians in the judiciary is understandably shaken.

George said many Nigerians point to some ‘corrupt’ judges who escape unscathed to ‘enjoy their ill-gotten’ wealth because the system is weak or compromised to do proper investigation.

“We now have a situation in which courageous judges who refuse to do the biddings of ‘powers that be’ are accused of being corrupt and forced to resign. In many political cases, millions of people believe, and rightly so, that some judges deliver judgments, not justice. What exactly is the problem of the judiciary? Where did we get it wrong? Why is it difficult for the judiciary to assert its control over politicians and political parties? Why are technicalities being used to affirm electoral heists and in the process, undermine the will of the people and silence them? What is the meaning of a ‘typographical error’ when a judgment had already been delivered? Is it, according to some Nigerians, that the ‘real’ judgment was pushed aside and another read which has now led to a ‘typographical error?’

“In justice delivery and matter of life and death, judges are next to God. That is why anything that comes from the court is final, especially from the apex court in the land – the Supreme Court. There is nowhere to go again after the Supreme Court says yes or no on a matter before it. It is the final bus stop.

“So, any pronouncement from our courts must be infallible. But, when people begin to question the judgment of a particular court, it shows there is crisis in the polity. And this is totally unacceptable in Nigeria of 2023.

“The judiciary, recently, and to the embarrassment of millions of Nigerians, has not lived above board. There are many conflicting judgments from courts of coordinate jurisdiction that Nigerians begin to wonder: Embarrassingly, there are now incessant conflicting ex parte orders from courts of coordinate jurisdiction. Many Nigerians see this as a cankerworm affecting the judiciary. Stories of millions of dollars now fly around, especially in political cases.

“Sadly, some politicians now use the court as a shield and the highest political bidders are recklessly granted favourable orders.

“A few weeks ago, a retired justice of the Supreme Court, Musa Muhammad Dattijo, took the judiciary to the cleaners. Nobody could have exposed the rot in the third arm of government better than the septuagenarian jurist. What a shame!

“Obviously, the unholy dalliances between some politicians and judges is dangerous to our democracy. Millions of people will come out on the day of election, queue, collect ballot papers, cast their votes for their preferred candidates, results will be announced and everybody will jubilate only for three, five or seven judges to upturn the popular will of the people. What an affront? Pitiably, we now have a situation in which politicians who did not participate in party primaries are affirmed by the judiciary as the candidates because of ‘technicalities’.

“That is why Nigerians strongly believe some members of the executive suppress and intimidate judges, just to get favourable judgments. Electoral verdict should be the sole responsibility of the electorate but it has now been turned upside down.

“Now, judges select who should be members of House of Representatives, senators, governors and even the president. What kind of electoral system are we running that all vices, electoral crimes, defects and manipulations cannot be checked before the general election? It is our belief that the best the judiciary must do in political cases is to adjudicate and where there are discrepancies, order for a rerun without giving victory to party A or B. In our opinion, it is wrong to remove the power of the electorate to elect political leaders and for the judiciary to tell us who the winners are. This is not good for the polity. This is not good for Nigeria. This is not good for our electoral system. A compromised judiciary is dangerous. Something urgent must be done to stop this malady,” he said.

•Public opinion should not override constitution in deciding cases –CJN

Notwithstanding the controversies trailing some recent judicial pronouncenments, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Olukayode Ariwoola, has vowed that the judiciary would not replace the law with sentiments and emotions of the public.   

The CJN, who spoke at a special session of the Supreme Court to mark the commencement of the 2023/2024 Legal Year and conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) on 58 lawyers, charged judges to be impartial in all the judgments they deliver.

This came as the attorney general of the Federation and Minister of Justice (AGF), Lateef Fagbemi, advised the National Judicial Council (NJC) to hasten the process of filling the vacancies at the Supreme Court.

Admonishing justices, the CJN said: “The law remains the law, no matter whose interest is involved. In all we do, as interpreters of the law, we should endeavour to sever the strings of emotion from logic and assumption from fact.

“We should never be overwhelmed by the actions or loud voices of the mob or crowd and now begin to confuse law with sentiment or something else in deciding our cases.  Nevertheless, unnecessary and unwarranted utterances are bound to embarrass not only others, but the judge himself; thus what should be asked, should be asked, and what should not be asked, should be avoided.”

He also asked justices to be above board and to be bold during adjudication.  “I admonish our judges to, as usual, receive what is tendered in court and eschew what is against the law and facts after thorough analysis and assimilation both in and out of court, which exercise is, of course, part of judgeship. The Caesar’s wife must be above board! Your image and reputation both inside and outside the court must be pristine and crystal clear to all and sundry. Like I said earlier, be bold in all your judgments by deciding cases without fear or favour, because fear and favour come in many hues and colours.” 

•Be fair in your verdicts

“Therefore, it is our solemn responsibility to keep the river clean at all times. Needless to say that impartiality is the hallmark of a judge. I admonish all of us to always be impartial in all our judgments.

“I am saying all these now because I will never have this great privilege and opportunity to address the galaxies of legal luminaries — judicial icons and distinguished personalities in the justice sector of our dear nation, in another legal year of the Supreme Court as Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) – in my entire lifetime again.”

The CJN said he would strive to ensure the judiciary remains independent.

“The rule of law and the holistic independence of the judiciary should always be cherished by all. As the CJN, I will do everything within my ability to make it remain part of my responsibility to nourish.

“The judiciary, as it is today, is more deserving of public trust and confidence than ever before; and we are poised to reposition it for effective justice delivery to make our beloved country a destination of note in the observance of the rule of law and tenets of constitutionalism.

“Nigeria must move forward in all spheres of life; and we must collectively evolve a society where things must be done right to get the right environment for every right thing to thrive rightly for our collective good.”

The CJN said judges must make books their armour and hard work their armaments to confront ignorance and conservatism.

“I, therefore, advise all judicial officers serving in our jurisdiction to make books their armour and hard work their armaments to confront the headwinds of ignorance, conservatism and stagnation. It is imperative to know that in the world we only remember those who lead from the front and set trends for others to emulate.”

Ariwoola said judges should not be afraid of venturing into unchartered territories, “provided your knowledge is adequate and your skills are equally well-tested.”

•Seeks amendment to end most cases at A’Court

Overwhelmed by the litany of cases in the docket of the Supreme Court, Ariwoola advocated an amendment to the 1999 Constitution that would end the lifespan of most cases at the Court of Appeal.

“I have made it clear at different occasions that it is not every dispute that must find its way to the court, and it is not every matter that must come up to the Supreme Court on appeal. Our laws have to be amended to make most appeals end at the Court of Appeal.”

While submitting that the appellate court is competent to adjudicate on all cases, the CJN also urged Nigerians to be less litigious and embrace alternative dispute-resolution mechanisms.

The Supreme Court, as presently constituted, has only 10 justices on its bench to grapple with both political, criminal and other civil cases pending before it.

The CJN disclosed that 1,271 appeals and motions were filed at the registry of the court in the outgone year.

“Out of these, we heard 388 political appeals, 215 criminal appeals, and 464 civil appeals. Similarly, the court considered 49 criminal motions, 153 civil motions, and two political motions,” he said.

The CJN further disclosed the Supreme Court had between September 2022 and July 2023, delivered 251 judgments.

“Out of these, 125 were political appeals, 81 were civil appeals and 45 were criminal appeals. Within the period under review (precisely 10 months’ duration), a total number of 91 Rulings were delivered by the court,” Ariwoola said, praising the Supreme Court for its output in the last legal year.

Meanwhile, Ariwoola, who has less than a year in office, vowed to leave a legacy of having 11 more justices to the Supreme Court to achieve the unprecedented full complement of 21 justices.

On the need for judges to be upright, the CJN said integrity remains an essential quality of a judicial officer.

He urged judges to exhibit “the standards of integrity, morality, and good behaviour” in the discharge of their duties.

“In a situation where a judge decides a case wrongly out of motives, it shakes the faith of the litigant public; and by extension, the whole society.”

Ariwoola, who noted that a corrupt judge “has no right to continue to occupy the chair as a judicial officer,” admonished judges to “lead a disciplined and principled lifestyle that will enhance their trust and integrity quotient.”

Fagbemi expressed President Bola Tinubu’s “readiness to implement judicial reforms with the cooperation of the judiciary.

“We, therefore, earnestly await the judiciary to set the ball rolling to enable the other arms to play their part in this critical aspect of nation-building,” he said.

The Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN) represented by Ebun Sofunde, a SAN, said Nigerians were fast losing hope in the capacity of the judiciary to deliver justice on time.

In response to the problem, Sofunde said disgruntled Nigerians were resorting to law enforcement agents for settling disputes, a situation he described as illegal.

“Law enforcement agents now fill the void created by inefficient judicial system.

“When judges are overwhelmed by work burden, they see adjudication of cases as perfunctory.”

The lawyer explained that excessive workload on judges impacts negatively on the quality of decisions emanating from the courts.

He warned that citizens’ loss of confidence in the justice system births anarchy.

He advised the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee, a body saddled with the conferment of the rank of SAN, to review its criteria in terms of the number of concluded cases lawyers are required to have in their kitty before applying for the prestigious award.

Sofunde noted that the criterion concerning the number of cases to be filed by SAN applicants puts pressure on the courts as lawyers lodge frivolous suits that end up clogging the courts’ dockets.


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