The judiciary used to be trusted for its independence. Perhaps no longer
Anybody who has read the history of the Italian judiciary and its judgments at the height of the rule of the Mafia in the affairs of state cannot but be worried about what is happening in Nigeria today. What we are witnessing is an era of casino justice where politicians are picking their own judges while the enforcement authorities are aligning with whichever parties they believe would better serve the interest of the people in power.
For any avoidance of doubt, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) has clothed the courts with certain powers. In exercising such powers, judges are required to determine disputes between parties in an atmosphere of impartiality and independence. To ensure certainty in the law and avoid anarchy in the society, the government and the governed, are also expected to comply with the decisions of all courts. However, in recent times, a number of highly placed judges have consistently sabotaged the judiciary and exposed the country to ridicule by delivering judgments that are antithetical to the dispensation of justice and the rule of law.
Apart from granting perpetual injunction to confer permanent immunity on criminal suspects involved in corruption cases, some members of the bench have also been giving contradictory orders in respect of pre-election and post-election petitions and other cases involving members of the same political parties. What worries is that even the apex court in the land is not immune from this problem. Without setting aside its previous decisions on matters of jurisprudential significance, the Supreme Court has on some occasions been accused of rendering conflicting judgments. The Court of Appeal has followed this dangerous path. And in the atmosphere of judicial confusion, lower courts are compelled to choose and pick from these conflicting decisions of appellate courts.
As the National Judicial Council (NJC) has failed to intervene by restraining the courts from giving contradictory orders, judges of the federal high court have taken the matter to a ridiculous extent. In a blatant show of shame, judges sitting in the Port Harcourt and Abuja judicial divisions of the federal high court last Tuesday gave contradictory orders on the national convention of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) scheduled to hold the next day (last Wednesday) in Port Harcourt, Rivers state. At the end, they succeeded in disrupting the exercise.
What is particularly disturbing is the manner in which our judges have entered the political arena and the subtle encouragement from those who should be concerned. Even more tragic is the seeming subversion of the judiciary to achieve predetermined political outcomes. In June this year, the federal high court delivered a judgment in the pre-election governorship tussle of the PDP in Abia State. In setting aside the nomination of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, the presiding judge ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to give certificate of return to his opponent, Mr. Uche Ogar. Within 48 hours thereafter, a high court judge in Abia State countermanded the orders of the federal high court.
However, in a unanimous judgment last Thursday, the Court of Appeal in Abuja, had strong words to describe the action of Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja, over the Abia State matter. Abang, who has acquired a reputation for giving controversial rulings, was reprimanded for going beyond his remit as a judge.
Meanwhile, although the PDP’s national convention in Port Harcourt has come and gone, we must condemn in very strong term the invasion of the venue by the police and other security agencies. While we call on the PDP to put its house in order, it is also important for the NJC to embark on a thorough house-cleaning so as to dispense with judges who have become notorious for dishing out “black market injunctions” and bringing the name of the judiciary into disrepute by turning the law upside down.
Quote: While we call on the PDP to put its house in order, it is also important for the NJC to embark on a thorough house-cleaning so as to dispense with judges who have become notorious for dishing out ‘black market injunctions’ and bringing the name of the judiciary into disrepute