Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, has said that the National Judicial Council (NJC) is investigating judges delivering conflicting judgments on same issues.
The CJN, who was delivering his address at the special session of the Supreme Court to mark the commencement of the 2016/2017 legal year and swearing-in of new Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), said the council had received petitions against some judges who delivered conflicting judgments and that it was investigating the petitions.
As part of the investigation, THISDAY learnt that the NJC had already written to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), asking the commission to forward to the council conflicting judgments delivered by judges against the commission.
INEC had at various fora complained that its work was being hampered by conflicting judgments. The commission cited an instance where a court ordered the commission to exclude the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) only for another court with concurrent jurisdiction to order that the party be included.
The CJN said that at the end of the investigation, appropriate actions would be taken against any judge found culpable.
There have been a couple of conflicting judgments in recent times, both at the level of the Court of Appeal and the Federal High Court.
The most recent in the various judgments is the PDP suits on its National Convention, emanating from both Abuja and Port Harcourt divisions of the Federal High Court.
Mohammed further expressed dismay over the growing trend of the disregard for laid down precedents in decisions from various levels of courts, especially at the appellate court.
He stated that every court in Nigeria is bound by the decisions of the Supreme Court and should not graft a different outcome from those expressly laid down by the Supreme Court.
“Several conflicting decisions were recklessly dished out by the Court of Appeal last year in appeals arising from various decisions of the Election Petitions Tribunals, given on election petitions filed by parties who lost in the general election conducted in April 2015. Such decisions were made as a result of flagrant refusal of the panels of the Court of Appeal involved, to be bound not only by its own decisions but also by the decision of this court,” he said.
On the delay in the justice system, the CJN heaped part of the blame on lawyers who exploit loopholes in the law to pervert the cause of justice.
“While we all rush to rehash the age-old rhetoric that justice delayed is justice denied, the actions of our key stakeholders, particularly members of the bar have often proven to be far from words,” he said.
According to him, “Sadly, certain members of the Bar are conspicuous in utilising unethical, frivolous applications and appeals, multiplicity of actions in courts of co-ordinate jurisdiction and other act of calumny to frustrate the speedy dispensation of justice. The Supreme Court takes a dim view of such delays and we will constantly introduce measures to reduce delay in the administration of justice as the past year’s statistics will doubtless testify.”
The CJN also warned lawyers to cease writing petitions against judicial officers directly to President Muhammadu Buhari and directed judges to deal with any lawyer that maligned them.
He advised lawyers to address their petition to the NJC and promised that the council would act on it without delay.
Mohammed, who is proceeding on retirement in November 2016, charged
the new SANs to imbibe the highest tenets of integrity and humility befitting their status.
In his speech, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), expressed concern over conflicting judgments from various courts in the land.
Malami, who was represented by the Solicitor General of the Federation, Mr. Taiwo Abidogun, called on the leadership of the judiciary to move fast in order to prevent the continuation of such occurrence.
He also charged the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee to come up with a policy that would further ensure that those who were admitted into the inner bar were qualified both in practice and character.
He charged the new SANs to remain shining lights in the practice of law.
Speaking on behalf of the body of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Onomigbo Okpoko noted that the judiciary in the nation had in recent time witnessed the show of shame brought about by courts of co-ordinate jurisdiction assuming jurisdiction to hear the same dispute, between the same parties and delivering verdicts that were totally in conflict with one another.
He called on the CJN and the NJC to step in immediately to control the damage already done in order to save the justice system from further ridicule.
The Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) President, Mr. Abubakar Mahmud (SAN), in his address reiterated the need for the bar to guard the reputation of the judiciary jealously.
“On our part, we shall continue to be strong advocates of the greater independence of the judiciary. But that means we will fight even those within who seek to undermine its reputation,” he said.
Speaking on the state of the nation, Mahmud admitted that the country was facing daunting challenges.
He said: “Getting out of our present situation demands concerted efforts of all citizens and all institutions. The expectation of the legal profession is enormous. We must demonstrate patriotism and leadership as well as knowledge and skills. We must work to enhance confidence in the legal system, promote the rule of law, guarantee protection of citizens as well as promote the sanctity of contractual obligations thereby improving the business environment.”
Speaking on behalf of the new SANs, the Director General of the Nigerian Law School, Mr. Olanrewaju Onadeko, who is the most senior, called for an effective pupillage system for new entrants into the legal profession, adding that such would avail them of a period of hands-on apprenticeship in law establishments, for a total comprehension of law practice.