Judicial authorities must clarify urgently legal issues involving the recall process of elected members
The decision by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to report a serving judge of the Federal High Court, Abuja to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) over the recall process on the senator representing the Kogi West Senatorial District is another reminder of the challenge of justice administration in Nigeria. INEC Commissioner, Prof. Okechukwu Ibeanu, said the commission decided to draw the attention of the CJN to the order of Justice John Tsoho to prevent a precedent in which politicians would resort to using the court to derail legitimate electoral process.
Coming at a period the confidence of the public has been badly shaken by the antics of several of the men and women on the bench, this is one issue the CJN must deal with expeditiously. “Whereas, the court adjourned hearing of the Motion on Notice to 29th September 2017, it should be noted that Section 69 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) sets a limit of 90 days from the date of the presentation of the petition (21st June, 2017) for the exercise to be completed”, said Obeanu who explained the implication of the ruling that was ostensibly orchestrated to render INEC power ineffectual.
Even though INEC has asked the judge of the Federal High Court Abuja, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba to vacate the order that had stopped it from proceeding with Senator Dino Melaye’s recall process, many questions still beg for answers. Why would the Judge grant such an order without hearing from INEC, thus denying an elementary canon of law which is fair hearing? Or is it that the judge is ignorant of the law on recall process?
It is unfortunate that in Nigeria today, there are two different laws: one for the rich and another for the poor. What worries is that it is a pervasive problem. While justice administration should ordinarily be about the protection of the rights and liberties of citizens and the promotion of the rule of law and public good, justice is no longer for the weak in Nigeria. Yet a system where politicians can easily procure “justice”, where some senior lawyers are known to write judgments for some judges to adopt, is only one step away from anarchy.
The crisis of credibility afflicting the judiciary has taken a serious toll on the institution whose image in the eyes of many Nigerians is now severely battered. It is all the more unfortunate that those bringing shame upon the institution are the same custodians charged with maintaining its integrity and prestige.
So bad is the situation that there have lately been investigation of some men and women on the bench, including Supreme Court Justices, allegedly linked with corrupt practices. Some judges are also currently under trial. Restoring credibility has therefore become the task of all the relevant stakeholders but more that of Justice Walter Onnoghen as the CJN and chair of the National Judicial Commission (NJC).
The judiciary, it is worth repeating, is not just any institution: it is an important arm of government that knits human society together. Yet the function of law as instrument of social engineering is made difficult in Nigeria by the corruption of judges. From the delays in the administration of justice which are most often deliberate acts to the culture of tardiness and corruption which robs the institution of its impartiality, fairness and independence, there is an urgent need to restore integrity to the bar and the bench in Nigeria, beginning with the INEC case in the recall process for Senator Melaye.