Politicians Still Influencing Judges to Use Court against Democracy

0

Alexander Enumah

Weeks after the Chief Justice of Nigeria (NJC), Justice Ibrahim Muhammad, who was angered by conflicting orders from courts of coordinate jurisdictions, issued a stern warning to judges on the need to act right in nation’s interest, it appears an end is not in sight yet to the impunity of some of the judges and justices in the country.

Unfortunately, the unsavoury dispositions of some of the justices and judges to democratic concerns, have continued to decimate the gains of the nation’s 23 years of unbroken civil rule. Even when they know full well they lack the jurisdiction to entertain the matters, they still go ahead to hear and pronounce ruling, which becomes an albatross on the neck of the party it was obtained against.

The submission of a majority of the people is that if the trend persisted, the fourth republic, which prides itself as the longest in the history of Nigeria’s democracy, might come to an abrupt end going by the recent activities of desperate politicians and their cohorts in the judiciary.

One of the recent indicators to this unending judicial rascality could be located in how some individuals had rushed to court to stop the forthcoming national convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the manner the courts have been encouraging the resort to destabilisation.

National Convention Organising Committee (NCOC) of the PDP raised the alarm about a suit filed at the Kaduna High Court, ostensibly to derail the October 30 and 31 national convention and advised party members to be wary of such disgruntled and misguided members of the party.

Although details of the suit have remained sketchy, it was allegedly filed by an aide to a former Vice President, Namadi Sambo. But the aide, said to be close to Secondus, has however denied having anything to do with the suit.

Secretary of the NCOC and Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde, said, “Notwithstanding their right to approach a court of competent jurisdiction to air their grievances, we maintain that the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the PDP has acted in good faith in fixing our convention for October 30 and 31. It is not meant to witch-hunt anyone or to truncate anyone’s mandate.

“Therefore, we call on all members and supporters of the PDP to ignore this distraction as we prepare to host a convention that will send a clear signal to Nigerians that the PDP is the only party that has the will and the might to rescue Nigeria from the catastrophe that we have been enduring for the past six years.”

But Secondus had through his lawyer, Mr Tayo Oyetiba, SAN, asked the PDP to shelve the planned convention slated for October 30 and 31, pending the determination of Secondus’ appeal.

The appeal with the number CA/PH/341/2021, is seeking to quash his suspension and applied for “An order of injunction restraining the Peoples Democratic Party, the 6 respondent herein, whether by itself, its officers, servants, agents and or representatives from holding or conducting its National Convention scheduled for 30th and 31st October 2021 or any other date, pending the hearing and final determination of this appeal.”

The hearing of the appeal as well as the motion for interlocutory injunction comes up today, Tuesday, October 26, at the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal.

Whether the appellate court would accede to the demand or not is another, particularly, taking into consideration the recent position of appellate court justices with respect to exparte granted by High Court judges.

It is worthy of mention that the appellate court and even the Supreme Court had descended heavily on the High Court judges particularly, in the Anambra governorship suits.

Justice Chioma Nwosu-Iheme of the Court of Appeal had in a ruling on August 2, in the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), governorship tussle, called for sanction against two judges in the Jigawa and Imo States High Court for what she described as professional misconduct. She also called for sanctions for lawyers, who aided politicians in the filing of all such applications that had brought the court to ridicule.

Similarly, Justice Hamma Zamani of the Kano Division of the Court of Appeal had on August 10 in his judgment, set aside the judgment of a Jigawa State High Court, which had earlier declared Jude Okeke and Chukwuma Umeoji as the APGA national chairman and governorship candidate respectively.

The appellate court claimed that the trial court erred by entertaining a suit wherein it lacked jurisdiction. The Supreme Court, also in a judgment on October 14, 2021, upheld the decision of Justice Zamani of the Kano division of the Appeal Court for nullifying the judgment of the High Court for want of jurisdiction.

The apex court in a unanimous judgment held that the internal issue of political parties’ was outside the jurisdiction of courts and consequently upheld the judgment of the Court of Appeal, which resolved the leadership tussle in APGA in favour of Victor Oye and also upheld the primary election conducted by his leadership, which produced Professor Chukwuma Soludo as APGA’s governorship candidate for the November 6 governorship election.

Soludo was nominated candidate of APGA in the forthcoming governorship poll by the Oye faction and his nomination was accepted by INEC. But Okeke challenged the authenticity of the Oye leadership at a Federal High Court in Jigawa State, where judgment was given in his favour.

However, the Jigawa Judgment was set aside by the Appeal Court leading him to proceed to the apex court to upturn the appellate court’s decision.

The seven member panel of the apex court in the judgment delivered by Justice Mary Odili, held that it was clear that the appellant engaged in abuse of judicial process, because the subject matter of the suit was not justiciable as it bordered on the internal matters of a political party.

While the panel berated lawyers to the appellant for engaging in unethical conduct by filing such suit in the first place, it blamed the Jigawa High Court judge for accepting to hear the suit that was outside his jurisdiction. The panel went on to slam a fine of N1 million against the appellant for abuse of court process.

Aside the judges, the umbrella body for lawyers, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), had also condemned the development and promised to deal with lawyers engaging in acts capable of bringing the judiciary to disrepute.

A statement by its National President in September, Mr. Olumide Akpata, described as unfortunate, the recurring trend of contradictory court orders especially amongst courts of coordinate jurisdiction. He cited the recent cases involving the Anambra State forthcoming election and the PDP leadership crisis, which according to him “evokes memories of those eerie and unwanted dark days.

“While the NBA will continue to stay away from the political ramifications and machinations involved in these matters, it is self-evident that these developments in our courts are antithetical to the actualisation of the just society and independent judiciary that we all aspire to, and they run contrary to everything we teach and hold dear as a profession.”

There’s a swirling belief that of the three judges under probe, one or two were involved in the PDP leadership crisis suit. While Justice O. Gbasam of a High Court of Rivers State, had on August 23, 2021 issued an order of interim injunction restraining Secondus from carrying on as Chairman of the PDP, pending the hearing and determination of a suit challenging his continued stay in office, Justice Nusirat Umar of the Kebbi State High Court, issued another order on Secondus to return to his position as the National Chairman on August 26.

The judge made the order while delivering ruling in a suit marked KB/AC/M. 170/2021, filed by three concerned members of the party, Yahaya Usman, Abubakar mohammed and Bashar Suleman.

Justice Umar said she was satisfied after reading the affavidit of the respondents that an interim order should be granted on the purported suspension of Secondus pending the determination of the case.

But before Secondus could carry out the order, Justice Edem Kooffreh of a Cross River State High Court on August 28, restrained him from resuming.

The amusing thing about all the orders is that they were not only issued by courts of coordinate jurisdiction, but were all based on exparte applications.

Attempt to rid the judiciary of bad eggs started, when the National Judicial Council (NJC) under the chairmanship of the CJN, constituted an investigative panel to probe the three High Court judges over their alleged indiscriminate issuance of court orders, an act perceived as detrimental to the nation’s democracy.

A statement by the Director of Information, NJC, Mr Soji Oye, read, “The National Judicial Council under the Chairmanship of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice I. T. Muhammad, at its 95th Meeting held on September 15 and 16, 2021, in line with the principles of fair hearing, has directed the three Judges of coordinate jurisdiction, who granted Exparte Orders over the same case with the same subject matter to appear before a special Investigation Committee constituted by the Council in order to show cause why disciplinary action should not be taken against them for such act”.

Although, the names of the judges and the jurisdiction they operated were not made public, they were however believed to be amongst the six jurisdictions of the High Court whose heads were summoned by the CJN in August, to explain the rationale behind the issuance of conflicting others by judges in their jurisdiction.

The letter dated August 30, read in part: “My attention has been drawn to media reports to the effect that some Courts of coordinate jurisdiction were granting conflicting Exparte Orders on the same subject matter.

“It has become expedient for me to invite you for a detailed briefing on the development. This is even more compelling having regard to earlier NJC Warning to judicial officers on the need to be circumspect in granting Ex-parte applications”.

From the tone of the letter, it was obvious that the CJN was not only worried but also bitter over the development, which sources around the CJN noted was a huge embarrassment tothe Nigerian judiciary and the country at large.

Speaking on the ongoing probe of the three judges on Monday in Abuja, an official of the NJC, who did not want his name mentioned, said the probe was ongoing and once the committee concluded its job, which he believed was in no distant time, the council would look into it and take critical decisions to serve as a warning to others if the said judges were guilty of the allegations.

“The committee is still sitting, you know they have to give them fair hearing, they will bring their lawyers to defend them, afterwards the committee will now recommend them to the plenary of the NJC. It is the NEC meeting that will determine, whatever the plenary agrees is the final decision,” he said.

While it is difficult to comprehend what would make a judge assume jurisdiction in a case he knew he lacked any, the level of condemnation and fines against politicians and their lawyers by the appellate and Supreme Courts, have yet to abate the obnoxious situation in the judiciary.