CJN, State Chief Judges and conflicting orders

Last week, the Chief Justice of the Federation (CJN), Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad wielded the big stick on some state chief judges, under whose jurisdictions some judges dragged the judiciary into disrepute.

Nigerians watched with consternation as judges were giving all manner of pronouncements on same cases, even outside their jurisdiction in the case of the forth-coming Anambra gubernatorial election slated for November 6.

A senior advocate of Nigeria said of the development: “What we have now is a classic infraction of court processes.”

Layi Babatunde (SAN), speaking in an interview on Channels Television, said the expectation from the meeting between the CJN and state chief judges was that down the line it would have a positive effect.

Babatunde said that every judge “is a master in his own court; once you decide on a case, you have to bear the responsibility for the judgment. But the state Chief Judge has the duty of assigning cases. He must also follow up by finding out how the case or the judgment is delivered.”

He lamented that “There are people- some litigants that would want to control the court. Politicians are in that group. They want to have their way. They want judgment delivered in their favour.”

He noted that the situation has been messed up nowadays that a party in a case in court will be organising free training for judges and lawyers, and that when this kind of thing happens it means that all is not well.

He also blamed the National Assembly for creating a situation where the court now has the final say on electoral matters and not the people.

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He wondered why a case that happens in Anambra State is being adjudicated on in Zamfara, Jigawa, Kebbi, Imo, Kwara as has been happening in the Anambra situation. He said that common sense should tell the judges and lawyers involved that such a thing is not right.

“Nowadays, the cases that give the judiciary bad name are political-related cases. The National Assembly should not dabble into the affairs of political parties, to the point of legislating that the court and not the people have the right to decide candidates for parties. This is causing confusion and putting INEC in a very confused state. What kind of democracy is that?

“Democracy is supposed to be participatory and the people should not be spectators in matters that concern them. Now, it is the court that determines who is there. The people must be the determinant of who leads them. Why is it that at every turn, we are looking at who the court says is the councilor, chairman or governor and not those duly elected by the people? It creates confusion in the polity.”

Some observers said that this has resulted in increased apathy being shown by the voting masses.

“Over the years, the people have watched that those they voted for are not being given the opportunity to govern, but those who came through legal process. The situation has been on since 1999 when the country returned to civil rule, but it has worsened in the last six years.

“There seems to be no improvement in the way things are done in the country. If anything, it is getting worse. In 1993, the then military head of state said, ‘We want to save judiciary from itself’. Today, 28 years down the line, the situation seems to be worsening,” a legal practitioner said.

Paul Harris Ogbole, SAN, said that conflicting orders affect the integrity of the judiciary and the nation’s electoral process.

“When there are contradictory and conflicting orders from different courts on same matter, it breeds chaos. The CJN exercised his powers to call to order, the heads of court from where these orders came from,” he said.

Recall that Festus Okoye, INEC national commissioner and chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, had recently decried conflicting orders or multiple court judgments received by the commission on the forth-coming election in Anambra State.

“What is going on is what in legal parlance, we call ‘forum shopping’ — people who are looking for a place where they can get a favourable decision,” he said.

“For a party that had its primary in Anambra, for instance, some people will go to Bauchi State, some people will go to Jigawa State, some people will go to Imo State and to other places to go and look for a place where they can get a favourable decision.

“It is important for the judiciary to intervene in what is going on. If this spate of multiple and conflicting court orders is carried forward to the 2023 general election, it is going to have far-reaching consequences on our electoral process,” Okoye said.

Goddy Uwazuruike, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), had also recently decried “Forum shopping”, describing the trend as unfortunate.

Uwazuruike insisted that it was condemnable for politicians in the Anambra election to go to Bauchi High Court, Imo High Court, Jigawa High Court, Ukwa High Court, and other courts playing truancy.

“If the truancy is about Anambra election, what is the business of Ukwa, Birnin Kudu, Owerri, Bauchi, etc?” he wondered.

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