Democracy: The Crumbling Cookies of the Judiciary in Nigeria

Democracy: The Crumbling Cookies of the Judiciary in Nigeria

The Nigerian judiciary has never had it this bad, with different allegations thrown at judicial officials for not being impartial in their adjudication on matters before some of the members of the third arm of government. When the Department of State Security in a sting operation invaded the homes of judges in 2016 and huge

The Nigerian judiciary has never had it this bad, with different allegations thrown at judicial officials for not being impartial in their adjudication on matters before some of the members of the third arm of government. When the Department of State Security in a sting operation invaded the homes of judges in 2016 and huge sums of money, unexplainable by some of them were recovered, there was an outcry by Nigerians against the DSS. At the same time, Nigerians thought that humiliation was enough to sober judges and make them to administer justice more transparently and make parties to a matter before them satisfied that justice has been done in a fair and just manner.

Justifying its action against the arrest and search of judges’ homes, the DSS said in a statement: “The Service action is in line with its core mandate, as we have been monitoring the expensive and luxurious lifestyle of some of the judges as well as complaints from the concerned public over judgment obtained fraudulently and on the basis amounts of money paid,”. Similar allegations are flying all over the place in Nigeria now.

Chief Justice Kayode Ariwoola

After the 2023 general elections and those who lost out started filing petitions at the various tribunals across Nigeria, there emerged billboards in Abuja, the federal capital territory with the message: “All Eyes on the judiciary”. It was a metaphor to put the judiciary officers and judges on their toes to dispense justice fairly, fearlessly, courageously and in accordance with the laws and constitution of Nigeria. It was also a subtle reminder of the 2016 experience when judges were embarrassed and humiliated.

With developments that have emerged from some of the election petition tribunals and especially the Court of Appeal, the judiciary is being called out once again. Often described as the last hope of the common man because it is not a respecter of persons, positions or status in life. Judges are supposed to be blind to whatever the status the persons standing trial but expected to dispense justice without fear or favour and impartially. Similar allegations against the Court of Appeal judges under Justice Ayo Salami was responsible for constitutional amendments making Supreme Court the final arbiter in governorship petitions. Hitherto, the buck stopped at the Court of Appeal.

Nowadays, rather than enabling democracy to grow and develop to its finest quality, the judiciary is being perceived by a lot of Nigerians as depressing it. Some recent actions from the temple of justice are not edifying but rather impugning the integrity of the judiciary. It is also being perceived increasingly that the judiciary is being dictated to or being manipulated by the executive arm of the government.

Prof Chidi Odinkalu Describes Legal System Crooked

Prof Chidi Odinkalu

Whether true or false, the judiciary has got to turn the searchlight on itself and perhaps do a self-cleansing. In recent times, very strong words have been used to describe the judiciary by critics. One of such was from Prof Chidi Anselem Odinkalu, who described the Nigerian legal system as “crooked”. He buttressed his point with the recent Court of Appeal judgement on the Kano State governorship election. Hear him: “When we say the judiciary in Nigeria is crooked, people wonder how so, Look, Court of Appeal in Kano governorship case resolved all the issues “in favour of the appellant and against the first respondent” Yet, it found the appeal lacking in merit and liable to be dismissed”. It is believed that there could have been eleventh hour changes to the judgement. Odinkalu is a Professor of Law and a former chairman of Human Rights Commission in Nigeria, who has done a lot of studies on the Nigerian judiciary.

Too many inconsistencies in the interpretation of the law and its application even in similar situations are being pointed out on a daily basis. One such area of inconsistency and confusion is that matters pertaining to the nomination of candidates of a political party standing elections are pre-election and not matters for the various tribunal to adjudicate but there have been instances of tribunals veering into these and making decisions on them. Some judges in search of safety valves describe such matters as both pre-election and post-election. Cases at hand are ongoing in Plateau and Kano states.

Justice Mohammed Dattijo Scathing Remarks on Judiciary

Justice Mohammed Dattijo

In his Valedictory message recently. Retired Supreme Court Judge Dattijo Mohammed warned about corruption and undue compromises within the judiciary. He spoke boldly against corruption and nepotism in the judiciary and accuse the Chief Justice of Nigeria of abuse of office. He alleged that the CJN is too powerful and given too many responsibilities which make him to be prone to corruption. These are instructive words coming from an insider.

Mr. Olumide Akpata, former NBA President.

In another remark, the former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, recently in a statement blamed the various occurrences from the judiciary on the mode of appointing the judges. He shared his experience as a member of the National Judicial Council where he raised an issue about the recruitment of persons who have not demonstrated competence to the Court of Appeal but than act on his advice, he was upbraided for daring to speak up. The response he got from the powers that be was that “they would learn on the job”.

At that level in the judiciary, Nigeria should be parading some of her best who should be advancing knowledge about the law for graduate classes in law schools and not persons going to learn on the job.

Prof Ango Abdullahi, Convener Northern Elders Forum Warn of Consequences

Prof Ango Abdullahi, Convener Northern Elders Forum

Lending his voice to corroborate the wrath going on in the judiciary, recently, the Northern Elders Convener, Professor Ango Abdullahi, in a statement stressed the need for the judiciary to be cautious in its actions to prevent the erosion of its integrity, public trust, and confidence. He expressed dismay at the controversies surrounding several recent judicial decisions, particularly those concerning elections. Such occurrences, he noted, are disheartening and pose a significant threat to the future of democracy in Nigeria.

“The potential consequences of these actions may ultimately validate the concerns raised by Retired Supreme Court Judge Dajjito Mohammed in his valedictory remarks about corruption and undue compromises within the judiciary. The Northern Elders Forum recognizes the importance of a fair and impartial judiciary in upholding the rule of law and safeguarding democratic principles. The judiciary plays a critical role in ensuring justice, protecting citizens’ rights, and preserving the credibility of the electoral process. Any actions that compromise these principles undermine the very foundation of any democratic nation,”

“This erosion of trust in the judiciary can lead to a breakdown of democratic norms and values, ultimately undermining the legitimacy of the political system. Furthermore, a collapsing judiciary jeopardizes the safeguarding of constitutionalism, which is the cornerstone of any democratic society.

“NEF therefore calls on the judiciary to consider the consequences of its actions and decisions, and strive to uphold the rule of law in all its activities to justify the confidence reposed on it by Nigerians.

Labour Party, Peter Obi Yet to Get CTC of Supreme Court Judgement

In yet another development, it is being alleged that the Supreme Court is yet to provide any CTC for the judgment of Labour Party and Peter Obi’s case against Tinubu, Shettima and APC. Judgement was given on the matter on Oct 26, 2023, and more than a month after certified true copy of the judgement is yet to be given. This becomes more worrisome because the full judgement was not read in the open court on that day. But the Presiding Justice, John Inyang Okoro JSC, verbally stated that the decision for PDP applies to Labour Party.

Though both the PDP and Labour Party’s suits are similar they seek to upturn APC’s victory. They are also fundamentally different. There are elements contained in the Labour suit that are absent in the PDP’s case on which the apex ruled profusely. It is therefore, incongruous that the same judgement would suffice for both. One such area is the on the forfeiture of funds by Tinubu being alleged proceeds of narcotics trafficking contained in the LP petition and whether it constitutes a criminal act upon which a candidate should be disqualified.

The Labour Party has alleged that twice, it has requested via letters dated 26th October 2023 and 8th November to the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court requesting for the certified true copy of the judgment in the LP appeal but it is yet to get a response. Whereas, section 294 (1) mandates the Supreme Court to furnish all parties with duly authenticated copies of the decision within seven days of the delivery. While many Nigerians want the country to move on, this could only happen when all parties are satisfied, that they have been treated fairly.

To whom shall you appeal after the Supreme Court? End of the road as it is the final court in the land. Truth must be told that the judiciary is down at heel right now in Nigeria and something has to be done to save its crumbling cookies. That is why all eyes are on the judiciary.

Ayo Aluko-Olokun

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