THERE has been a remarkable uptick in the willingness of the Judicial arm of government to assert its independence and defend our democracy since the Senate’s confirmation of Hon. Justice Walter Nkanu Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria on March 1, 2017.
The National Judicial Council, NJC, has set up special courts specifically dedicated to try anti-corruption cases, following which a far higher rate of case disposal than ever before has been recorded. Apart from that, there is also a committee monitoring the anti-corruption cases to minimize corruption among judges and judicial officers.
As we steam towards the 2019 general elections, we have noticed highly encouraging signs that the Bench will be willing to play its role in reining in impunity which politicians and ruling parties at all levels of governance always seek to commit to ride rough-shod over our democracy.
A case in point is the decision by the Imo State judges to boycott the so-called swearing-in of one Mr. Calistus Ekenze as the new Deputy Governor of the State. The State’s High Court 8 sitting in Owerri had issued an injunction restraining all parties, including the State’s Chief Judge, Pascal Nnadi, members of the House of Assembly and the seven-man panel involved in the impeachment proceedings against Mr. Eze Madumere (the Deputy Governor) pending the determination of the
substantive case before him.
Justice Nnadi did not turn up for the event. He had reportedly advised Governor Rochas Okorocha to desist from the swearing-in due to the restraining order but this fell on deaf ears. Madumere had sued the State Assembly following which Justice Ben Iheka issued the order restraining the legislators from proceeding with their action until the suit before him had been determined, but they ignored the order and carried out the impeachment on Tuesday, July 31, 2018. Although Section 188 (10) of the Constitution states that no proceeding or determination of the House of Assembly in the impeachment of a governor or deputy governor can be entertained or questioned by the courts, the Governor Rashidi Ladoja case has proved that where the process in the Assembly is wrongly or illegally followed (as is the case in most impeachment processes) it can be challenged in court.
This is a great improvement from the past where state courts and judicial officers tended to be the rubber stamps of the governors. Politicians were able to get away with blue murder, capitalising on their political might and access to state funds. By standing firmly behind the law, the Judiciary will re-enthrone justice and confidence in our democracy. When those who perpetrate impunities realise they are wasting their time, efforts and money because the Judiciary will restore justice, they will have a rethink.