By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, on Thursday, said he has directed that new Judges and Justices should be appointed to handle disputes that will arise from the 2019 general elections.
He said there was need to involve more Judges in both Election Petitions Tribunals and Election Appeals Tribunals, in addition to those that may have served in similar panels in the past.
In a keynote address he presented at the Annual Conference of the Court of Appeal, Justice Onnoghen, maintained that involving fresh Judges in the panels, “will be an important boost towards broadening the institutional knowledge base, competence and capacity of our Judicial Officers to adjudicate on electoral matters”.
According to him, “Rest assured, where the opportunities are extended to others, the judiciary will be better prepared to act as the impartial arbiter of disputes, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.
“I am further confident that with such increased capacity, this work will be done in a more efficient, effective and judicious manner.
“Our efforts will pale into insignificance however, if we fail to address our minds to the fact that the forthcoming election season presents several challenges for all concerned including the judiciary.
“We must remember that like Greeks bearing gifts, politicians will seek to influence judicial decisions for person gains with a bitter outcome for the cause of justice.
“I urge us all to be on guard down as not to fall prey to the ambitions of politicians who do not care about what may befall the hapless Judicial Officers if found wanting in any way because of his association or interaction with politicians.
“Those of us who are experiences enough to remember it will reflect the case of a Justice, who was dismissed in 2006 on the grounds of allegations that a litigant had offered him a N12million bribe before the Court entered judgment in his favour in a contriversial election dispute. I pray that such will not occur to any of you this time around.
“I will therefore caution your Lordships to shun unecessary associations withawyers who may be acting as condiuts for politicians no matter how innocent they may be portrayed, knowing that the negative costs outweigh the potential benefits that such dangerous liaisons may engender, if discovered.
“I assure you that the National Judicial Council, the Government and most importantly, the public, repose a lot of trust in you and are more vigilant than ever in these days of the electronic and social media.
“You must guard your integrity and the integrity of the judiciary, while avoiding acts that will bring you under the disciplinary jurisdiction of the Council as it will not hesitate to wield the big stick of sanctions to any Judicial Officer who is found wanting in the discharge of his duties. I trust that such will not become of us all.
“We must therefore safeguard the independence of the judiciary and prevent any act that will invite the incursion of the Executive into the affairs of the Judiciary like it did in October 2016”, the CJN added.
Earlier, in her welcome address, President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, said the conference would afford Justices of the court the opportunity to appraise their performances and to map out plan for the election year.
She enjoined the Justices to ensure strict adherence to electioneering rules and guidelines in the determination of election petitions.
She disclosed that the appellate court sucessfuly disposed off a total of 4,206 appeals and 9,951 motions in the last legal year, adding that the case management system the court adopted helped to fast track appeals within the ninety days period stipulated in the Constitution.