…As Ag. CJN warns Election Tribunal Judges against partisanship, ambiguity
By Omeiza Ajayi
ABUJA: The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has tasked the judiciary on the need to eliminate cases of conflicting orders or judgements by courts of coordinate jurisdiction, describing the development as casting a partisan garb on both the judiciary and the commission.
Speaking at a workshop for Election Tribunal judges and members, Monday in Abuja, INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu said the commission was already aware of areas that both organs need to do more “in order to facilitate the speedy and qualitative administration of justice which, from our study and analysis of previous judgments, range from the prompt issuance of certified true copies of documents, quality and consistency of our legal representation, neutrality of the Commission, to making available to the Judiciary our manuals, guidelines and regulations made pursuant to the provisions of the Constitution and the Electoral Act.”
Yakubu lamented that aside the issue of conflicting judgements, the commission was also worried about judgements asking it to maintain the status quo without specifically defining for it the status quo to so maintain.
He said, “For our part, there are two major areas of concern. First is the issue of conflicting judgements arising from pre-electlon and post-election cases. As a firm believer in the rule of law, the Commission always obeys court orders or, where it is considered necessary, appeals them in the interest of justice.
“There have been over 1,200 cases involving the Commission since the 2015 General Elections and not in a single case has the Commission disobeyed a court order. However, conflicting judgements, especially by courts of coordinate jurisdiction at the High Court level, are putting the Commission in a very difficult position and creating uncertainty in the process. The Court in one judicial division may order the Commission on a particular course of action only to be contradicted by another court of coordinate jurisdiction from another division or even within the same division on the same subject matter. Conflicting court orders are negatively affecting the consistency, neutrality, and public perception, not only of the Commission, but the Judiciary as well. There is therefore the urgent need to address the issue of conflicting judgements in order to engender certainty in the electoral process.
“Our second area of concern relates to the lack of consequential Orders by the Courts after making findings on an issue and stating the position. In such cases, the Commission is compelled to take a position relying on previous decisions of the Court on the subject. This has in some cases made the Commission appear inconsistent and has also led to protracted litigation.
“Closely related to this, is the issue of Orders to maintain the status quo by the Court without stating the exact status quo intended. This has given room to parties to misinterpret the order to suit their purpose, thereby knowingly causing confusion and controversy,” he added.
On his part, the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria CJN, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad said; “conflicting judgements do not only confuse counsels but also lead to uncertainty with regards to Starre Decisis. Furthermore, conflicting judgements impact negatively on the public perception of our ability to guarantee unequivocal justice. In addition to this daunting challenge, the proper venue to institute proceedings remains a recurring issue which must tackle frontally. Recent events in the polity have shown that aggrieved candidates go forum shopping to suit their selfish political ambitions.”
According to him. judges must ensure “that the Judiciary must not be drawn into the blackhole of political expediency as Judges are not willing tools to be exploited by the whims and caprices of politicians. However, on your own part, in carrying out your judicial mandate as Justices and Judges, you must refrain from granting frivolous injunctions, remain impartial and most importantly, shun any form of inducement. It Is mandatory for you to analyze facts based on the applicable laws without prejudice.
“It is important that the Judiciary must maintain absolute independence. Judges should handle election petitions without any external pressure or influence either by political parties, stakeholders or economic interest groups. The Judiciary must continue to take steps to ensure that it is not seen as being partisan but must always demonstrate manifest integrity in its adjudicatory processes.
“Consequently, Judicial officers sitting on election petition tribunals must note that judgements must not be ambiguous and should be devoid of any form of external Influence. Your Lordships should shun unnecessary associations with lawyers who may be acting as conduits for Politicians no matter how innocent they may be portrayed.
“You must guard your integrity and the integrity of the Judiciary, by avoiding acts that will bring you under the disciplinary jurisdiction of the National Judicial 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”, he warned.