ACCESS to Justice, AJ, has raised the alarm that the rash of conflicting court orders show that Nigeria’s judiciary was far from a truly independent institution.
AJ’s Convener, Joseph Otteh and DejiAjare, Project Director in a statement, said: “In the last couple of weeks, courts of coordinate jurisdiction, have, in a number of political cases, been issuing a number of conflicting and counteracting interim orders directing political party officers either to vacate, or resume office and also ordering the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to recognise one political aspirant or the other as a party’s flagbearer for forthcoming elections. Most of the courts issuing these interim orders are quite remote, geographically, to the places where the disputes arose.
There are, therefore, reasonable prospects of an escalation in the incidence of courts making cross-orders among themselves over political disputes and interfering with the integrity of the electoral process.
This is of serious concern to Nigeria’s democracy. As a background, the Nigerian Judiciary has had a remarkably disreputable history with making orders that destabilize political processes and outcomes and cause major upheavals.
“In response to these developments, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Ibrahim Tanko has summoned the Chief Judges of 6 States, namely Rivers, Kebbi, Cross River, Anambra, Jigawa and Imo states as according to the CJN’s media aide AharukaIsah “a prelude to the broader probe by the NJC to explain what warranted the issuance of conflicting orders by courts of coordinate jurisdiction in their domains”.
“We are pleased to note that the CJN has taken proactive steps to address an insidious and portentous threat to constitutional democracy and has not followed a laid-back and reactive complaint system favoured by the National Judicial Council’s disciplinary system before interrogating the actions of the Judges who engaged in making the conflicting orders.
“However, we are concerned that the CJN would summon Chief Judges of states over actions performed by individual judges of their respective courts. This is because the judiciary is an independent branch of government, and judges too, are decisional independent of one another and are not accountable to their Chief Judges for decisions they give or orders they make.
“To summon Chief Judges over the actions of individual judges of their courts infringes the concept of judicial independence and autonomy and promotes the false notion that judges are individually accountable to the Chief Judges; on the flip side, it would foster the idea that Chief Judges can make policies on ways cases should be decided or orders which judges in their various domains can give in particular cases, on the ground that they [the Chief Judges] would be held to account if individual Judges do not live up to particular standards. This would represent an unwarranted interference in the autonomy which every Judge exercises when deciding cases.
“The CJN as Chair of the National Judicial Council, not as Chief Justice of Nigeria, may interrogate the question whether orders made by specific judges satisfy the judicial standards and criteria required before such orders are made but that inquiry must occur with the affected judges themselves.”
“Second, it is unfortunate that Nigeria’s judiciary, more than 22 years after the return to civil rule, is still grappling with the kinds of dishonourable conduct Nigerians witnessed of it under military rule, well before the 2023 transitional elections get underway. This is further evidence that all is still not well with the judiciary, notwithstanding efforts to whitewash its image, and that the nation is still taking chances with its judiciary.
Nigeria’s judiciary still retains many fault-lines, and it will require far more efforts and greater commitment to truly transform it into a dependable institution and vehicle of justice.”