The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad has summoned six chief judges over the conflicting court orders that emanated from their states in one month.
States whose chief judges were summoned over the recent spate of conflicting judgments by courts of coordinate jurisdictions are Rivers, Kebbi, Cross River, Anambra, Jigawa and Imo.
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Justice Muhammad, who is the chairman of the National Judicial Council (NJC), reportedly issued the summons to the chief judges on Monday as a prelude to the NJC’s meeting.
The plan by the CJN to call for the meeting in Abuja came at a time lawyers and teachers of law in universities were complaining bitterly over the conduct of judges especially in states.
The CJN was said to have complained bitterly over the huge embarrassment caused Nigeria’s judiciary by the actions of those who issued the conflicting orders upon ex parte applications by some political parties and members who were allegedly looking for favourable judgments.
A source in NJC further told Daily Trust that the CJN’s meeting with the heads of courts in the affected states could be termed “Emergency ahead of the statutory four meetings in a year.”
According to the source, “They (some judges) have been embarrassing the judiciary with various courts giving different competing orders.”
Pundits believed that unless punitive measures were taken, the judiciary would be plunged into crisis ahead of 2023 as politicians pay their ways to get favourable judgments, including outside the jurisdictions where such cases ought to be heard.
Our correspondents report that cases of conflicting ex parte orders emanating from judges in states are on the rise, heightening fears that the judicial officers were working at cross purposes.
Last week, two courts gave conflicting judgments on the crisis rocking the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
While a Rivers high court barred Uche Secondus from parading himself as the party’s National Chairman, a Kebbi court reinstated him.
There have also been conflicting judgments involving other parties such as the one in Anambra State involving contenders for gubernatorial tickets.
Some observers argued that the various court cases had the potentials of affecting the credibility of the election.
The summons by the CJN read in part: “My attention has been drawn to media reports to the effect that some courts of coordinate jurisdiction were granting conflicting ex parte orders on the same subject matter.
“It has become expedient for me to invite you (chief judges of states) for a detailed briefing on the development.
“This is even more compelling having regard to earlier NJC warning to judicial officers on the need to be circumspect in granting ex parte applications.”
Credible sources said the CJN was worried even as some aggrieved people had written petitions seeking redress over the conduct of some judges.
Daily Trust reports that the hierarchy of the judiciary and different agencies and international partners had raised concerns about the dangers of conflicting orders which they said could affect the integrity of the country.
Nigeria’s judicial system, being of the common law tradition, recognises pronouncements by higher courts as having binding effects than courts of coordinate jurisdictions.
Judges should communicate – Prof Yusufari
Lawyers and teachers have called for cooperation among judges and sanctions against those who closely work with unpatriotic lawyers in the procurement of conflicting orders from courts of coordinate jurisdiction.
Professor Mamman Lawan Yusufari (SAN) of the Department of Law, Bayero University, Kano, emphasised that the issue of conflicting judgment “is a very serious issue and it is a good development that the CJN is very much concerned about it.”
He said it had been a lingering problem “Which is not healthy for the development of the law.”
According to him, “Under our jurisprudence, one of the sources of law is what we call judicial precedents, which means decisions given by superior courts (especially appellate courts) are laws in themselves. They can be sighted at lower courts as authorities. But when you have for instance different divisions of the Court of Appeal giving conflicting decisions, you end up having crisis and confusion.
“It is a problem as far as the development of the law is concerned and unless this is addressed, it will create crises in the system,” he said.
On measures to put in place to address this problem, Prof. Yusufari said there was the need for harmonisation, consolidation and communication across the judiciary especially courts of coordinate jurisdiction.
“It is a big problem in the sense that some of these decisions are given by one court without the knowledge of the other. So, if there is a way we can create a system whereby similar cases are put to the knowledge of different divisions so that they can be consolidated, it will help avoid conflicting decisions.
“Let there be some kind of communication among the divisions so that there won’t be conflicting decisions. We need to do something about harmonisation, consolidation and communication,” he added.
Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) called on the CJN to wield the hammer and sanitise the legal profession because “it has become a national embarrassment.”
“Can you imagine a newspaper headline saying judgment for the highest bidder? It is high time we brought back the integrity and honour of the judiciary,” he said.
“I want to recommend that the judges and lawyers involved should be investigated and if found wanting to be disciplined and shown the way out.”
Also speaking, Professor Paul Ananaba (SAN) said the CJN’s summons was the right thing to do because the conflicting orders and “forum shopping” have been very embarrassing to both the Bench and the Bar.
“There is no quick fix way of handling it. The NJC can intervene and determine the way of fixing it. The CJN is right to invite the heads of courts to discuss it before going to the NJC,” he said.
Judges should be circumspect – Layonu
Also reacting, Dr Biodun Layonu (SAN) said without being specific on any particular case, the Nigerian judiciary in 2021 should not have to deal with issues of conflicting judgments from coordinate courts.
On the implication of such issues on the judiciary, he said “Speaking generally, it is very bad, it removes confidence in the judiciary and it also gives room for insinuations of some wrongdoings somewhere. This is the kind of situation where people on the streets will say ‘Someone has carried money to go and procure judgement’. So it is bad for the judiciary, whichever way you look at it.”
He said the starting point to address this should be for the judges “To be circumspect”, saying, for instance, a judge sitting in Osun should be circumspect in dealing with a case that has to do with Ondo and such judges should ask lawyers why cases were filed out of its original jurisdiction.
Layonu, who also lauded the move by the CJN in summoning the CJs of states currently involved in cases of conflicting judgment, however, added that such was long overdue.
For his part, Abdulhamid Mohammed said the issuing of orders ex parte (meaning without notice of the other party in the matter) is part of the laws and rules of court, which judges are allowed to issue only in deserving cases showing real and not self-induced urgency to abuse the process of court. He said in issuing such ex parte orders, the judicial officer must avoid abuse of powers or the breach of code of conduct of judicial officers.
“The violation of any part of the rules constitute judicial misconduct or misbehaviour which attract disciplinary actions by the NJC such as suspension, reprimand or even dismissal of the judicial officer after formal hearing and giving the judicial officer the right to defend himself,” he said.
We’ll sanction erring members – NBA
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has warned that it will be considering its deterrence options against members involved in shopping for judgments, which it said is ridiculing the legal profession and justice administration system.
In a statement signed by its President, Olumide Akpata, the umbrella body for lawyers said it has already found prima facie evidence of the breach of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007 (“RPC”), made pursuant to the Legal Practitioners Act by some lawyers.
Akpata expressed surprise that some professionals in both the Bench and Bar were bent on destroying the people’s confidence in the association as the pillar of democracy and his administration’s pledge to stand as bulwark against tyranny and injustice in the country.
“Astonishingly, that commitment is now being threatened by the conduct of some of our own members, the majority of whom are senior members of the Bar, who continue to yield themselves to be used as willing tools by politicians to wantonly abuse the judicial process,” he said in the statement.
A high court in Birnin Kebbi recently reinstated Secondus as national chairman of the PDP after he was sacked by another court in Rivers State.
In a ruling, Justice Nusirat Umar said after studying the affidavit and written address in support of the ex-parte application, she was satisfied that an interim order should be granted on the purported suspension of Prince Secondus pending the determination of the suit number, KB/HC/M.171/2021.
Also, a high court sitting in Cross River State Presided over by Justice Edem Kooffreh recently granted an interim order restraining Secondus from resuming office as PDP chairman.
John C. Azu, Saawua Terzungwe, Hamisu K. Matazu (Abuja) & Clement A. Oloyede (Kano)