By Clement A. Oloyede, John C. Azu (Abuja) & Abdullateef Aliyu (Lagos)
The Chief Justice Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, has reiterated the judiciary’s determination not to be overwhelmed by the sentiments of the “mob” in their decisions.
Daily Trust reports that following the rulings on electoral disputes, which led to the sacking of some governors and lawmakers, many have accused judges of bias, especially with the controversies that trailed the “errors” observed in the certified true copy of the judgment of the Court of Appeal that sacked Kano State governor, Abba Kabir Yusuf.
But revered constitutional lawyer, Professor Auwalu Yadudu has said while “Cacophony of unfounded allegations of corruption against the judiciary and insinuations of bias in their various decisions” justified the position of the CJN, it is imperative for judges to be warned to avoid embarrassing the judicial institution with careless slips and avoidable errors.
Speaking at the opening of the special session of the 2023/2024 legal year and the swearing-in of 58 newly conferred Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) on Monday, CJN Ariwoola asked judges to remain firm.
He said, “I expect every judicial officer to work very hard and also be very honest and courteous to the litigants, witnesses and members of the bar, and discharge all your judicial functions with all the humility at your command.
“Even while doing this, it is still necessary to have at the back of your mind that public opinions, sentiments or emotions can never take the place of the law in deciding the cases that come before you.
“The law remains the law, no matter whose interest is involved. In all we do, as interpreters of the law, we should endeavour to severe the strings of emotion from logic and assumption from fact.
“We should never be overwhelmed by the actions or loud voices of the mob or crowd and now begin to confuse law with sentiment or something else in deciding our cases.
“Nevertheless, unnecessary and unwarranted utterances are bound to embarrass not only others, but the judge himself; thus, what should be asked, should be asked, and what should not be asked, should be avoided.”
The CJN pledged his commitment to safeguard the rule of law, the holistic independence of the judiciary and the trust and confidence of the public.
The CJN further assured that soon the apex court would enjoy its full complement of 21 justices to break the jinx of its inability to meet the constitutional requirement.
He said the Supreme Court received 1,271 cases comprising motions and appeals between September 12, 2022 and July 11, 2023.
Out of these, the apex court heard 388 political appeals, 215 criminals appealed and 464 civil appeals, while it also considered a total of 49 criminal motions, 153 civil motions, and 2 political motions.
He said within the same period, the apex court delivered a total of 251 judgments, out of which 125 were political appeals, 81 were civil appeals and 45 were criminal appeals and 91 rulings.
Judges must also avoid embarrassing judiciary – Yadudu
Reacting to the CJN’s declaration on criticisms of the judiciary, Professor Yadudu said it was only appropriate for the CJN to speak out in the matter and tone he did “In light of the cacophony of unfounded allegations of corruption against the judiciary and insinuations of bias in their various decisions – particularly by those not entirely pleased with the outcomes.
He said, “It is only appropriate for the CJN to break his silence and be heard in public outside the comfort zone of or in the discharge of judicial functions.
“His response appeared measured and calls for judges to be courteous, honest and not intemperate. Equally his admonishing them to “Never be overwhelmed by the actions or loud voices of the mob or crowd and now begin to confuse law with sentiment or something else in deciding our cases” is pertinent. There is mud being smeared around and conspiracy theories being bandied about.”
Yadudu, however added that “Judges also ought to be warned to avoid embarrassing the judicial institution with careless slips and avoidable errors that can puncture public trust and confidence in the integrity of judicial verdicts and processes.”
But human rights activist, Maxwel Opara said the CJN’s comment sounded political because he failed to distinguish between political attacks or statements of facts.
“People are complaining that the judiciary has been turning black to white after the same Supreme Court held that the court would no longer place reliance on technicality over substantial justice, that is the issue the CJN should address,” he said.
Courts deciding election winners bad for polity – PDP elders
Meanwhile, Elders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Lagos state under the leadership of the party’s former Deputy National Chairman, Olabode George have called for a review of the constitution to stop judges from declaring winners and losers of election.
At their meeting held in Lagos yesterday, they expressed worry that a situation where judges have taken over the job of electoral umpire as witnessed with the sack of some elected lawmakers and governors “is not good for the polity, Nigeria and the electoral system.”
The elders numbering 33 met at the Lugard Avenue office of George to discuss the state of the nation.
They expressed great worries about the conflicting and contradictory judgements coming from the country’s judiciary, saying “What is oozing from the third arm of government in the world’s most populous black nation is offensive to millions of Nigerians.”
The situation, according to them, portended anarchy when Nigerians no longer trust the third estate of the realm, pointing out that in many political cases, millions of Nigerians now hold the belief “And rightly so, that some judges deliver judgements, not justice.”
Some of the elders at the close-door meeting were former Lagos State deputy governor, Senator (Mrs) Kofoworola Bucknor Akerele; Mrs Onikepo Oshodi, Dr. Charles Akitoye, Dr. Amos Fawole, Dr. Seye O’Dairo, Hon. Abiola Ismail, Mr. Agbolarin Adegboyega, Hon. Malomo Adelabi, among others.