CORRUPTION, BANE in Nigerian judiciary, re-echoes at the swearing-in of 18 newly appointed Appeal Court Justices, by the country’s Chief Justice, Tanko Muhammad, on Monday, in Abuja. He warned the sworn-in justices to flee from “juicy, irresistible temptations”, in the dispensation of justice in the country.
Muhammad said gifts and wealth that are not worked for, are by extension undeserving; and are always wrapped in “calamity and destruction”. He said the reputation and integrity of the justices matter much, and their elevation to the Court of Appeal increased the level of scrutiny on their conduct and disposition.
“We are not here for long speeches but simply to realign your minds with what is expected of you at this very high and enviable level of adjudication. Many high profile cases would definitely come to you on appeal; and they may likely come in company of some juicy, irresistible temptations, but I am making it clear to you now that you must flee from such disguised danger”, the CJN stated.
“Your reputation and integrity matter much and count enormously in your rise to honour and fame in life. Let me point out unambiguously that in life, gifts and wealth that are not worked for, which are by extension, undeserving, are always wrapped in calamity and destruction.
“Flee from them and keep your heads high above the murky waters of corruption so that you can be conveniently counted among the very best in the Nigerian judiciary. If you were hitherto 50 per cent under public scrutiny, I can assure you now that it has risen to 100 per cent, by virtue of this elevation to the Court of Appeal.
“The tempo and rate of public assessment of your conduct and disposition will now assume astronomical rise. The last time we swore in a large number of 12 Justices was on Monday 5th November 2012. Today’s ceremony is an indication of the times that we are currently in,” Justice Muhammad said.
Muhammad further stated that “several novel crimes are being committed in the country that have now made litigations to go on a steady rise. No court in the land is spared of this. We are constantly on our toes and the dockets are ever-rising in response to the challenges of the time. This underscores the undisputed fact that Nigeria ranks among the most litigious countries in the world”.
And added that: “The onus is on you to fasten your belt and roll up your sleeves to face the challenges head-on. You must redouble your pace to catch up with the expectations of the litigants. As judicial officers, you have a divine mandate on earth that you must discharge with unveiled honesty and sincerity. You must give good account of yourselves to justify your elevation to the Court of Appeal.”
FUNDAMENTAL ROLE of the judiciary, of any nation, is to uphold the constitution, protect the rights of individuals, by integrating, constructing and applying laws in resolving disputes and checkmate contraveners of the laws of the land, according to legal experts.
Judiciary is often referred to as “last hope of common the man”, as it guarantees equal access to justice. This role of the judiciary in Nigeria has been questioned, and been debated, due to controversial decisions and judgements that have emanated from Nigerian courts – including Nigeria’s Supreme Court, which Tanko Muhamad, currently, heads as the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
Nigerians recollect, vividly, what had been described as the “dubious”, January 14, 2020, Nigerian Supreme Court judgement on Imo State Governorship election, that sacked Emeka Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP; and installed Hope Uzodima of the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, as the governor of the State.
Ihedioha, in February 05, 2020, approached the supreme court asking for review of the judgment that removed him from office. Six out of the seven justices of the apex court led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammed, dismissed his application on the ground that the court could not reverse itself.
Justice Olukayode Ariwola, read the lead judgement. The supreme court held that revisiting its January 14 verdict would open the floodgate of similar applications. He stated: “The application was an invitation for the Supreme Court to sit on appeal over its own final judgment. Granting the request of the applicants will open the floodgate by parties to all kinds of litigation”.
Ariwola said: “The general law is that the court has no power under any provision order to review any application unless to correct an error. This court has on each occasion stated that it lacks jurisdiction to do that. We cannot sit as an appeal court. We have no hearing power in respect of the matter.
“The court does not have the competence and lacks the jurisdiction to review its own judgment. The finality of the Supreme Court is inherent in the constitution. To ask us to set it aside means an appeal for us to sit on our own decision, which we have no jurisdiction over. The application is hereby dismissed and parties are to bear their respective costs.”
DISSENTING THE JUDGEMENT of his colleagues, one of the seven member panel of justices, Justice Chima Centus Nweze, in a detailed judgement disagreed with the decision of the six justices. He stated that the Supreme Court had the inherent power to revisit its judgement. He asked his colleagues to do so in the interest of justice; and described the January 14, supreme court judgement that sacked Ihedioha as “wonder that shall never end”. He asked the court to exercise its inherent jurisdiction and redeem its image.
Justices Nweze confronted his colleagues with instances in Nigeria’s supreme court, and other supreme courts – including the United Kingdom; United States; and Australia, where the courts exercised their powers to over-rule themselves. He urged his colleagues to revisit the judgment in the interest of justice. And added that except the judgement was set aside, it would continue to hurt the nation’s electoral jurisprudence.
He stated that Hope Uzodinma, candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in his petition, presented his case without the record of accredited voters; thereby misled the court to accept the results of the election from his viewpoint. “There were over 129,340 votes in excess of accredited voters. The court can redeem its image by setting aside its judgment. If not, this will continue to hurt our electoral jurisprudence. It is awkward and embarrassing to the court. He misled the court”, Justice Nweze stated.
He further stated that: “When the appellant presented his table of exhibit, he mischievously excluded the votes of others and the court declared him winner. I am of the firm view that this court should set aside the initial judgment and restore the judgment of the lower court”. And added that the apex court had a duty, in the interest of justice, to set aside its decision given in error. The judgment that declared Uzodinma winner, to Nweze, was entered in error.
A SENIOR ADVOCATE OF NIGERIA, KANU AGABI, Ihedioha’s counsel, had asked the court to set aside its judgment, and uphold the verdict of the lower court which upheld the election of Ihedioha. He noted that error was discovered in the judgment, which total number of votes cast exceeded that of accreditation by over 100,000.
He argued that Uzodinma was granted the request he did not pray for. “He prayed for fresh election in 388 polling units, he got what he did not seek.” He asked the court to set aside the judgment and restore the verdict of the court of appeal.
Damian Dodo, also, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Uzodinma’s counsel, asked the court to dismiss the application for review for lack of competence and merit. He argued that the apex court lacked jurisdiction to revisit its earlier judgment, adding that the verdict was clear without any ambiguity.
“We want the court to dismiss the application for incompetence and lack of merit. The thrust of this objection is that there is a total lack of jurisdiction of this court to revisit its judgment of January 14 2020, irrespective of whether the application is characterised as an application for review or classified as an application to set aside or however dressed.
“This court has consistently and rightly so held that there is lack of jurisdiction to sit on appeal over its judgment. The only exception is if there was a slip or that the judgment rendered does not reflect the intention of the court, but it is not so in this case.
“Therefore, the invitation to review is not tenable. There is no ambiguity in the judgment. It is clear and categorical. No one can invite this court to reconsider this appeal. The application is incompetent because there is no jurisdiction”, Dodo stated.
NIGERIAN Supreme Court, according to legal expert, eventually, yielded no ground for correcting a “fraudulent judgement” it gave to Hope Uzodinma. They argue that such judgement, exposes the apex court as engaging in corruption. That justice required that the judgement procured in error, needed to be corrected.
Nigerian judicial system is seen as dominated by corrupt practices, as the nation’s Chief Justice, Tanko Muhammad, rightly, noted at the swearing in of the 18 Appeal Court justices; which stand as major obstacle to the fight against electoral fraud, as well as economic and financial crimes in the country.
Clamp down on corrupt judicial officers – including justices in the apex court, leading to the arrest, trial and dismissal of some justices linked to corrupt activities, drew apprehension among Nigerians; but the tide of corruption in the judiciary seems not to be abating.
Observers and analysts noted, that the judiciary must be seen as leading in the fight against corruption in the country. Otherwise, the war against corruption would be difficult to win.