Honourable Justice B.O Babalakin, a retired justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and member of the National Judicial Council (as he then was) had in the year 2007 ‘All Nigeria Judges’ Conference that held from 7th to 9th November 2007, made a detailed presentation on the performance evaluation of judicial officers and the role of the National Judicial Council’ and then reviewed what he called ‘the journey so far’.
The Jurist must have been disturbed about the then widening spectre of corruption, bribery and compromises in the supposed Temple of Justice which informed the background to his philosophical lecture on that solemn occasion.
Sadly a decade after, the stench of corruption oozing out of the Judiciary has become even more putrefying and obviously the worrying existential situation calls for a state of emergency on the judiciary to be declared.
To underscore how corruption has won over the hearts and minds of the Nigerian Judicial system, an observer only needs to examine the frolicking of the Courts by politicians in Anambra State once elections draw near. And because the media has succeeded in creating the slant that Anambra State born politicians jostling for different political offices are mostly ‘the money missed roads’ or Billionaires, the Courts have become the avenues for bribery and corruption especially by aspirants who are afraid of winning the legitimate votes of the electorate in Anambra State.
As I write, Anambra State is getting ready for governorship election in November and the menace of purchasing and supplying of ex-parte orders from the courts has resurfaced thus reminding us that the year 2007 lecture by Justice B.O. Babalakin has not sink into the consciousness of most contemporary judges.
The decay in the judiciary became worst when President Muhammadu Buhari towards the 2019 election, used ex-parte order from the executive controlled code of conduct Tribunal to railroad the current Chief Justice of Nigeria by sweeping away the substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria, a Southerner from Cross Rivers State to make way for the Moslem, Fulani Chief Justice of Nigeria from Bauchi State. It was rumoured that the then Presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress was not so sure that the then substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria will play his game so he went for his jugular so as to anoint someone who not only speak his language but also attends same religious worship centre with him.
The fact is that the process leading to the installation of the current Chief Justice of Nigeria is pure corruption because under the constitution, only the National judicial council can be asked for the CJN to be dismissed. But here the person who even granted that ex parte that brought in the CJN is not a judge recognised under section 6 of the 1999 Constitution but someone whose appointment comes from the executive head of government who can then dictate to him whatever he so desires.
Now that the head is rotten, the corruption in the Judiciary has become sophisticated. Anambra governorship election usually brings out the beast of corruption of Nigerian judges to the open.
The above is the rationale to bring up the few important things Justice Babalakin wrote in black and white in that Iconic lecture in the year 2007.
His Lordship wrote thus: “To realize the gravity of their great responsibility in the Community I wish to quote the prayers that are said for Judges and Magistrates in England, as far back as 15th Century. It runs thus:
“Oh God, at whose hand the weak shall take no wrong, nor the mighty escape just judgement, pour thy grace in THINE servants, our Judges and Magistrates that by their true and faithful execution of justice and equity to all men equally, THOU may be glorified, the Commonwealth daily promoted and increased and we all live in peace and quietness, in Godliness and virtue”.
He then said that the administration of justice in any democratic country, such as ours, lies with the Judiciary. This therefore makes, the role of the Judiciary very cardinal in every democracy.
To maintain the sacred nature of judicial administration, all Judicial Officers on appointment, must take Oath of Allegiance and Judicial Oath presented in the 5th Schedule of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he said.
Thus, every Judicial Officer must bear in mind that the authority given him to exercise judicial powers is a solemn responsibility which must be taken serious and not misused. It must be jealously guarded.
To ensure that Judicial Officers keep to their Oath of Office, a Code of conduct for Judicial Officers in the Federation was provided. I appeal to all Judicial Officers to be familiar with the provisions of this Code of conduct intelligently and passionately. May I humbly draw your attention to the fact that any violation of any section of the Code of Conduct shall constitute Judicial misconduct or misbehavior and will entail disciplinary action.
Justice Babalakin also stated that it is on this question of disciplinary action for judicial misconduct or misbehavior that the National Judicial Council comes in. In recent times granting of unwarranted EX-PARTE Orders constitutes a major cause of Judicial misconduct or misbehavior for which some judicial Officers have been removed from service. Successive Chief Justices of Nigeria who are each also Chairman of the National Judicial Council have taken pains to warn judicial Officers, times unnumbered, against granting unwarranted EX-PARTE orders, the Jurist wrote.
“In 1993 when it was discovered that there was general deterioration in the ethical standard of performance by Judges, the ABACHA Administration set up a Commission to probe the conduct of Judges all over the Country and make recommendations to address the problem that gave rise to the bad situation. The Commission was headed by Hon. Justice Kayode Eso, CON a retired Justice of the Supreme Court.”
This Commission, he recalled, found 28 Judges culpable for offences ranging from corruption to declining productivity. The Report was accepted by the Government in 1994 but was never acted upon. The Judges that were recommended therein to be removed from office continued to be in office. Meanwhile some of them died or retired.
In the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the National Judicial Council (NJC) was set up. This body is charged, inter-alia with power to recommend appointment of Judicial Officers all over the country, to pay their salaries and to discipline erring ones.
The paramount idea is to ensure that Judicial Officers are insulated from executive influence or interference as well as to ensure maximum efficient performance by Judicial Officers, he wrote.
In the Anambra legal fiasco, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) which is the party in power there alongside the Peoples Democratic Party and All Progressive Congress are the major culprits in this ignoble humiliation of the Judiciary. In the past few days, nearly one dozen ex-parte injunctions have emanated from the Courts on these Anambra election.
A respected analyst Mohammed Shosanyan wrote and I agree: “One of the most abused injunctions in recent time is the exparte injunction, which is given barely for a temporary period, pending when a proper application, for which notice has been given to the other party, is determined by the court.”
“Legal minds said for a party to qualify to be granted exparte injunction, he must among other things show he has a legal right in the res (subject-matter) of the case, the threat must be heavy to tantamount to a situation of emergency that requires an immediate restraint of it and the balance of convenience must also be in favour of the applicant.”
“Sadly, the conditions for the grant of exparte orders are sometimes waved at the whims and caprices of the judges, giving room for lawyers and parties to approach the ‘temple of justice’ with untenable prayers to get injunction.”
“For instance, a former state Governor, was granted an exparte injunction by the court restraining the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from arresting, investigating and or prosecuting him for alleged crimes committed in office, despite the fact that such negated Supreme Court rules.
Former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, recently condemned the indiscriminate granting of exparte orders and adjournments with a call on erring judges to desist from such practice or face dismissal by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
He said: ‘We must all be involved and one way by which the Judiciary can contribute in this fight is by treating with dispatch, cases related to economic crimes and corruption brought before you for adjudication.”
The CJN said that in order to establish and sustain public confidence in the judicial process, judges themselves must live above board, shun corruption and avoid corrupt practices and misconduct.
Kastina-Alu also admonished the new judges to avoid indiscrete granting of ex-parte applications for interim injunctions, especially without regard to the likely inconveniences that may be caused as a result of such orders.
“Rule 2(a) (ii) of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers provides that a judicial officer must avoid the abuse of the power of issuing interim injunctions ex-parte.
“Permit me to also caution you all to avoid indiscriminate granting of ex-parte applications for interim injunctions, especially without regard to the likely inconveniences that may be caused as a result of such orders.
“You are all advised to stay on the side of caution. Any judicial officer proved to have contravened this rule will summarily be disciplined by the NJC. A word is enough for the wise.
“Furthermore, be mindful of the fact that granting of frivolous adjournments in cases before you will not only cause undue delay in trial but will impact negatively on the evaluation of your performance by the NJC. Poor performance amounts to gross indiscipline, which also attracts disciplinary action by the NJC,” he said.
However, judges never learn from the mistakes of others and it’s business as usual
On July 16, 2021, the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in Abuja ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to suspend the moves to publish any name as the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the forthcoming governorship election in Anambra State.
In his ruling on an ex parte application filed by one of the aspirants laying claim to the PDP’s ticket, the judge, Yusuf Halilu, directed INEC to maintain the status quo by not publishing any name as the party’s candidate in deference to ongoing proceedings.
“Order that all parties to this suit be put on notice, and I also further order that status quo shall be maintained by INEC by not publishing the name of any candidate as governorship candidate of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice,” the enrolled order of the court read in part.
Valentine Ozigbo and Ugochukwu Uba had emerged as the PDP’s governorship candidate from parallel primary elections.
Both are laying claim to the party’s ticket ahead of November 6, 2021 governorship election in Anambra State.
Mr Ozigbo, through his lawyer, Ikenna Ukpai, filed an ex parte application on July 14, 2021, seeking court orders that would recognise him as the authentic governorship candidate of the party.
The essence of the the ex parte application he filed was to seek an order that would recognise him as the party’s governorship candidate while pursuing the main suit in the hope that the final judgment would be in his favour.
A federal high court in Abuja on June 9 dismissed three applications filed by the national office of the PDP and two others.
The applications sought to stay a judgment sacking the party’s executive council in Anambra state, pending the determination of the appeal.
The June 9 judgment, which they sought to stay was on a suit marked: HC/CV/774/2021 filed by Samuel Anyakolah — for himself and all local government chairmen and ward executives that emerged from the Anambra PDP congress conducted on November 28 and December 1, 2017 under the supervision of Chukwudi Umeaba, as acting chairman state caretaker committee.
Olukayode Adeniyi, the judge, held that the three applicants — the PDP, Ndubisi Nwobu and Uchenna Obiora — failed to make out a case to warrant the grant of their application that sought to stay the judgment pending the determination of the appeal.
An Anambra High Court in Awka has ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to restore Charles Soludo as the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the November 6 governorship election.
The court made the order on Monday.
While releasing the particulars of the candidate of all the parties in the election last Friday, INEC replaced Mr Soludo’s name with that of Chukwuma Umeoji as the candidate of APGA.
The commission also replaced the APGA deputy governorship candidate, Onyekachi Ibezim, with Obiagelu Orogbu.
The court said Mr Soludo and his running mate were the authentic choices of the party.
This pollution of the political space in Anambra State by desperate politicians and corrupt judges must be checked and those found wanting prosecuted. I think Economic and Financial Crimes Commission should be impartial and investigate these disgraceful conducts of these judges and the politicians desperate to become governor in Anambra State. Enough of the humiliation of the Temple of Justice please!
*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and was a federal commissioner at the National Human Rights commission of Nigeria.