Ahead of next month’s general elections, the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, (CJN) Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, has warned judges to refrain from granting frivolous injunctions, urging them to steer clear of financial inducements in the course of discharge of their functions.
Represented by the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Adamu Bulkachuwa, he handed the warning in his keynote address at the workshop organised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on election petitions for justices and judges.
He further cautioned judges against becoming easy tools to aggrieved politicians desperate for favourable judgments, stressing: “I must not fail to emphasise at this forum that the judiciary must not be drawn into this black-hole of political expediency as judges are not willing tools to be exploited by the whims and caprices of politicians.
“However, on your own part, in carrying out your judicial mandate as justices and judges, you must refrain from granting frivolous injunctions, remain impartial and most importantly, shun any form of inducement. It is mandatory for you to analyse facts based on the applicable laws without prejudice.
“My lords, distinguished participants, it is important that the judiciary must maintain absolute independence. Judges should handle election petitions without any external pressure or influence either by political parties, stakeholders or economic interest groups. The Judiciary must continue to take steps to ensure that it is not seen as being partisan but must always demonstrate manifest integrity in its adjudicatory processes.
“Consequently, judicial officers serving on election petition tribunals must note that judgments must not be ambiguous and should be devoid of any form of external influence. Your Lordships should shun unnecessary associations with lawyers who may be acting as conduits for politicians no matter how innocent they may be portrayed.
“You must guard your integrity and the integrity of the judiciary, by avoiding acts that will bring you under the disciplinary jurisdiction of the National Judicial Council as it will not hesitate to wield the big stick sanctions to any judicial officer who is found wanting in the discharge his duties,” he charged.
The acting CJN further commended INEC for organising the workshop, adding: “This gathering is relevant as it seeks to present participants with the opportunity to interact and chart a common course towards addressing the challenges which judicial officers face while serving on election petition tribunals. It would no doubt provide an avenue to further enlighten participants on the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and proper application of INEC guidelines.”
Speaking earlier in his remarks, INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, appealed to the bench to address conflicting judgments often given by courts of coordinate jurisdiction, frowning at the consequential orders given by judges on pending electoral matters.
Represented by the commission’s Legal Adviser, Agbamuche Mbu, Yakubu pointed out that both were a great encumbrance to his commission and embarrassing to the judiciary, emphasising: “For our part, there are two major areas of concern. First is the issue of conflicting judgments arising from pre-election and post-election cases. As a firm believer in the rule of law, the commission always obeys court orders or, where it is considered necessary appeals to them in the interest of justice.
“There have been over 1,200 cases involving the commission since the 2015 general elections and not in a single case has the commission disobeyed a court order. However, conflicting judgments, especially by courts of co-ordinate jurisdiction at the High Court level, are putting the commission in a very difficult position and creating uncertainty in the process.
“The court in one judicial division may order the commission on a particular course of action only to be contradicted by another court of coordinate jurisdiction from another division or even within the same division on the same subject matter. Conflicting court orders are negatively affecting the consistency, neutrality, and public perception, not only of the commission but the judiciary as well. There is, therefore, the urgent need to address the issue of conflicting judgments in order to engender certainty in the electoral process.
“Our second area of concern relates to the lack of consequential orders by the courts after making findings on an issue and stating the position. In such cases, the commission is compelled to take a position relying on previous decisions of the court on the subject.
“This has in some cases made the commission appear inconsistent and has also led to protracted litigation. Closely related to this is the issue of orders to maintain the status quo by the court without stating the exact status quo intended. This has given room to parties to misinterpret the order to suit their purpose, thereby knowingly causing confusion and controversy,” he said.