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Rash Of Conflicting Court Orders Show That Nigeria’s  Judiciary Is Far From A Truly Independent Institution – Access To Justice

Media Advisory – 6th Sept. 2021

Introduction

In the last couple of weeks, Courts of coordinate jurisdiction, have, in a number of political cases, been issuing a number of conflicting and counteracting interim orders directing political party officers either to vacate, or resume office and also ordering the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to recognize one political aspirant or the other as a party’s flagbearer for forthcoming elections. Most of the courts issuing these interim orders are quite remote, geographically, to the places where the disputes arose. 

There are therefore, reasonable prospects of an escalation in the incidence of courts making cross-orders among themselves over political disputes and interfering with the integrity of the electoral process. This is of serious concern to Nigeria’s democracy. As a background, the Nigerian Judiciary has had a remarkably disreputable history with making orders that destabilize political processes and outcomes and cause major upheavals. 

In response to these developments, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Ibrahim Tanko has summoned the Chief Judges of 6 States (Rivers, Kebbi, Cross River, Anambra, Jigawa and Imo states) as, according to the CJN’s media aide Aharuka Isah “a prelude to the broader probe by the NJC to explain what warranted issuance of conflicting orders by courts of coordinate jurisdiction in their domains”.

Access to Justice Concerns

Access to Justice is pleased to note that the Chief Justice of Nigeria (“CJN”) has taken proactive steps to address an insidious and portentous threat to constitutional democracy and has not followed a laid-back and reactive complaint system favoured by the National Judicial Council’s disciplinary system before interrogating the actions of the Judges who engaged in making the conflicting orders.  

However, Access to Justice is concerned that the CJN would summon Chief Judges of States over actions performed by individual Judges of their respective courts. This is because the Judiciary is an independent branch of government, and Judges too, are decisionallyindependent of one another and are not accountable to their Chief Judges for decisions they give or orders they make. 

A2Justice is a non-profit, non-governmental organization working to promote integrity, transparency, accountability and independence in legal and judicial institutions and to protect the rights of individuals and groups to justice. A2Justice is the 2009 recipient of MacArthur Foundation’s Award for Creative and Effective Institutions and also the 2010 recipient of the first- ever Nigerian Bar Association’s Gani Fawehinmi Award for Human Rights and Social Justice.

To summon Chief Judges over the actions of individual Judges of their courts infringes the concept of judicial independence and autonomy and promotes the false notion that judges are individually accountable to the Chief Judges; on the flip side, it would foster the idea that Chief Judges can make policies on ways cases should be decided, or orders which Judges in their various domains can give in particular cases, on the ground that they [the Chief Judges] would be held to account if individual Judges do not live up to particular standards. This would represent an unwarranted interference in the autonomy which every Judge exercises when deciding cases. 

The CJN as Chair of the National Judicial Council – not as Chief Justice of Nigeria – may interrogate the question whether Orders made by specific Judges satisfy the judicial standards and criteria required before such Orders are made BUT that inquiry must occur with the affected Judges themselves.  

Second, it is unfortunate that Nigeria’s Judiciary, more than 22 years after the return to civil rule, is still grappling with the kinds of dishonourable conduct Nigerians witnessed of it under military rule, well before the 2023 transitional elections get underway. This is further evidence that all is still not well with the Judiciary, notwithstanding efforts to whitewash its image, and that the nation is still taking chances with its Judiciary. Nigeria’s judiciary still retains many fault-lines, and it will require far more efforts and greater commitment to truly transform it into a dependable institution and vehicle of justice.    

Joseph Otteh​​​​​ Deji Ajare

Convener ​​​​​​Project Director

Lex Community
Author: Lex Community

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