It is supposed to be the institution that could adjudicate in a manner in which justice could be delivered not withstanding the hierarchy occupied by the accused. What we are witnessing today however is that the reputational erosion occurring with the Judiciary is even worse than that of the Legislature. Who then would save our democracy, which is based on the principle of the Separation of Powers?
Our Constitution has given the leadership of the Judiciary to the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the National Judicial Council and for some reasons that no one understands; they have completely abdicated the leadership and continue to watch in silence as the judiciary ridicules itself on a daily basis. We cannot sustain our democracy when judges from different courts of coordinate jurisdiction give contradictory judgments on a daily basis and both criminal and political actors have become very aware that there are Jankara judges ready to sell judgments and rulings for a fee without any worry about their personal or institutional reputation.
Two weeks ago, I devoted this column to castigating the explosion of Jankara conflicting judgments on the festering leadership crisis in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which at that time had witnessed seven conflicting judgments. Today, two weeks later, the number of conflicting determinations on the issue has increased to at least fifteen. So many actors are aware that they can secure not only a ruling that they desire, they can even time it to a particular date and hour they want it delivered. I have heard that lists are circulating of judges who are ready to deliver any ruling for a fee, the said judges have been very busy delivering irresponsible judgments and Justice Mahmoud Mohammed, the Chief Justice of the Federation says nothing as he watches Nigerians seeing the show of shame continue.
My concern is that with the crisis of reputational erosion that has hit the National Assembly since the cases against the Senate President Bukola Saraki and the budget padding allegations against Speaker Dogara cropped up, the judiciary assumes an even more important place in the scheme of things. It is supposed to be the institution that could adjudicate in a manner in which justice could be delivered not withstanding the hierarchy occupied by the accused. What we are witnessing today however is that the reputational erosion occurring with the Judiciary is even worse than that of the Legislature. Who then would save our democracy, which is based on the principle of the Separation of Powers? The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has come out to explain to the Nigerian public that its constitutional role of monitoring political parties is being compromised by different judges directing it to monitor and not to monitor party conventions – all delivered on the same day. This is after receiving over one dozen conflicting rulings or judgments on the same matter over the previous six weeks. At the same time, the Nigeria Police Force was dragged into the melee last week as one judge asks them to seal a convention venue while another asks them to provide security for the same convention to take place as directed by “law”. Too many institutions are being compromised by these decisions.
I am concerned that the National Judicial Council simply retires judges who have been guilty of Jankara judgments. As most of these judges have become stinking rich precisely because of their criminal behaviour, it is unacceptable that their only “punishment” is retirement. It is actually complicity because they are simply given all the time they need to enjoy the ill-gotten wealth. The NJC must come out to criminalise such behaviour.
Government resources are used to buy newspapers for judges and they read these and know that new matters brought before them had been taken to other courts of coordinate jurisdiction and rulings and judgments have been made. This means they are consciously acting in a manner that conflicts with their code of conduct. If judges continue to act in this manner, it is precisely because the Chief Justice of the Federation and the National Judicial Council have refused to call them to order. I know that this is the period for vacation in the judiciary but the crisis is so serious that a responsible leadership would come back from leave and address the crisis of reputational erosion facing the judiciary, which has reached an epidemic level. As Daily Trust argued in its opinion page yesterday, if the NJC does not call these judges to order, it’s the whole democratic system, not just the judiciary that is under threat. I agree with the Trust Opinion position that: “The role of the Judiciary as an arm of government in a democracy is to resolve conflicts involving individuals, organisations, government and political parties, not to confuse the parties and relevant institutions when cases are taken before it.”
I become even more concerned about the judiciary when I read excerpts of the ruling by the Court of Appeal in Abuja on Thursday on the Justice Okon Abang matter annulling the election of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State. Premium Times reported the ruling that the trial judge is guilty of “raping democracy”. It would be recalled that Governor Ikpeazu had been purportedly removed from office on June 27 this year by Justice Abang for allegedly falsifying his tax certificates and must therefore lose his seat to Samson Ogah, also a member of the Peoples Democratic Party. The judge forced INEC to issue a certificate of return to Mr. Ogah. Premium Times reported that the Court of Appeal’s five-member panel led by Justice Morenike Ogunwumiju on Thursday ruled that Justice Abang “raped democracy” when he ordered INEC to issue a certificate of return to Mr. Ogah without evidence of forgery against Mr. Ikpeazu. According to the court, the judgement was erroneously based on the inadequacy of tax receipt, which Mr. Ikpeazu cannot be blamed for. The Appellate Judge added that: “After reading through the judgement several times, I was amazed at how the trial Judge arrived at his conclusion of forgery against the appellant when there was no evidence of forgery. To say the least, his findings are ridiculous.” The judge pointed out that Justice Abang embarked on a “wild goose chase” in seeking to help the plaintiff, whose case was not even properly filed in the first instance. The conclusion the panel reached was shocking and interpellant on all of us: “The trial judge spoke from both sides of his mouth when in one breadth, he claimed that he based his findings on supply of false information and in another breadth, he came to the conclusion that the appellant in this matter committed perjury, even when there was no allegation of forgery and no allegation that he did not pay tax.” There can be no clearer judicial proof of the phenomenon of Jankara judgments.
I am concerned that the National Judicial Council simply retires judges who have been guilty of Jankara judgments. As most of these judges have become stinking rich precisely because of their criminal behaviour, it is unacceptable that their only “punishment” is retirement. It is actually complicity because they are simply given all the time they need to enjoy the ill-gotten wealth. The NJC must come out to criminalise such behaviour. Meanwhile, it is imperative that a practice directive be issued putting a stop to conflicting judgments. Finally, the Judiciary owes Nigerian citizens explanations and apologies for allowing the Judiciary run wild and an assurance that they will correct the scandalous practices currently taking place.
A professor of Political Science and development consultant/expert, Jibrin Ibrahim is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, and Chair of the Editorial Board of Premium Times.