Supreme Court judgements and safety of judges
The Nigerian judiciary has been under heavy attack in recent times following series of judgements many perceive as controversial and biased.
The heated debate generated by the Supreme Court verdict on Imo and Bayelsa states governorship elections further strained the already delicate situation as many found the Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun and Justice Mary Odili’s judgement as prejudiced.
Nigeria’s Supreme Court had on January 14, 2020 nullified the victory of Emeka Ihedioha and declared Senator Hope Uzodinma as winner of the March 9, 2019 governorship election.
The court ruled that all votes due to Hope Uzodinma unlawfully excluded from 318 polling units be added and the Certificate of Return issued Emeka Ihedioha be withdrawn immediately and a fresh certificate be issued to Uzodinma. The latter was then sworn-in as governor of Imo state.
This decision did not go down well with supporters of the judgment as a phenomenon that overthrew all known judicial precedents.
Later in February 13, Justice Odili led a five-man panel to sack APC's David Lyon as winner of the November 16 governorship election in Bayelsa State. The court found his running mate, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, guilty of presenting forged credentials to the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Protesters later besieged the Abuja residence of Odili, accusing her of influencing the ruling in favour of the Peoples Democratic Party.
The River state government however accused the Minister of State for Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva and the National Chairman of the APC, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, of sponsoring the attacks on Odili and members of her family.
The state wondered why Odili’s family should be singled out for “the unwarranted attack when the judgment that ousted David Lyon as governor of Bayelsa State was a unanimous decision of a five-member panel of Supreme Court justices.”
A statement by the Commissioner for Information and Communication, Mr. Paulinus Nsirim, warned that should the harassment and intimidation continue, the state will have no alternative than to retaliate.
In a swift reaction, the Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mr. Yekini Nabena, dismissed the allegation and accused Rivers State Governor, Mr. Nyesom Wike and the PDP of being behind the protest at the Abuja residence of Justice Odili.
While the political parties were busy trading blame, former Niger Delta militants threatened to resume attacks in the region if Lyon is not restored as the governor of Bayelsa state.
The former militants under the aegis of Reformed Niger Delta Avengers in an open letter said they have served notice to the Supreme Court and the Presidency over their preparation to resume hostilities on oil installations in the Niger Delta if Lyon is not allowed to resume office.
The RNDA, in the letter signed by its leaders in the nine states of the Niger Delta, stated that the recent judgment of the apex court nullifying the election of Lyon is unacceptable.
It is disheartening that “disgruntled individuals” would organise and descend on a judicial officer at her residence because of a judgment perceived to be unfavorable to them.
Thankfully the Nigerian Bar Association rose to the occasion condemning the illegal invasion of the residence of Justice Odili, describing the protest as an attempt to intimidate the judiciary.
The NBA believes that the incident is nothing but an attempt to intimidate not only Mary Odili, but the entire Nigerian judiciary.
“It is a further step towards the complete dismantling of the independence of our judiciary. They, the paymasters of the mob, are serving notice on all judicial officers that they, the judicial officers, must, at all times second-guess the wishes of the mob paymasters and tailor their judgments, rulings and decisions in conformance thereto, failing which, there may be disastrous consequences including but not limited to organized mob actions.”
The association succinctly captured the fears of Nigerian Democrats when it said that, “To comprehend the abyss to which we are descending, it is worth reflecting on where we would all end up if all losers in judicial decisions were, henceforth, to rent their respective crowds with threatening posters and descend on the residences of the ‘culpable’ judicial officers. What would become of our justice system let alone our governance system and social contract?”
Judicial officers must therefore be allowed their freedom of thoughts and opinion in the determination of cases and appeals before them. They must not be subjected to any form of intimidation or embarrassment.
The attack on Justice Odili if not addressed could lead to a dangerous tilt in the judicial processes in Nigeria. The tendency of politicians to politicize court judgements, especially those of the Supreme Court is a dangerous slope that could undermine court judgement in the future.
The attack on judges and protest against court rulings must be condemned by all before it becomes a pattern. Individuals and politicians must follow legal processes in expressing their displeasure and not take to the streets or threatening judges who have been saddled with the responsibility of dispensing justice to all.
Such protests and threats should, therefore, be seen as an assault on judicial pronouncements, an action if not checked, could lead the entire country to anarchy.
As risky as it may appear, we urge Nigerian judges to be impartial and courageous arbiters in the temple of justice. The judges must rise above the pettiness of politicians if the sanctity of the judiciary must be preserved.
© 2015 The Abuja Inquirer | Newspaper. Designed by G E Springfield