Legal Nigeria

CJN Ariwoola pushes back at critics of judiciary

CJN Ariwoola asks judges not to succumb to “mob mentality” in deciding cases

..Warns  judges Against Corruption

Tinubu ready to carry out reforms of judiciary – Fagbemi

By Ayorinde Oluokun/Abuja

The Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN,  Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, on Monday pushed back against heavy criticisms of the judiciary following recent judgments by election petition tribunals, with warning that judges will not succumb to mob mentality in deciding cases.

The Supreme itself Court had come under heavy attack from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party and Labour Party, LP after it validated the victory of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu in the February 25 governorship election.

Atiku Abubakar of PDP and Peter Obi of LP came second and third respectively in the presidential election contested by 18 candidates.

But they had challenged the victory of Tinubu in court and lost at the Court of Appeal, the court of first instance in the presidential election as the judges declared that they failed to provide evidence to prove that they won the election.

They appealed to the Supreme Court, where they also lost to Tinubu.  The panel of the apex court, in a unanimous judgment, declared that both opposition candidates were mere clutching at straws in their claim that they won the election as they failed to provide concrete evidence to justify the claims.   

Legitimizing Bandit Robbery

However, despite such glaring deficiencies in their petitions as unanimously declared by the two courts, Atiku and Obi had at separate press conferences held after they lost at the Supreme Court accused the apex court of legitimizing mandate robbery after their bid to upstage the victory of Tinubu failed.

Aside from the tribunals, the Court of Appeal has come under heavy criticism in the past few weeks over what some analysts have described as inconsistency in its decisions.

Significantly, critics have picked holes in Court of Appeal rulings on Kano and Plateau governorship election petitions in which the judges sacked Governors Abba Yusuf and Caleb Muftwang of the PDP and the New Nigeria Peoples Party, NNPP respectively and declared their APC opponents winners of the election.

The Court of Appeal had also sacked lawmakers elected into the state and national assembly on the platform of PDP in Plateau State over the alleged failure of the party to abide by a court order ordering to conduct fresh congresses across all the local governments of the state.

Lawyers, politicians and analysts have been making media rounds condemning the decisions even as they impugn the integrity of judicial officers.
Public opinions, sentiments can never take the place of law

But speaking at the opening of the special session of the 2023/2024 legal year and the swearing-in of 58 newly appointed Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) in Abuja on Monday, CJN Ariwoola urged judges not to give in to mob mentality and emotions in deciding cases.

The number one jurist in Nigeria, however, urged judicial officers to discharge their functions with all the humility they can bring to play.

He said: “I expect every judicial officer to work very hard and also be very honest and courteous to the litigants, witnesses and members of the bar, and discharge all your judicial functions with all the humility at your command.

“Even while doing this, it is still necessary to have at the back of your mind that public opinion, sentiments or emotions can never take the place of the law in deciding the cases that come before you.

“The law remains the law, no matter whose interest is involved. In all we do, as interpreters of the law, we should endeavour to sever the strings of emotion from logic and assumption from fact.

“We should never be overwhelmed by the actions or loud voices of the mob or crowd and now begin to confuse law with sentiment or something else in deciding our cases.

“Nevertheless, unnecessary and unwarranted utterances are bound to embarrass not only others, but the Judge himself; thus what should be asked, should be asked, and what should not be asked, should be avoided.”

CJN Ariwoola urged judges to make books their armour and not be afraid of venturing into “unchartered territories”,  to  “confront the headwinds of ignorance, conservatism and stagnation.”

“I therefore, advise all judicial officers serving in our jurisdiction to make books their armour and hard work their armaments to confront the headwinds of ignorance, conservatism and stagnation.”

Shun Corruption

He, however, warned the judges against engaging in corruption, advising them to display integrity, morality, and good behaviour” in the discharge of their duties.

In a situation where a judge decides a case wrongly out of motives, it shakes the faith of the litigant public; and by extension, the whole society.”

The CJN further added that a corrupt judge has no right to continue to occupy the chair as a judicial officer.”

He therefore called on judges to “lead a disciplined and principled lifestyle that will enhance their trust and integrity quotient.”

Stop Cases At Appeal Court

To reduce the burden on the apex court, CJN Ariwoola advocated for an amendment of the Nigerian Constitution to stop ‘most’ cases at the Appeal Court. He said the Appeal Court has the competence to decide on most of the cases.

“I have made it clear on different occasions that it is not every dispute that must find its way to the court, and it is not every matter that must come up to the Supreme Court on appeal. Our laws have to be amended to make most appeals end at the Court of Appeal, said Ariwoola, who also appealed to Nigerians to stop taking all frivolous cases to court

Ariwoola noted that the Supreme Court, between September 2022 and July 2023, delivered a total number of 251 judgments.

“Out of these, 125 were political appeals, 81 were civil appeals and 45 were criminal appeals. Within the period under review (precisely 10 months’ duration), a total number of 91 Rulings were delivered by the Honourable Court.

He also promised 11 more justices to the Supreme Court to achieve the unprecedented full complement of 21 justices.

Tinubu ready to carry out reforms of the judiciary – AGF

Also speaking at the event, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef  Fagbemi (SAN) urged the National Judicial Council (NJC) to put more urgency in the process of filling the vacancies at the Supreme Court.

He added that President Bola Tinubu is ready to carry out reforms of the judiciary. But he said this will be with the cooperation of the judiciary itself.

Mr Fagbemi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), expressed President Bola Tinubu’s “readiness to implement judicial reforms with the cooperation of the judiciary.

But the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN) represented by Ebun Sofunde, ( SAN) also agreed at the event that Nigerians were losing hope in the judiciary and are such, resorting to use of extra-legal  measures to settle disputes. He blamed the situation on heavy workload on Judges.

credit: PM News