Nigerian Judiciary On Trial By OWEDE AGBAJILEKE

The endless, frivolous injunctions and controversial judgments emanating from many courts in Nigeria question the integrity of the judiciary.
The conflicting judgments from courts of coordinate jurisdiction have also become a source of concern for many observers.
This, they say, portends danger not only for the legal system and the image of the Nigerian judiciary but also cast doubts on the popular saying that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man.
In recent times, contradictory court orders have been given by Federal High Courts in respect of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leadership crisis and the Abia governorship logjam.
Specifically, the court orders from the Federal High Courts has made the judiciary a laughing stock, with analysts calling on the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed who doubles as chairman of the National Judicial Council (NJC) to overhaul the judicial system.With the public outcry that trailed the conflicting judgments, most political commentators say President Muhammadu Buhari has been justified with his statement early this year when he said the judiciary was his main headache in the ongoing fight against corruption in the country.

Speaking while interacting with representatives of the Nigerian Community resident in Ethiopia, the President said far-reaching reforms of the judiciary was his government’s major priority.
He stated that with the support of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), he would continue to do his best to improve the country’s judicial system.
“On the fight against corruption vis-à-vis the judiciary, Nigerians will be right to say that is my main headache for now,” Buhari said.
On July 4, a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, presided over by Mohammed Liman – the most senior administrative judge at the Port Harcourt Division – had given a judgment that the Ahmed Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee is the authentic leadership of the party; a verdict affirmed by Ibrahim Watila of the same Division.
However, Okon Abang of the Federal High Court Abuja took a swipe at his brother judge, Liman, for entertaining the suit in the first instance, ordered Makarfi to stop parading himself as chairman of the caretaker committee and that Ali Modu Sheriff is the authentic leader of the party.
Incidentally, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been at the receiving end of the conflicting judgments, as most verdicts of high profile political cases are served on the electoral body for compliance.
INEC Chairman, Mahmud Yakubu, who identified conflicting court judgments as one of the major challenges confronting the commission, noted that within three months, the commission received 11 court judgments and orders. In the same vein, he pointed out that within two days in August this year, the electoral body received one judgment and three court orders relating to the PDP crisis.
He criticised political gladiators for exploiting the courts by operating at the level of the high courts without seeking redress at the appellate court.
The political class has also been accused of forum shopping; that is the practice adopted by some litigants to have their legal case(s) heard in the court most likely to provide favourable judgment(s).The INEC boss lamented that the development does not augur well for the nation’s democracy.

“Courts of law and their judgments must be obeyed. Within three months, we received 11 court judgments and orders, almost all of them conflicting. All of them were from courts of coordinate jurisdiction; all of them from the High Court.
“In fact, in two days, 15th and 16th of this month, we received one judgment and three court orders, from courts of coordinate jurisdiction from different parts of the country, two from Port Harcourt, two from Abuja.
“As we closed from work (on Wednesday), a Federal High Court in Abuja came with another judgment. So, it is really a very big challenge. The politicians want to exploit the courts; that is why they all operate at the level of the High Court, none of them has gone to the Court of Appeal,” he stated.
To others, the contradictory court orders of the Federal High Court may signal a return to the June 12, 1993 era where inconsistent court orders of courts of coordinate jurisdictions held sway.
For instance, on June 10, 1993, the Abuja High Court, presided over by Justice Bassey Ikpeme, ordered the then National Electoral Commission (NEC) not to conduct the June 12, election.
Immediately, two Nigerians, Sumbo Onitiri and Richard Adejumo, in suit number LD/1757/93, rushed to court, seeking for an order of Mandamus compelling NEC to hold the election. Justice Moshood Olugbani of Lagos High Court granted the order of Mandamus. The election held but midway into the release of the results, another Abuja High Court judge, Justice Dahiru Saleh ordered the stoppage of the announcement of the results. In Benin, a member of the Bendel State House of Assembly, Matthew Egbadon also went to a Benin High Court, seeking for an order that NEC be compelled to release all the results. On June 16, 1993, Justice J.O.Sadoh gave an order restraining NEC Chairman Humphrey Nwosu and NEC from further withholding, neglecting or refusing to release the results.
Recalling the post-June 12 event, veteran journalist, Richard Akinnola said the Kayode Eso panel on Judicial Reforms dealt with the issues and some judges were sanctioned.
He therefore called on the National Judicial Council (NJC) to sanitise the judiciary and cleanse it of bad eggs.By the provision of Paragraph 21 of Part One of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the NJC shall, among other powers, recommend to the President the removal from office of the judicial officers and to exercise disciplinary control over such officers.

A legal practitioner, John Oloyede, expressed concern that judges take interest in political cases, delivering judgments as late as 6pm, while neglecting suits that deal with the economy of the country.
He accused the regulatory body of applying different standards in dealing with erring judges.
“A judge is supposed to be impartial but with what we see in Nigeria today regarding PDP and other funny political parties, it is obvious that some judges are very political and they don’t hide it.
“If we must stem the tide of inconsistency that we are throwing at the judiciary, NBA should play an active role in the appointment of judges,” he said.
As the debate over the impartiality of judges dominate public discourse, Nigerians are waiting for the NJC to act swiftly, stem the trend once and for all by check mating the excesses of judges, who have become more political than the politicians.