Date Published: 03/11/10
On that CJN’s interference in the Sokoto State governorship election case By Lasisi Salawu, Esq
On the 24 th February 2010, the Court of Appeal Sokoto division confirmed to the public while in session that the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Katina-Alu, has written a letter to them confirming the receipt of a petition from Yahaya Mahmood Esq counsel representing INEC against the president and Justices of the Court of Appeal on the Judgement that they were about to deliver and that the Judgement should be reserved pending his investigation of the Petition.
The Directive was accordingly adhered to by the Judges and the Judgement fixed for 24 th February 2010 was not delivered, despite the fact that hearing leading to the Judgement was concluded since January 18, 2010. This a dangerous development in the administration of justice in this country, for if the ugly trend even is not Immediately stopped many litigants will turn NJC into another superior court from where proceedings and Judgements can be arrested and stopped and this would adversely undermine our judicial system.
Judicial powers in Nigeria are vested in the Courts established by section 6 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 in which each court has been conferred with express powers and inherent powers. Constitutionally, the Court of Appeal is the Final Court in the determination of Governorship Election Petition and not NJC.
In this regard, the CJN’s directive for the stay of action on the Court of Appeal judgement on Sokoto State Governorship Election Appeal slated for 24 th February 2008 is a blatant incidence of selfish individual or partisan interests being used to subvert the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, the fons et origo of our legal system.
Section 285(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 confers on Election Tribunals exclusive original jurisdiction to hear and determine election petitions with respect to whether any person has been validly elected to the office of Governor or Deputy Governor of a State.
The power to appoint the Chairman and other members of the Tribunal is vested in the President of the Court of Appeal in consultation with the Chief Judge of the State, the Grand Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the State or the President of the Customary Court of Appeal of the State, as the case may be and not the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
The Provision of section 240 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 gives the Court of Appeal exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine Appeals from Tribunals.
Section 246(3) of the Constitution provides
“The decisions of the Court of Appeal in respect of appeals arising from election petitions shall be final”.
Section 153 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 provides for the establishment of the National Judicial Council; Constitutionally the NJC is not a COURT with judicial powers. It is pertinent to note that, the Council’s disciplinary power does not extend to stopping the reading of the judgment in a matter that has already been heard on its merits and reserved. Nobody in Nigeria has such a power. Even the Courts themselves which are constitutionally empowered to have complete control over any matters over which they have jurisdiction cannot suspend or arrest a judgment pending before them or any other Court.
It is therefore glaringly clear that the powers of the Court of Appeal in Governorship election petition appeal cannot be undermined or circumvented by anyone or body, not even the Chief Justice of the Federation in his office or as Chairman of the N ational J udicial C ouncil, because the effect of such an action would tantamount to an unconstitutional interference with the powers and function of the Court of Appeal particularly that of its President.
We urge the Distinguished and Honourable Members of the National Judicial Council (NJC) to investigate the Chairman of their respectable Council as his action smacks of interrelationship with the Peoples Democratic Party. It needs no further proof that by his action he is partisan to the case; a stance that is not expected of the person and exalted office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman National Judicial Council. Calling him to order is necessary so that the purity of administration of Justice in Nigeria would be protected from partisan politics. We make the above statements with all sense of responsibility based on the following facts:
The administrative action of setting up the Election Appeal Panel was unduly delayed for about a year on the strength of a mere Letter written by the Counsel to the respondents, the Peoples Democratic Party and its candidate the incumbent Governor of Sokoto State .
The present President of the Court of Appeal did the proper thing by constituting the panel to hear the long overdue appeal, after all, election petitions and appeals are supposed to be given priority over other matters in hearing. The failure of the respondents’ efforts to infiltrate the panel is what has resulted in the unprecedented steps they have subsequently taken, including:
1. They have filed a motion at the Court of Appeal urging the Court to inter alia refer some unfathomable constitutional issues allegedly raised in the appeal to the Supreme Court for resolution. This is in a matter already slated for judgment!
2. They have filed a motion for departure from the rules at the Supreme Court in which some of the ancillary relieves they seek include a stay of the hearing of the appeal before the Court of Appeal Sokoto, which was already slated for judgment. They have gone further to serve the said motions on the Court of Appeal whilst claiming that the appeal has been entered by virtue of their pending motion for departure and ignoring the fact that the said appeals in which they were respondents have been withdrawn by virtue of a proper notice to that effect.
3. They have also written a petition to the Supreme Court alleging all sorts of improbable against the Court of Appeal on the strength of which the CJN has purported stayed the pending judgment of the Court of Appeal.
It is certainly not a coincidence that all the above stated actions of the respondents were geared towards the same end, to delay the delivery of the judgment and somehow usurp the constitutionally stipulated jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal in this matter. This is because the respondents have concluded that the failure of their efforts to infiltrate and corrupt the panel can bode nothing but ill for them and as a result want to ensure by all means that course of justice is perverted even if they taint the judiciary and subvert our Constitution in the process.
We say with all conviction that the action of the CJN is illegal, unconstitutional and amount both in law and in fact to an interference in the administration of Justice and should be stopped immediately. The Court of Appeal should go ahead to discharge of its Constitutional responsibility by delivering judgement on the Sokoto governorship election. It’s wrong for the NJC to dictate to the Appeal Court when and how it will exercise its judicial functions as provided in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Finally, the treachery and machinations manifesting over the case have brought to light some pertinent but disturbing questions regarding the inter-play between the Judiciary, politics, media and professionalism in Nigeria’s democratization. Let us reflect and try providing answers to the folling questions:
i) Why does the CJN want to delay the sitting of the JSC?
ii) Why does the CJN want to humiliate the President of the Court of Appeal by interfering in his jurisdiction and usurping his Constitutional duty?
iii) Why are Wamakko’s foot-soldiers using media to defend action of the CJN and same time showering accusations against the Judges of the Court of Appeal?
iv) Why is Senator Dahiru Tambuwal romancing the CJN if not to influence the outcome of the legal tussle?
v) Why should National Assembly allow Members to influence court decisions?
vi) Who is financing INEC to use the same petition on the CJN?
vii) Why did the counsel to INEC, a party to the case, get involved in the petition?
viii) What is the outcome of the petition, as the public need to know what transpired between the panel and the judges?
ix) Who gave governor Wamakko absolute control over the NTA, which has been serving as partisan in its reportage of the case?
x) Which is which: The NTA bulleting said the CJN and Supreme Court ordered the stoppage of the Judgment, while the Judges themselves assured nobody stopped them but only reserved the judgment because the petition bordered on their integrity?
xi) How did Rima Radio know the party that the Judgment is going to favour?
Now that the Appeal court Judges have fixed the 16 th March, 2010 as final date to deliver their judgment, after previous interference, it’s time that CJN will understand the game of politics by not becoming yet another tool by desperate politicians who want to mock our revered judicial system and the integrity of innocent learned Judges.
Lasisi Salawu Esq
Faculty of Law,
Usmanu Danfodio University,