A Statement by The Prominent Civil Rights Advocacy Group; Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) on The Speedy Deterioration of Quality of Judgments of The Supreme Court of Nigeria and The Fast Erosion of The Credibility of The State of Adjudication of Most Courts of Competent Jurisdiction in Nigeria and Demanding The Immediate Removal of Tanko Muhammad As The Chief Justice of Nigeria
The judicial system of any country is central to the protection of human rights and freedoms. Courts play a major role in ensuring that victims or potential victims of human rights violations obtain effective remedies and protection, that perpetrators of human rights violations are brought to justice and that anyone suspected of a criminal offence receives a fair trial according to international standards.
In recognition of the above, the judicial system therefore is an essential check and balance on the other branches of government, ensuring that laws of the legislative and the acts of the executive comply with international human rights and the rule of law.
Even, this crucial role has been highlighted by all inter-governmental human rights systems. The United Nations General Assembly has repeatedly posited that “the rule of law and the proper administration of justice play a central role in the promotion and protection of human rights” and that “the administration of justice, including law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies and, especially, an independent judiciary and legal profession in full conformity with applicable standards contained in international human rights instruments, are essential to the full and non-discriminatory realization of human rights and indispensable to democratization processes and sustainable.
Ideally, every society through its government works towards establishing a peaceful and civilized environment by seeking laws to protect the interest of its citizens and those who live within its bounds.
With the judiciary, an arm of a democratic government, as it is in Nigeria, assigned a major role in administering the laws of the land, it becomes an issue of deep concern when such arm of government is riddled with accusations and convictions of corruption.
This issue has become of utmost concern to us in our capacity as a foremost civil rights advocacy group. This is because if the judiciary, as an administrative institution of the rule of law and equitable access to justice cannot function independently, impartially and with integrity, then it becomes a threat to national and global justice.
Lately, the Nigerian judiciary has been in the eye of a powerful storm. Many Nigerian judges have been accused of corruption and miscarriage of justice due to alleged pressure from authorities and vested interests. These acts and others make many Nigerians doubt the integrity of the nation’s judicial system.
Never before in the history of the country has the judiciary been at the centre of so damaging an allegation of graft and misconduct. While there may never have really been a time when Nigerians viewed the judiciary as being above reproach, the current happenings suggest that those who should dispense justice in the country are deeply involved in the shame.
In October 2016, Nigeria’s Department of State Service (DSS); an Agency under the direct control of the President raided the homes of several senior judges, including two Supreme Court justices, and arrested them on allegations of corruption.
Despite the long-standing perceptions of a questionable credibility of Nigeria’s judiciary and of the commercialisation of justice in the country, this move against the symbolic and substantive custodians of justice and law enforcement in the country was unmatched.
The incident, which became a media ignominy in which public opinion was divided, clearly raised several noteworthy and somewhat contentious issues, which included the independence of the judiciary, corruption and other forms of dishonesty within the institution, redress for those ‘wrongly accused’ and the place and practice of effective judicial oversight in the country.
No doubt, the case(s) against some of the judges where resolved by the National Judicial Council (NJC), but there remain questions about the incident and how the judicial oversight architecture in Nigeria could be restructured to make the judiciary more efficient, objective and independent.
Again, the January 2019 removal of Chief Justice of Nigeria; Walter Onnoghen was an entirely Executive Affair and did not come as a surprise to many pundits. Charges of corruption where preferred against him before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT); an executive body under the control of the President. The twist in the whole saga evidenced the interference and manipulations of the Judiciary by the Executive
To replace Onnoghen, who hails from Cross Rivers State in the South-South region, President Buhari nominated and got appointed Tanko Muhammad from Bauchi State in the North-East region of Nigeria as Chief Justice of Nigeria.
It would be recalled that in 2002 as a senior Justice of Appeal, Justice Muhammad had ALLEGEDLY claimed in an affidavit that he lost his basic education certificates when they were eaten up by termites in an undisclosed place and time. It could be argued then that the enforced departure of Walter Onnoghen was designed to achieve the ascendancy of Tanko Mohammed.
Since the ascension of Tanko Muhammad as the Chief Justice of Nigeria, The Nigerian Judiciary, as the Third Arm of Government under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has left more to be desired in its credibility and independence.
The Supreme Court, as presently constituted under Justice Mohammed Tanko, has become heavily compromised; lost its credibility and is now annexed to execute ignoble agenda of the APC-led Federal Government against the Nigerian people.
For instance, the judgment of the Supreme Court voiding the lawful election of Hon. Emeka Ihedioha (who scored 276,404 votes) and awarding fictitious votes to declare Hope Uzodimma of the APC, who scored 96, 458 votes as governor of Imo state, is highly irrational, unfounded, a provocative product of executive manipulation. With that verdict, the Supreme Court executed a coup against the people of Imo state as well as other Nigerians.
The Supreme Court, in a host of cases, the latest and most celebrated being Atiku V Buhari & Ors, consistently decided that for a petitioner to succeed in an allegation of infraction of any provision of the Electoral Act, especially one complaining about malpractice, as in this case, wrongful exclusion of votes, the petitioner must call witnesses polling unit by polling unit.
The question is, how many witnesses did Uzodinma/APC call from the 388 polling units from where the Supreme Court allocated votes to him.
Next is the suspicious manners of appointment of judges which is based on Man know man which is why children of politicians, wives of politicians are getting nominated into the bench of the respective courts recognised in section 6 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
OUR CONCERNS AND DEMANDS
Increasingly, the Supreme Court appears to be losing its respect. Until now, any judgment by the highest law court in the land was regarded as sacrosanct and swallowed like a sermon from a church pulpit; no questions! Reviewing cases already being adjudicated over was unheard of. But it appears that such era is gone.
Pundits say that the various calls for review of cases adjudicated by the Supreme Court, in recent times, appear to convey a no confidence vote in the apex court and by extension, the Judiciary.
The speedy deterioration of quality of judgments of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and the fast erosion of credibility of the state of adjudication of most Courts of competent jurisdiction in Nigeria goes a long way to show the deterioration of the integrity of the bench.
The suspicious manners of appointment of judges which is based on Man-Know-Man is the reason children of politicians, wives of politicians are getting nominated into the bench of the respective courts recognized in section 6 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Even recently the Vice President of Nigeria; Professor Yemi Osibanjo, who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and a Professor of Law of Evidence has raised alarm on the deteriorating standards of appointments to the bench just as a group of lawyers led by Professor Chidi Odinkalu cried blue murder over the dubious nominations of judges of FCT high courts made recently in which children of judges were rewarded with elevation to the bench.
All these negative indices will invariably undermine the delivery of justice in accordance with the service direction and the statutes and the Constitution of Nigeria. The Supreme Court of Nigeria particularly have contributed to the erosion of the credibility and integrity of the judiciary through many dubious verdicts such as the one of Imo governorship which promoted someone who came 4th to first position and then the governorship verdict of Kogi state in which the apex court validated an election that the Police, police service commission and INEC adjudged to have been marred by violence.
The bad example of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in those two judgments will haunt the Supreme Court of Nigeria for years to come as stated by Justice Nweze, who gave a lone dissenting judgment in the appeal filed to challenge the Supreme Court of Nigeria’s decision returning Hope Uzodinma as winner.
We are by this statement challenging Lawyers and Judges to rise up and stage a revolution in the Court system of Nigeria so as to rescue the Supreme Court of Nigeria from collapse of integrity and ethics which characterize the current hierarchy of the Supreme Court which began with the way that Tanko Muhammad became acting Chief of Justice through an ex-PARTE ORDER obtained from the discredited Code of Conduct Tribunal presided over by the ethically challenged Chairman who at that time had a reported N10 million bribery allegations against him which was brought by the EFCC.
We state in all strongest possible termst the ex-PARTE ORDER which paved the way for the illegal emergence of Tanko Mohammad as the Chief Justice marked the beginning of the decline of quality and standard in the nation’s highest court.
Therefore we recommend the resignation of Tanko Muhammad and Justice Kekere Ekun accused of pandering to the whims of the APC, which is allegedly and reportedly the political family of her husband. For the Judiciary to regain her sanity, Tanko Muhammad must go.
*COMRADE EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO:
*Miss Zainab Yusuf:
Director; National Media Affairs.
HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA).
1st September 2020.