Ade Adesomoju, Abuja
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, on Tuesday, warned judges, particularly those of the Federal High Court, to decide all cases bordering on the forthcoming general elections on merit without harbouring any external influence.
A Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice John Okoro, read the CJN’s prepared speech in Abuja at the opening ceremony of the 34th Annual Judges’ Conference of the Federal High Court which held in Abuja.
At the event, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Adamu Abdu-Kafarati, amended his earlier directive to judges on the issuance of ex parte orders by allowing them to grant such orders only when the cases involved are “very exceptional.”
Speaking at the event, the CJN said with the 2019 general elections approaching, the courts would be flooded with election-related cases.
He noted that while it was the responsibility of the Independent National Electoral Commission to conduct elections, it was the duty of the judiciary to resolve the issues arising from the polls.
He urged the judges to shun corruption in the discharge of their responsibilities and to ensure that their decisions were based on merit devoid of external influence while handling political cases.
He said, “My brother judges, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, we are all aware of the increase in the tempo of political activities as we approach an election year.
“Our renascent democracy has to be nurtured, consolidated and developed.
“We are working assiduously to ensure that we clean our house, and completely dump the unfortunate toga of corruption that had plagued the judiciary for some time.
“With your cooperation and commitment, we shall once again steer this nation to the path of transparency and good governance.
“At the just concluded 18th Triennial Conference of the Commonwealth Magistrate’s and Judges’ Association (CMJA), held in Brisbane, Australia, with the theme, ‘Becoming Stronger Together,’ I witnessed collective resolve of judicial officers and judiciaries of the Commonwealth nations to stem the tide of impunity, bad governance, intimidation of judicial officers and other vices that threaten judicial independence.
“I was particularly happy that all the speakers emphasised the universal truth that, the respect for the rule of law remains the backbone and pillar of any democracy.
“I have maintained this view and reinforced it at every given opportunity.
“We must all, therefore, seize this pivotal moment of history.
“I urge you to shun corruption in all its ramifications and encourage the sustainability of your determined effort to promote transparency and good governance in our body polity.
“I am confident that your efforts in line with the rule of law will stamp out corruption and enthrone an enviable democracy characterised by justice, equity, transparency and good governance.
“My Lords, as the election year draws closer, your courts will be flooded with applications bordering on pre- and post-election matters requiring adjudication.
“No doubt, election litigation is an inevitable part of the electoral process.
“While INEC has the responsibility to conduct and manage elections, the judiciary on its part is charged with the responsibility of resolving disputes arising from the process.
“We must, therefore, ensure that matters brought before our courts are determined on their merits, devoid of any external interference, to ensure the sustenance of the independence of the judiciary.”
Earlier on Tuesday, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Adamu Abdul-Kafarati, who had earlier on Monday barred judges of the court from granting ex parte orders in political cases, introduced a variation allowing judges to grant such orders in “exceptional cases.”
Abdul-Kafarati who had expressly, without giving any exception, prohibited judges from granting ex parte orders in political cases, said on Tuesday that judges could grant such orders when the cases were exceptional.
While issuing the directive at the special court session marking the commencement of the 2018/2019 new legal year of the Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday, Justice Abdul-Kafarati also gave an October deadline to all judges to conclude all political cases bordering on the 2019 elections.
He maintained on Tuesday that hearing all the parties to a suit was better than granting ex parte orders which were made without the knowledge or hearing of the other parties involved in a case.
He said, “I wish again to advise your Lordship’s particularly the new judges never to grant ex parte orders unless in very exceptional cases.
“I believe that it is better to hear all sides before a decision is taken and with that there will be less controversy in the adjudication process.
“It is important that extra care is taken in handling these political cases because of their nature.
“Actions or inactions by a judge no matter how honestly done is capable of misinterpretation.
“It is, therefore, necessary and important that we guard our loins in order not to be caught unawares.”
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