By Emmanuel Onwubiko
There was this esoteric coincidence that struck me about six days ago when the nation’s apex court delivered what will go down in the judicial annals of our country as the most degrading and ethically challenged verdict in the political litigation between the then Imo state governor Chief Emeka Ihedioha and the All Progressives Congress (APC) 2019 governorship flag bearer Chief Hope Uzodinma.
The coincidence was that about the same time that this miscarriage of justice by the Muhammad Tanko-led seven man panel was delivered, I picked up a copy of a book I bought about six months ago titled “The Last Act of Love.”
Whilst digesting the earliest pages of THE LAST ACT OF LOVE, then emerged the breaking news which was about the ruling of the Supreme Court ordaining the candidate of APC with no single seat in the House of Assembly of Imo state Senator Hope Uzodinma who came fourth in the last Imo state governorship election as the winner and controversially dethroning the then governor Emeka Ihedioha of the People’s Democratic party who had spent seven months in office at the Douglas House Owerri.
The exclamation that came out of my mouth was that this miscarriage of justice and a travesty from the supposed temple of justice is to be regarded as the nation’s highest court’s LAST ACT OF BEYRAYAL OF TRUST.
However, I chose to watch developments just like the story told in the beginning chapter of the wonderful fictional book called THE LAST ACT OF LOVE.
The story being referred to in this beautiful fictional prose was captured as “The Prayer Tree”.
Yours faithfully embarked on introspection and reflection about how the highest court in Nigeria could be this heartless to joke with judicial integrity which to me is the last act of treachery and betrayal by ministers in the temple of justice.
Like in this story of The Prayer Tree, the Supreme Court is not how I remember it.
The story teller in that book stated as follows:
“The chapel is not how I remember it. All these years I’ve imagined a simple wooden room buried deep in the hospital. Instead, light shines through a splendid stained-glass window onto an altar with an embroidered cloth and large brass candlesticks. It feels like a church.”
“I ask the chaplain if everything looks the same as it would have done when I was here over twenty years ago.”
“We’ve had a new carpet,’ she tells me, ‘and pink covers for the seats. Though soot blows down from the roof so I’m always out here a little hoover.”
“There is a smallish tree to one side of the room with a blue-and-white cuddly elephant propped against the base and bits of coloured paper clipped among its leaves.”
“That’s newer,’ the Chaplin says, ‘a prayer tree. That won’t have been here when you were.”
“I walk over to it and take one of the leaves between my thumb and forefinger. Plastic, but convincing from a distance. I read the messages written on the bits of paper. This must make it easier for atheists. I think. Far easier as an atheist in extremis to write something down and attach it to a tree than to kneel in front of an altar and try to work out how to make a deity you don’t believe in listen to what you have to say. Some of the messages are addressed to God, some to the living, some to the dead. There is a range of handwriting styles, differing levels of ease with grammar and spelling. It is the badly punctuated ones that I find most poignant: I imagine they demanded the most effort. Some are in a spindly, elderly hand, others in childish rounded letters.”
It must be stated that the fact that There are overwhelming rejection of the verdict against Governor Emeka Ihedioha goes to show that the SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA seems to have redefined the place of judicial integrity which sets it apart as the bastion of justice and equity. Indeed, there is the remarkable need for those who love constitutional democracy to look for THE PRAYER TREE and begin to demand the restoration of judicial integrity and impartiality in the nation’s highest court of justice.
Section 6 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) states thus: “(1) The judicial powers of the Federation shall be vested in the courts to which this section relates, being courts established for the Federation. (2) The judicial powers of a State shall be vested in the courts to which this section relates, being courts established, subject as provided by this Constitution, for a State. (3) The courts to which this section relates, established by this Constitution for the Federation and for the States, specified in subsection (5) (a) to (1) of this section, shall be the only superior courts of record in Nigeria; and save as otherwise prescribed by the National Assembly or by the House of Assembly of a State, each court shall have all the powers of a superior court of record. (4) Nothing in the foregoing provisions of this section shall be construed as precluding:- (a) the National Assembly or any House of Assembly from establishing courts, other than those to which this section relates, with subordinate jurisdiction to that of a High Court; (b) the National Assembly or any House of Assembly, which does not require it, from abolishing any court which it has power to establish or which it has brought into being. (5) This section relates to:- (a) the Supreme Court of Nigeria; (b) the Court of Appeal; (c) the Federal High Court; (d) the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja; (e) a High Court of a State (f) the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja; (g) a Sharia Court of Appeal of a State; (h) the Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja; (i) a Customary Court of Appeal of a State; (j) such other courts as may be authorized by law to exercise jurisdiction on matters with respect to which the National Assembly may make laws; and (k) such other court as may be authorized by law to exercise jurisdiction at first instance or on appeal on matters with respect to which a House of Assembly may make laws. (6) The judicial powers vested in accordance with the foregoing provisions of this section – (a) shall extend, notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this constitution, to all inherent powers and sanctions of a court of law (b) shall extend, to all matters between persons, or between government or authority and to any persons in Nigeria, and to all actions and proceedings relating thereto, for the determination of any question as to the civil rights and obligations of that person; (c) shall not except as otherwise provided by this Constitution, extend to any issue or question as to whether any act of omission by any authority or person or as to whether any law or any judicial decision is in conformity with the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy set out in Chapter II of this Constitution; (d) shall not, as from the date when this section comes into force, extend to any action or proceedings relating to any existing law made on or after 15th January, 1966 for determining any issue or question as to the competence of any authority or person to make any such law.”
Those therefore who must exercise this highest judicial power must be ministers and worshippers of the goddess of integrity and impartiality.
Already there is a perfect storm generated by that disturbing judgement. The People’s Democratic Party has alleged that the Supreme Court under Justice Tanko Muhammad, as Chief Justice of Nigeria, had been heavily compromised.
The PDP National Chairman, Uche Secondus, during a media briefing in Abuja, added that the apex court had lost credibility.
According to Secondus, the Supreme Court, under Tanko’s leadership, has been annexed “to execute the ignoble agenda of the All Progressives Congress-led Federal Government against the Nigerian people.”
Secondus was reacting to the Tuesday judgment of the Supreme Court, which nullified the electoral victory of Emeka Ihedioha, in the March 9, 2019 governorship election in Imo State.
The apex court removed Ihedioha, who had been Imo State governor since May last year, and replaced him with Hope Uzodinma, who contested the election on the platform of the APC.
At the press briefing, Secondus described the Supreme Court’s verdict as a miscarriage of justice.
He said, “The National Working Committee of our great party, the People’s Democratic Party, after a thorough examination of all the issues relating to the miscarriage of justice by the Supreme Court on the Imo State governorship election petition, and after a very extensive consultation, resolves as follows:
“That the Supreme Court, as presently constituted under Justice Tanko Muhammad, has become heavily compromised; lost its credibility and is now annexed to execute the ignoble agenda of the APC-led Federal Government against the Nigerian people.
“That the judgment of the Supreme Court, voiding the lawful election of Honourable 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 and a recipe for crisis, which should not be allowed to stand.”
The PDP national chairman claimed that the ‘results’ from the 388 polling units were rightfully rejected by the tribunal and Court of Appeal, which had earlier upheld Ihedioha’s victory.
Secondus said the Supreme Court was wrong to have awarded votes in the 388 polling units to Uzodinma.
The PDP chairman said the party had intelligence before the verdict that the hierarchy of the APC had decided that they would use the Supreme Court to capture states, such as Imo, Sokoto, Bauchi, Adamawa and Benue won and controlled by the PDP.
Secondus said the PDP had it on good authority that Justice Tanko and his panel allegedly worked on the instructions of certain forces in the Presidency.
He warned that as any attempt to subvert justice in the pending petitions in Sokoto, Bauchi, Benue, Adamawa as well as Kano and Plateau states would be firmly and vehemently resisted.
He said that in other to avoid an imminent breakdown of law and order, the PDP demands that Justice Tanko immediately step down as the CJN and chairman of the National Judicial Council as, according to him, Nigerians have lost confidence in him and the Supreme Court under his leadership.
Tony Iredia who had worked in INEC says: The rule that a court cannot reverse itself is not absolute. He was of the opinion that the best way out of the ethical quagmire that the SUPREME Court of Nigeria has found itself was the verdict to be reviewed and reversed.
To revisit a case already settled he said has happened many times before.
He stated that almost 50 years ago, we had the case of Johnson v Lawanson (1971) 7 NSCC 82 where the Supreme Court found cause to overrule itself. In that case, Justice G.B.A Coker of the Apex Court made the point that “when the court is faced with the alternative of perpetuating what it is satisfied is an erroneous decision which was reached per incuriam and will, if followed, inflict hardship and injustice upon the generations in the future or of causing temporary disturbances of rights acquired under such a decision, I do not think we shall hesitate to declare the law as we find it.”
What the above implies is that the convention that Courts do not reverse themselves has exceptions; one of which is that a party is allowed to seek a revisit of a decided case if the decision was arrived at by fraud or deceit or in earnest, when there are clerical errors in the judgment, says Tony Iredia a Doctorate Degree scholar.
From the little that has been made public about the Imo judgment, Iredia said it is obvious that the election has been accorded more votes than the number of voters accredited to vote – an anomaly that is made more visible by the current arrangement in which accreditation and voting are merged.
However, the number of votes scored in an election can be lower than the number accredited where some ballots are found to be invalid. The decision of the Supreme Court in the Imo governorship case that the exclusion of certain votes was illegal because it was done by unauthorized officials cannot be faulted; it is in actual fact a point to be saluted if we must put an end to our history of rancorous elections. Tony Iredia maintained that the Supreme Court gave more votes than the total of voters that actually were accredited to vote thus leading to a damaging mathematical illogicality.
Where then is judicial integrity?
“Adela Cortina, a well-known philosopher, emphasizes that corruption – etymologically related with the idea of ‘destruction’ – is encouraged by the weakening of the so-called ‘internal good’, described as the reason that justifies the existence of any given profession. Since judges exist to accomplish the essential goal of delivering justice to their fellow citizens, a vigorous ethical commitment should constitute a genetic trace of its professional code.
On the other hand, an irreprehensible ethical behavior by the legal professionals, particularly judges, has an essential role in the legitimacy of the judicial system, as necessarily based on a bond of trust with the involved community. Ethics, as Rodolfo Vigo explains, endorses Democracy, since it implies an open debate about professional conducts, besides inspiring magistrates to go far beyond the mere obedience to their functional duties as prescribed by Law. Ethics strengthens and reinforces Judicial Independence by promoting the implementation of a culture of excellence, the ultimate ambition of any judiciary. (By Judge José Igreja Matos).
“The country needs judges whose oath of office would remain sacrosanct. Integrity and courage are two virtues that define a judge. In developed democracies, a judge who soils his robe does not get a slap on the wrist, but is put on trial and, upon conviction, jailed, to serve as a deterrent. But here we have “billionaire judges,” whom the late Kayode Eso, a Justice of the Supreme Court, denounced; without forgetting the lamentations of a former President of the Court of Appeal, Ayo Salami, that some retired jurists despicably serve as conduits for bribes to judges.”
The internal disciplinary control of the NJC for self-regulation should be subjected to a rigorous scrutiny. It is clear that the provision of Paragraph 20 of Part One of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution that outlines the composition of the NJC needs overhauling as it arrogates too much power of appointment of other NJC members to the CJN.
He alone appoints five retired Justices from the Supreme Court or Court of Appeal; five Chief Judges of States from among the Chief Judges of the states and of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja in rotation to serve for two years; one Grand Khadi from among Grand Khadi of the Sharia Courts of Appeal to serve in rotation for two years; one President of the Customary Court of Appeal from among the Presidents of the Customary Courts of Appeal to serve in rotation for two years and five members of the NBA on the recommendation of its National Executive Committee. In addition, the CJN appoints two non-lawyers, who in his opinion are of unquestionable integrity.
Where law rules, no one should be above it. While the judiciary must be insulated from executive shenanigans, judges who soil their robes should be punished in accordance with the rule of law. The Telegraph of London reports that more than 75 British judges were disciplined for misconduct last year with some banned after being jailed for crimes as serious as blackmail and manslaughter. (Punch)