Judiciary capture: Will the Supreme Court also fall prey to moneybags?

News Hub
12 Min Read

By Jonathan Archibong

Stories about the capture of the Nigerian Judiciary by the executive arm of government which allegedly armtwists it to deliver judgment as it suits it, have never been louder. Under the immediate past administration, even though many Nigerians struggled to exist, due to hardship, something that has gotten much worse now, there was a consensus that Mohammadu Buhari allowed the rule of law to a reasonable extent.

This assessment is nonetheless contentious, taking into account the fact that former President Buhari was notorious for disobeying court orders, especially orders by courts to release persons kept in custody. Examples include; those of Elzakzaki, the leader of Islamic movement of Nigeria, Nnamdi Kanu, Sowore, Obadiah MeLafia among many others.

Also, the unconstitutional removal of the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen by mere exparte order from an incompetent court, did not portray Mohammed Buhari as someone who believed in the rule of law. By the provisions of 1999 constitution, a Chief Justice of Nigeria cannot be removed from office without the involvement of the National Judicial Council.

- Advertisement -
Ad imageAd image

Despite all the observed lapses, credit is still being given to the Buhari administration for not meddling in the internal affairs of the Judiciary by allowing it to operate freely as an independent arm of government. A government not obeying court orders, as bad as it is , is better than one which will not allow such orders to be given in the first place. The order of court to do anything contrary to the wishes of government will not be given because the judicial arm has been gagged in what is now regarded as Judiciary capture.

It would be recalled that it was under the Buhari administration that elected APC governors of Zamfara and Rivers states alongside their elected legislators both federal and state, were sacked by the Supreme Court and votes cast for them declared as wasted votes. The PDP coming second in the elections, benefitted from that landmark judgment. Aside from the cases of Zamfara and Rivers states, no one will forget in a hurry what happened in Bayelsa State nearly four years ago. On that fateful day the then President Mohammadu Buhari had already boarded a plane to Yenegoa , to witness the inauguration of David Lyon as governor elected under the APC platform only to be told right on the plane that the Supreme Court had a few hours earlier voided Lyon’s election. That singular incident clearly showed a president who did not know about or interfere with the operation of the judicial arm of government.

The Supreme Court sacked David Lyon due to contradictions found in the name of his deputy and which tended to show that his certificates were forged. That was probably the last time Nigerians saw judicial activism in the Supreme Court.

The question now is; has anything changed since Tinubu became President? Majority of Nigerians will answer the question in the affirmative. Although perception is not always a reflection of reality, every human being, institution or government must be conscious of public opinion and perception as they form the basis for acceptance or rejection of any person or government by the people. When the people feel that public funds are being stolen and diverted into private pockets by those in power, a responsible government should not ignore the perception or ask those behind it to produce evidence. What it does is to work harder to provide basic amenities for the people as a way of dealing with the root or foundation of the perception.

The perception today is that the Nigerian judiciary under the Tinubu administration is in the pocket of the executive. The origin might not be unconnected with the victory of President Tinubu in the election tribunals up to the Supreme Court despite a truckload of allegations, bordering on qualification, issues of forgery, drug offences, the Federal Capital Territory and so on. The ease with which the allegations were rubbished and dismissed in all the courts without a single judge dissenting is something novel. In previous election cases, the courts did affirm the election of a president but never has there been no single dissenting judgement both at the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

Ever since the ugly perception about the present government gained ground, rumours have been rife that the office of the Chief of Staff to the President has become a rendezvous and melting pot of bribery and other activities designed to interfere, influence and in some cases impose judgments on federal court across the country, in active connivance with the office of the President of the Court of Appeal. This could be a mere allegation but like I said earlier, there’s always no smoke without fire. It is the duty of the President and the CJN to investigate these allegations with a view to ascertaining their veracity rather than ignoring or dismissing them as mere rantings from the opposition.

It would be recalled that the same office of the Chief of Staff to the president was fingered during the appointment of ministers as having collected billions of naira from desperate persons seeking to be appointed ministers and ended up defrauding many of them. All what the President did to quell that controversy was to reaffirm his confidence in his Chief of Staff. That, to many, was not enough. The President should have set up an independent investigation to determine whether the allegations had merit or not as the office Femi Gbajabiamilla is occupying is a public office and not one belonging to Bola Tinubu.

Ever since the allegation against the Chief of Staff was swept under the carpet, allowing him to continue in his dirty trade, the question has been; does the Chief of Staff’s tentacles also extend to the Supreme Court? The question is imperative taking into account, a trending video in which a federal law maker from Plateau State was heard boasting that the APC owns the Supreme Court. Neither the federal government nor the Supreme Court has reacted to the viral video but that’s exactly how public perception is built up especially when some judgments coming out of election tribunals appear not to taken into account the will of the people and the true intendments of the law.

Recently, the Court of Appeal Lagos division shocked those who came to hear the court’s judgement in respect of Enugu governorship election. Despite having two months to evaluate evidence and write its judgement, the court informed the bewildered audience that it would give its reasons for the judgement later, after affirming the election of Mr. Peter Mbah as Governor of Enugu State. Strange! Was it that the justices didn’t have enough time to write a detailed and comprehensive judgement in a matter as serious as the office of governor of a state? Even though pronouncing judgment and giving the reason for it later, is not new in our clime, it is a practice usually associated with the Supreme Court because the court knows that appeal against its judgement does not lie anywhere else.

Where the Court of Appeal for example postpones reason for a judgement to a later date, it eats into the time stipulated for the losing party to collect record of proceedings and file notice of appeal. That exactly happened in the Enugu case as record of proceedings was made available to Labour Party lawyers after 7 days, leaving the party with only 14 days to file an appeal to the Supreme Court. Why was it so?

It has therefore been rumoured that the President of the Court of Appeal Hon.. Justice Monica Dongban Mensem received an instruction to deliver Peter Mbah at all cost, something she relayed to the panel in the morning of 10th November( the date slated for judgment) after the panel had already written its judgement in favour of Chijioke Edeoga of the Labour Party. Unable to deal with the situation, the panel felt that the only way out was to affirm Peter Mbah’s election as instructed and give reasons later. A dependable source disclosed that after the ten minutes it took to read the affirmation, the panel hurried another judgment the CTC of which it gave to the party seeking to appeal against judgment. Another dependable source disclosed that the bribe Peter Mbah offered to the highly placed public officers involved was too big to reject. According to that source, the bribe covered all their gratuities and pensions, twenty times over and even took care of their generations unborn

If the rumour of collusion between the office of the Chief of Staff and that of the President of the Court of Appeal is true, it all means that we have no judiciary at all under Tinubu’s government while the Chief Justice of Nigeria should immediately tender his resignation in shame and ignominy. The CJN must rise to the occasion by setting up an investigative enquiry to unravel the veracity or otherwise of the allegation of corruption against the President of the Court of Appeal, harassment and intimidation of judges by agents of the federal government among other unethical practices, if he himself is not involved. He should follow up and detect the corruption chain and break it into pieces before the entire system becomes a laughing stock. All those involved in giving the judiciary under him a bad name should be investigated, prosecuted and jailed.

Share this Article
Leave a comment