As preparations for the 2019 general elections continue, recent comments by Chief Judges of the Federal High Court and FCT High Court indicate that the judiciary is determined to prevent any legal moves that could truncate the country’s democracy.
The first indication that the judiciary would resist any undemocratic applications to be brought before it was given by the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Adamu Abdul Kafarati, when he warned judges not to issue ex parte orders in political matters.
Similarly, the Chief Judge of the FCT High Court, Justice Ishaq Bello, has charged lawyers to avoid filing political cases at the newly created divisions of the court without recourse to his office.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has released the timetable for the party primaries for the presidential, governorship, federal and state assemblies to hold between August 18 and October 7, 2018. The FCT Area Council Elections will hold between September 4 and October 27, 2018.
The outcomes of screening of candidates and primaries are usually taken to the court where some aspirants perceived their rights have been undermined. Majority of the suits for pre-election disputes and petitions at tribunals resulting from the elections proper fail in courts despite burdening the already congested courtrooms. Despite these, politicians and their lawyers continue to troop to the courts.
In February, the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa said a total of 730 election petitions were brought to the Court of Appeal. Of this, 39 governorship election petitions got to the Court of Appeal in 2015; 79 senatorial petitions, 179 House of Representatives and 380 State Houses of Assembly petitions.
That same month, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, in a meeting with INEC chairman, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu, pledged the continued cooperation of the judiciary to the smooth conduct of the 2019 general elections.
Giving reasons for the ban on ex parte orders for political cases at the opening of the 2018/2019 New Legal Year at the court’s premises in Abuja, Justice Kafarati said it is to avoid controversies associated with such cases.
“In an attempt to forestall any hiccups and the blame on the court by the political gladiators, I have during this vacation issued a-circular that interim orders and ex parte shall not be granted in any political case brought before the court,” the judge said.
“I believe that controversies especially in political cases can be reduced when the court takes a decision after hearing all the parties in the case.
“It is also extremely important that all political cases that may affect any of the parties which are still pending in any of our courts be concluded without further waste of time to afford all candidates the opportunity to pursue their political ambitions.”
For his part, Justice Ishaq Bello, while inaugurating the Nyanya/Karu Division of the court yesterday, warned that no such political applications should be made without the approval of his office in order to avert jurisprudential chaos in the FCT.
However, an Abuja-based human rights lawyer, Hamid Ajibola Jimoh, disagreed with the positions of the chief judges. He said that by the provisions of sections: 6(6)(a) and (b) and 252(1) of the 1999 Constitution and Order 26 Rules 10,11&12 of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules, 2009, the ban of ex parte orders in political or other matters is inconsistent with the above provisions and therefore “unconstitutional, null and void and of no effect.”
He said certain situations happened that could force the grant of such applications, which if not granted would defeat the aim of going to court and pleaded with the judiciary to reconsider its stand especially for deserving circumstances.
“If ex parte orders are refused and courts have made up their mind not to grant it, there would be no need of going to court. Politicians will resort to self-help and use of hired assassins,” he said.
In his view, E.M.D. Umukoro Esq. described the ban of ex parte orders as an administrative fiat, which ordinarily ought not to be made but being made due to the cases of abuse of the process of court. To that effect, he said parties are now to be put on notice “even in ordinary matters which are not political.”
Reacting to the FCT High Court chief judge, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Paul Usoro (SAN), assured that the association is determined to support the Bench in the dispensation of justice in the country.
Usoro, who also spoke at the occasion of the 2018/2019 Legal Year of the Federal High Court, advised judges to resist the attempts to drag them into the murky waters of politics.
“As we go into another season of elections with its attendant contentions and cases, we respectfully urge your lordships to always keep in mind the weighty responsibilities that rests on your lordships’ shoulders to continually save us from ourselves through Your lordships’ pronouncements and in the process which, in no small measure, assists in maintaining the peace, unifying and welding us together as one nation,” he said.