Conflicting Court Decisions an Embarrassment to Judiciary – NBA Reacts

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The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has condemned in strong terms the barrage of contradictory court decisions and orders, especially among courts of coordinate jurisdiction in political matters. The above is contained in  the statement below issued by the President of the Bar, Mr Olumide Akpata.

STATEMENT OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION, MR. OLUMIDE AKPATA, ON THE RECURRENCE OF CONTRADICTORY COURT ORDERS AND THE RESULTANT THREAT TO OUR DEMOCRACY

The Nigerian Bar Association (“NBA”) has observed with dismay the unfortunate and recurring trend of contradictory court decisions and orders, especially among courts of coordinate jurisdiction, typically arising from ex parte applications and almost always in political matters.

Nigeria’s rich history cannot be complete without honourable mentions of the invaluable contributions of the Nigerian Judiciary, especially during the military rule when the courts stood up to tyranny and defended the rule of law and the supremacy of the Constitution. By the same token, however, there were also certain dark spots in our history when some elements in the Judiciary were unblushing tools for truncating the will of Nigerians, the most prominent of which was seen in the build up to the ultimately doomed Third Republic. As a professional body, the NBA continues to brim with pride over the fond memories of the Judiciary’s honourable achievements whilst hoping that past failings would remain permanently interred in the dark annals of history.

Regrettably, we have begun to receive worrying news of recurring contradictory decisions by our courts, based on apparently indiscriminate grant of orders and counter-orders, in a way that evokes memories of those eerie and unwanted dark days. Examples include the orders relating to the nomination of candidates by political parties for the forthcoming gubernatorial elections in Anambra State, especially by the three major political parties, All Progressives Congress (APC), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). An equally embarrassing situation is also playing out in respect of the PDP leadership crisis that has seen not less than three different rulings, all by courts of coordinate jurisdiction, in circumstances that leave a lot to be desired.

While the NBA will continue to stay away from the political ramifications and machinations involved in these matters, it is self-evident that these developments in our courts are antithetical to the actualisation of the just society and independent judiciary that we all aspire to, and they run contrary to everything we teach and hold dear as a profession. Indeed, these aberrations do nothing but bring the Judiciary and the entire system of administration of justice to ridicule, and certainly erode the authority of the hallowed offices that our judicial officers occupy. If the society cannot trust the Judiciary and the legal profession to safeguard our democracy, what then is the justification for the respect that the society has for us?

One of our promises to the members of the NBA was that the Association under our administration will regain its position as the conscience of the Nigerian society and return to its pride of place as the bulwark against tyranny and injustice in Nigeria. Astonishingly, that commitment is now being threatened by the conduct of some of our own members, the majority of whom are senior members of the Bar, who continue to yield themselves to be used as willing tools by politicians to wantonly abuse the judicial process. To say the least, there is, in the NBA’s view, prima facie evidence of the breach of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007 (“RPC”), made pursuant to the Legal Practitioners Act, by the lawyers responsible for the unrelenting embarrassment of our Judiciary in political matters. Rule 1 of the RPC which requires a lawyer to uphold and observe the rule of law, promote and foster the cause of justice, maintain a high standard of professional conduct, and not engage in any conduct which is unbecoming of a legal practitioner is clearly being violated in these cases. By the issuance of this statement, the NBA confirms unequivocally that it will not stand by and watch a ridiculing of the profession and the justice administration system by a handful of its members and will be considering its deterrence options in this regard.

The Bench, respectfully, is also not blameless. We certainly concur with the Honourable Justice Chioma Nwosu-Iheme of the Court of Appeal in her condemnation of the indulgence by some judicial officers of politicians who go round the country shopping for judgments, and who thereby bring the Judiciary to public ridicule. To that end, the NBA will urgently seek audience with the Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria to address this issue holistically. In deference to the revered office of our courts, the NBA shall refrain from further comments on this matter in the meantime. I will enlist the support of the Chairman of the NBA Judiciary Committee, Dr. Babatunde Ajibade, SAN as well as the Chairpersons of the NBA Section of Legal Practice (NBA-SLP) and NBA Section on Public Interest and Development Law (NBA-SPIDEL), Mr. Oluwaseun Abimbola, SAN and Dr. Monday Ubani for this proposed engagement.

In conclusion, the NBA, as the prime defender of the integrity and independence of the Judiciary, cannot and will not be a spectator whilst our hard-earned democracy is threatened by the venal acts of a few. This is particularly so as the nation approaches its next round of general elections. It can no longer be business as usual.

OLUMIDE AKPATA
President
Nigerian Bar Association
30th August 2021

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