NBA Tackles National Assembly For Burdening 77 Judges With 1,800 Pre-election Suits

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The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has criticised the National Assembly for vesting the exclusive jurisdiction of hearing and determining pre-election cases on the Federal High Court.

Yakubu Maikyau, NBA’s President, spoke on Monday at a special court session to mark the commencement of the Federal High Court legal year 2022/2023 in Abuja.

Citing Sections 29(5) and 83(14) of the Electoral Act, 2022, which confer jurisdiction exclusively on the Federal High Court, Mr Maikyau said “the innovative and novel provisions” of the law “come with a lot of pressure on the already overloaded dockets” of the judges.

“We fault the decision of the National Assembly to limit the hearing and determination of pre-election matters to this court without regard for its infrastructural and manpower deficit.”

With 1,838 pre-election cases filed ahead of next year’s general elections, 77 judges of the court are struggling to beat the statutory 180-day deadline for hearing and concluding pre-election matters.

“Judges who are members of the task force will suspend all regular cases in their respective courts due to the urgency of the electoral cases which are timebound,” the Chief Judge of the court, John Tsoho, said recently while inaugurating a task force to adjudicate on electoral disputes.

Noting the implications of stalling regular cases for pre-election suits, the NBA President said “the suspension of the hearing of such matters comes with grave consequences on the economy and affects the confidence of investors.”

Mr Maikyau said the added workload “takes a great toll on the health of the Judges of this Court who are at the moment poorly remunerated.”

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He urged the lawmakers to “reconsider this amendment to the Electoral Act 2022.”

The NBA suggested the “establishment of a court that will deal mainly with electoral and other related matters.”

Similarly, Adegboyega Awomolo, who spoke on behalf of the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), said “normal cases … had to suffer adjournments thereby frustrating good and urgent causes.”

Mr Awomolo called for the establishment of a constitutional court to handle electoral cases.

Electoral Act enacted without consultation with court’

In his speech at the ceremony, Mr Tsoho decried the burden being shouldered by his colleagues.

The Chief Judge said the court was not consulted before the Electoral Act was passed.

He noted that “This weighed heavily on the operations of the court” as judges were pulled from their “substantive bases to help” in clearing the “glut of these cases.”

Underscoring the magnitude of workload in adjudicating on regular suits, Mr Tsoho said some judges “have over 1000 cases in their dockets.”

Statistics of cases

Giving a breakdown of cases from the previous legal year, Mr Tsoho said a total of 131,821 cases were carried over from 2021 to 2022, while a total of 17,677 matters were filed in 2022.

But he said a total of 13,906 cases were disposed of in 2022.

The number of cases pending at the end of the 2022 legal year is put at 135,592, comprising 41,788 civil cases; 31,832 criminal cases; 39,799 motions and 22,173 fundamental rights enforcement applications.

Mr Tsoho lamented that amid the “herculean load borne by the court,” the number of the court’s judges kept depleting, saying four judges retired between 2021 and 2022.

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He lauded the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Olukayode Ariwoola, for approving emergency funds for the court with the constitution of a special task force to deal with urgent cases, following dwindling resources.

The Chief Judge pledged to discharge the mandate of the court despite the challenges confronting it.

Meanwhile, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) Abubakar Malami, commended the Chief Judge and his colleagues “for their efforts in supporting several ongoing cases of corruption.”

Mr Malami who was represented by Beatrice Jeddy-Agba, the Solicitor General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Justice, pointed to the “mass trial of Boko Haram suspects in dedicated military facilities” as one of the court’s major achievements.

He suggested the “innovations that were introduced in the electoral cases should also be extended to certain cases which are of high economic or commercial importance.”

(PremiumTimes)

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