Law News
CJN to judges: Don’t truncate democracy

As the nation prepares for the general elections this month, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, yesterday handed down a serious warning to all judicial officers in the country saying ‘judiciary must never again be used as tool to truncate our democracy’.

Justice Mahmud Mohammed

The CJN gave the warning while swearing-in the 242 judges who have been selected to serve as chairmen and members of the 2015 Election Petition Tribunals. He also cautioned them not to accept gifts or engage in illicit communication with politicians or their lawyers.

Swearing-in the tribunal members at the Supreme Court, yesterday, the CJN, said the National Judicial Council, NJC, would not hesitate to deal with any judge who allows himself to be influenced by any interest group.

He urged the tribunal judges to be careful and thorough in the review of the petitions and responses, pleadings, the physical evidence and argument of counsel of the parties that will appear before them.

“You must ensure that all petitions must be founded upon grounds which are contained in section 138 of the Electoral Act and not on extraneous provisions of law, as the Tribunal is not a court of vain inquisition.

“All your considerations must be founded in law only and not coloured by personal sympathies, opinions or affiliations, remembering that there is a resonance to the truism that the Judiciary is ‘the last hope of the common man’, and may I add, also the hope of the not so common man”, the CJN said.

He added: “Let me use this opportunity to sound a note of warning to all judicial officers. Do not allow any political party or politician to compromise your integrity or your future.

“We must never again be used as tools to truncate our nation’s democracy. I assure you that any judge found wanting would only have him or herself to blame as the NJC will definitely not spare the rod in ensuring that the honour, respect and independence of the Judiciary is protected.

“As you start your assignment, I must reiterate that while you are on the tribunals, you will be looked upon as the embodiment of this ideal of justice. To that end, you must be the dispensers of justice regardless of fear or favour, position or standing.


Uphold stability of democracy

“You must uphold the stability of this democracy by stamping the hallmark of legality on the conduct of our nation’s elections as it is through your eyes that justice perceives a wrong that must be made right.

“It is, therefore, apt to remind you that your integrity is sacrosanct. There is no alternative to integrity as it is not negotiable. You must ensure that your acts are in strict conformity with the law.

“Therefore, you must shun acts as the acceptance of gifts or favours from counsel and politicians, and the exchange of illicit communications with parties, which acts will erode the integrity of the tribunals irretrievably.”

The CJN equally stressed that the tribunals must strictly adhere to the provision of Section 134 of the Electoral Act which stipulates that all petitions must be filled within 21 days of the declaration of the result of an election.

“You must also bear in mind that Section 285 of the Constitution and Section 134(2) of the Electoral Act 2010, are also clear that all petitions must be heard and judgments rendered in writing and delivered in open court within 180 days of the filing of that petition.

“Any petition presented outside of the statutory time must not be countenanced for any reason.

“Since you all do not have the luxury of time in the discharge of your duties, I urge you all to be pedantic in your deliberations but do not allow ‘red-herring’ technicalities to distract you from the path of justice.


Judiciary on trial

“You must listen attentively and enquire appropriately, taking care not to descend into the arena. In addition, it is crucial that you consider all the evidence before you carefully, deliberate conscientiously, and adjudicate swiftly and justly as not only you but the entire judiciary will also be on trial.

“I need not remind you that the Tribunal assignment is very laborious and that you are likely to be overstretched in the handling of election matters. Praises and condemnation will be meted out to you in the course of discharging your duties.

“Unfortunately, some of the condemnations will come from our partners in the temple of justice, i.e. the Bar. I urge you not to be deterred by the uncomplimentary comments of some politicians and litigants anytime judgment is given against them.

“Posterity will judge you on the words that you utter in judgment and my sincere prayer is that we all shall not be judged harshly by history”, the CJN stated.

Section 133(3) (a) and (b) of the Electoral Act 2010, states that Election Petitions Tribunals must be established 14 days prior to the elections. The Secretariat of the Tribunals must be opened seven days before election.

The CJN said the swearing-in of the Election Petition Tribunal members was necessary to enable the Secretariat of the Tribunal in each state of the federation open in accordance with the provision of the Electoral Act.


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