Law News
Nigerian asks ECOWAS court to sanction FG, NJC

A Nigerian, Jude Azekwoh, has approached the Economic Community of West African States Court seeking, among other prayers, a sanction order against the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the nation’s judiciary regulatory body, the National Judicial Council.

Azekwoh initiated the suit following the alleged refusal by the NJC to act on letters of complaint he wrote to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, about the unjust denial of the opportunity to have his case properly adjudicated upon by the Nigerian judicial system.

The suit marked ECW/CCJ/APP/23/2013 was filed on December 9, 2013.

The plaintiff, who seeks among others, $10m compensation from the defendants (Federal Republic of Nigeria and NJC), argued that by their actions or inaction, the defendants violated his right to fair hearing as guaranteed under sections 3, 7 and 13 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

Azekwoh had contested the 2011 Delta North Senatorial election as a candidate of the Democratic People’s Party, in which Arthur Ifeanyi Okowa of the Peoples Democratic Party was announced winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission.

The plaintiff challenged the outcome of the election before the Electoral Tribunal in Asaba, Delta State. The tribunal struck out his petition on the grounds that the application for the pre-trial session was not by way of motion.

He proceeded to the appeal tribunal at the Court of Appeal, Benin, Edo State where, he said, his appeal against the decision of the election tribunal in Asaba was allegedly subjected to “unfair, unjust and illegal termination” by the appeal panel in Benin headed by Justice Raphael Agbo.

Azekwoh said he had to approach the ECOWAS Court because of the alleged failure of the NJC to act on the letters written to it by the plaintiff’s lawyer, Dipo Okpeseyi (SAN), asking the NJC to intervene and redress the injustice done to him.

The Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke (SAN), who represents the Federal Government, argued that the subject matter of the suit was based on election petition, over which the court lacked “the requisite jurisdiction to hear and/or adjudicate.”

He added that the Court of Appeal was the final appellate domestic court with jurisdiction over such election petitions under the Nigerian Constitution.

The NJC in its defence, which it filed about a year after the case was instituted, denied the plaintiff’s allegation of not being accorded fair hearing.

The council said the plaintiff, being aware that hearing in electoral appeal must not exceed 60 days, failed to conclude his case within the stipulated time.

On the allegation that it failed to act on the plaintiff’s letters of complaint, the NJC said it took the necessary steps as provided by the law, including demanding response of the President of the Court of Appeal to the allegation.

The NJC said it concluded that Azekwoh’s case was without merit upon receiving the President of the Court of Appeal’s response, and in view of fact that it lacked the power under the law to reconstitute a fresh appeal panel to hear the case after the expiration of the 60 days allowed.

Azekwoh, however, faulted arguments by the Federal Government and the NJC in separate responses.

“Preliminary objection brought without pleadings (statement of defence) being made available to the court is in the nature of demurrer, a process which is no longer allowed in all jurisdiction in Nigeria and worldwide because judges must look at what was before them in order to give considered opinion on preliminary point of law in objection to the proceedings,” Azekwoh said.

He raised four issues for the court’s consideration. They include whether subject matters arising from political and legal dispensation in a member country that violate the fundamental rights of citizens and the provisions of ACHPR shall not be heard by the ECOWAS Court simply because of their origin in politics and law.

In reaction to NJC’s defence, Azekwoh argued that a failure by the Justice Raphael Agbo-led tribunal to hear his appeal while he was still within the 60 days allowed under the Electoral Act, “is a failure of fair hearing.”

He contended that by virtue of Part 1 of the 3rd Schedule of the Constitution, the NJC owed him a duty to show that, a report to it, was followed up with appropriate action and where, no step was taken in respect of the plaintiff’s report of violation of his right (as is the case in this suit), the NJC cannot absolve itself of liability.

Hearing in the case is slated for March 3.

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