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When judiciary goes on trial – by Olusegun Adeniyi

Olusegun Adeniyi: Recent developments within the judiciary, esp the cascade of spurious judgments and instances of misconduct among judges, only point to a betrayal of…

As the story goes, a lavish society wedding had just taken place and after all the legal and social rites, the couple retired to their house. 

At night time, as the man joined his wife on bed and attempted to consummate the relationship, the wife withdrew from under the pillow, a court paper, an injunction perpetually restraining the husband from claiming “his entitlements”. 

Well, what actually made the story believable is that the said injunction, according to the man who told me, was obtained at an Abuja Court!

Whether we want to admit it or not, the judiciary is becoming a source of concern especially as we move to the crucial 2003 general elections. 

The situation is so bad that some politicians now find it far cheaper to use the courts to scuttle events than to procure the services of thugs. 

Spurious court injunctions now surface at important public functions such that nobody is certain that the naming ceremony of his/her child, the graduation of his/her ward or the holding of their company’s AGM or perhaps even the writing of this column would not be disrupted by a court injunction obtained from dubious sources as our Judges now device “home-grown” solution to the biting economic situation.

However, what is particularly worrisome about what is going on today in Nigeria is that we seem to have regressed back to the era of the famous “Secret of rule” (arcana imperii) of the past. 

That is why court injunctions that should be openly sought and received have become secret weapons of mischief.

The latest of such was the court injunction that necessitated the cancellation of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) Convention of 27th July, 2002. 

The injunction was served on the party by the National Legal Adviser of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which had the responsibility of supervising the convention on the day in question!

The Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Mohammed Uwais recently decried this unhealthy development when he cited examples of Judges who grant injunctions to stop the House of Assembly in their states from passing bills as well as those who grant injunctions on matters already settled by the Supreme Court. 

According to Uwais “…the only inference one can draw from such behaviour is that the judicial officers so involved cannot feign ignorance but are acting deliberately in bad faith for improper motives…

“I have heard it said that some legal practitioners act as agents for litigants in giving bribe to Judges..”

I don’t think one can add more to what the highly respected Chief Justice has said. 

But it is sad that injunctions have now become to some High Court Judges what handouts are to some hungry university lecturers…

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I wrote the foregoing on this page exactly 14 years ago (August 2002) in a piece titled “Can you get me a court injunction, please?” 

And I find it very sad that it could have been written yesterday; given what is happening within our judiciary today where conflicting orders are issued on the same subject matter by courts of coordinate jurisdiction. 

If anything, the internal crisis of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has exposed the underbelly of our judiciary with a particular judge in Abuja acting in the manner of the fictional Chief Nichodemus Ologbenla a.k.a. Eleyinmi, of the “Village Headmaster” fame, dishing out judgements that, according to the appellate court, have “turned the law on its head”.

Curiously, while the disgraceful episode lasted, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court (FHC), Justice Ibrahim Auta, never deemed it fit to stop different judges from hearing the same case in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt judicial divisions of the court at the same time.

The National Judicial Council (NJC) also failed to protect the image of the judiciary by calling the judges to order. 

The consequence of the ugly drama is the erosion of confidence in the judiciary as members of the public have been led to believe that in Nigeria, justice is now for sale to the highest bidder.

It is important to state from the outset, as most regular readers of this page would attest, that I ordinarily refrain from being critical of our judiciary. 

In all the years that I have written this column, I can count the number of articles I have written on men of the bench. 

It is deliberate. I hold the judiciary in very high esteem and that partly explains why I elected to call my column Verdict. 

My position is simple: To the extent that the judiciary is central to holding a functioning society together, it is important that we avoid anything that would impugn the credibility of our men and women on the bench. 

But in the light of what is happening in our country today, I don’t think we should continue to pretend that all is well in the justice sector.

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