The Judiciary must purge itself – Thisday

The NJC needs to go beyond sermonising and come down heavily on judicial officers bent on darkening our temple of justice

A day to the court-ordered rerun election for Anambra Central Senatorial District, uncertainties have been created around its conduct. This cloud of uncertainty is unfortunate because of its likely negative impact on the credibility and legitimacy of the outcome of the exercise. But this morning, Justice John Tsoho of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court is expected to break the ice and we hope reason will eventually prevail.

However, to the extent that the prevailing situation speaks to the deepening crisis of indiscipline that manifests in the growing incidences of conflict of judgments and disrespect for hierarchy of courts, it is our view that the National Judicial Council (NJC), the constitutional regulator of the judicial arm of government, needs to intervene decisively and stamp out this menace that threatens to undermine public confidence in the judiciary and erode its legitimacy.

The uncertainty over tomorrow’s rerun poll in Anambra Central Senatorial District arose principally from the conflict in the judgments of the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal over a legal challenge to the candidacy of Senator Uche Ekwunife, who was declared the winner of the 2015 senatorial district election on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Dissatisfied with the outcome of the poll, the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) candidate, Chief Victor Umeh, had submitted his grievances to the National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal, which ruled in his favour and voided Ekwunife’s candidacy, ordering a rerun election within 90 days, to the exclusion of the PDP.

An appeal to the Court of Appeal, Enugu Division by Ekwunife was disallowed and the lower court’s decision upheld. Her further appeal to the Supreme Court also failed as the apex court struck it out on February 10, 2016 on grounds that the Court of Appeal was by law the final court on National Assembly election litigation. However, days after the apex court’s decision, a federal high court in Abuja, in a suit filed by PDP, ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to include the party in the rerun poll. This ruling was successfully challenged by Umeh at the Court of Appeal, which set aside the judgment of the lower court on November 21, 2017 and again, ordered INEC to comply with its Enugu Division’s earlier order.

Meanwhile, as INEC prepared to conduct the rerun election, a High Court in Abuja, ruling on a pre-election matter, declared on December 13, 2017 that Dr. Obiora Okonkwo was the lawful candidate of the PDP in the 2015 election and ordered INEC to issue him a certificate of return to enable him be sworn in as senator representing the senatorial district. This effectively put the commission in a dilemma as the judgment contradicted the Court of Appeal’s decision ordering it to conduct a rerun election for the senatorial district.

We find this Federal High Court judgment difficult to understand because the law is clear on the hierarchy of courts and the principles guiding court-ordered rerun elections in the country. But all factors considered, we commend INEC for its decision to return to the lower court for a variation of its ruling so that the election can go on without any legal/judicial inhibitions. But there are issues that the judiciary will have to resolve within itself.

We are aware of the several charges by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, to our judicial officers to take their oath of office more seriously and be minded to do justice at all times. Given what has transpired on this matter, it is our considered view that the CJN and the NJC need to go beyond sermonising by coming down heavily on those officers apparently bent on darkening our temple of justice.

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