Of judicial integrity and healthy constitutional democracy   

Posted by News Express | 25 March 2020 | 1,109 times

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The state shall abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power – Section 15(5) of Nigerian Constitution.

One area of life in most jurisdictions in which the perception of corruption and loss of integrity has multiple effects that dovetail into virtually most strategic strata of life is in the judiciary of every independent country. A rogue judiciary is unhealthy for the sustenance of constitutional democracy.

It is in recognition of the enormity of damage unleashed by judicial corruption that the framers of the Nigerian Constitution in their wisdom considered the creation of the National Judicial Council which is the Ombudsman of the Nigerian judiciary. And, of course, the grund-norm says that one of the most primary duties of the nation and governments that enjoy the legitimacy of the people’s mandate is to do whatever it can within the context of the rule of law, to abolish corruption and the abuse of power.

In the contemporary times, the Nigerian court system has continued to come under the searchlight of observers for the very reason that certain unethical tendencies of some judges have led to the erosion of the moral and ethical fabrics of the judiciary and expose the judiciary to an imminent erosion of its integrity, which is the soul and heart of the judicial institution. A judiciary bereft of integrity is like a tasteless salt.

As ministers in the temple of justice, judges are obliged to abide by the code of conduct, so as to maintain the integrity of the courts.

However, since the beginning of the year, the case instituted by a political rival of Senator Ifeanyi Ubah, Dr Obinna Uzor, before an Abuja High court under Justice Bello Kawu has imprints of illegality and, indeed, threatened the integrity and credibility of the judiciary in the Federal Capital Territory and entire Nigeria. These facts have just been stated by the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, which ruled that the court processes before the Abuja High Court relied upon by Justice Bello Kawu to seek the removal of Senator Ifeanyi Ubah were forged. 

But for the seemingly monumental fighting spirit of Senator Ifeanyi Ubah and his deep pockets, the massive injustice unleashed on him would have gone without redress.

 It must be stated that millions of Nigerians who have no means to wage counter litigation have had their human rights wantonly violated; and these series of abuses manifested in some unethical judgments of courts are left unattended to.

From my experience, as a federal commissioner of the Nigerian National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), I came across many inmates in different prison facilities across the country that were in jail purely because their legal rights were criminally denied and they lacked the financial means to obtain redress. Some of these inmates were even convicted based on forged charges. This situation is not the same for Nigerians with the financial standing and the organised legal teams to appeal perceived irregular verdicts. 

Ubah, being a resilient fighter whose benevolent God has blessed with the means to insist on his fundamental, legal and human rights to remain inalienable and sacrosanct, seems to be succeeding in proving his political adversary, Mr Obinna Uzor of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), had almost succeeded in unseating him from his high office as a senator when the Abuja High court had wrongly ruled that he (Ifeanyi Ubah) forged his School Certificate. 

This is not only untrue but manifestly laughable because the group I lead, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), had to apply to the National Examination Council through a freedom of information request to ascertain the validity of the claim that Ubah forged his School Certificate. We were told that he has valid certificate.

As is already public knowledge, Ubah of the Young People’s Party (YPP), lodged an appeal to challenge the judgment of an Abuja High Court that sacked him as the lawmaker representing Anambra South Senatorial District. 

In the four-ground appeal he filed before the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, Ubah insisted that he was denied fair hearing by the high court. He told the appellate court that he was neither served with the Originating Processes nor Hearing Notice with respect to the suit that led to his sack from the Senate. Besides, he argued that the Abuja court lacked the territorial jurisdiction to hear and determine a pre-election matter that arose from election that held in Anambra State.

The senator through his counsel, Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), prayed the court to allow the appeal and set aside the judgment of the lower court, on the ground that the suit was never filed as the stamp and seal of the Nigerian Bar Association allegedly used in the filing of the originating summons was forged and the payment for the originating summons was made on September 25, 2019, months after the judgment was delivered.

But respondents in the matter, Anani Chuka, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Obinna Uzor, through their counsel, rather prayed the court to dismiss the appeal in its entirety. Why would the same INEC that had approved the election of Ifeanyi Ubah now be seen canvassing contrary position in the Appeal Court? Did INEC not carry out due diligence before accrediting Ifeanyi Ubah to run for office, after satisfying all the basic requirements? What on earth is wrong with the Yakubu Mahmood-led INEC? The INEC under the current administration needs to be unbundled. The administrative decay in INEC is appalling.  

Let us recall that Justice Bello Kawu had on January 17, 2020, affirmed his order, which nullified Ubah’s election on the ground that he allegedly used a forged National Examination Council (NECO) certificate to contest the senatorial election that held in Anambra South on February 23, 2019. So by appearing at the appellate court to oppose the application of Senator Ubah, was INEC telling the world that it was so incompetent to the extent that it did no due diligence before accrediting Ifeanyi Ubah? 

The court headed by Kawu had on April 11, 2019, ordered INEC to withdraw the certificate of return it issued to Ubah and issue a fresh one to Obinna Uzor of the PDP, who came second at the election.

The Court of Appeal, Abuja, on Thursday 20/3/2020 voided the order of the Abuja High Court which sacked Ifeanyi Ubah as the senator representing Anambra South.

A three-man panel of Justices of the appellate court held that the judgment delivered by Justice Bello Kawu of a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory was a nullity because the suit was unlawfully instituted.

His election was also upheld by the Anambra State National Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal. In the unanimous judgment read by Justice Stephen Adah, the court held that its findings revealed that the originating summons that led to Ubah’s sack was not signed by any legal practitioner.

Specifically, the reason for nullifying the high court judgment, according to Justice Adah, is because: “An incompetent originating process cannot activate the jurisdiction of the court. Therefore, in the instant case the court processes are defective and incurably bad.

“The law is clear and unambiguous that it is mandatory that originating process must be signed, this is fundamental that validity of originating summons must not be in dispute.

“Any originating summons not signed by a counsel who issued it out is worthless and incompetent.”

Justice Adah, who dismissed the preliminary objection of the respondents, held that there was no evidence that Ubah was given fair hearing before judgment was entered against him at the lower court.

The indictment of this verdict of the Abuja High Court goes to the integrity of the court system and with specific reference to the standards of adjudication in the High Court of FCT. 

Recall that judges worldwide are working round the clock to update their members on the import and significance of maintaining integrity of the judicial arm of government given that integrity goes to the root of the independence of the judicial system. The second high-level meeting of the Global Judicial Integrity Network concluded by issuing “Doha Declaration on Judicial Integrity” which focuses on enhancing judicial integrity through global partnerships.

The second high level meeting of Global Judicial Integrity Network hosted by Supreme Judiciary Council was attended by hundreds of participants from over 120 countries. The judges noted that whether actual or perceived, corruption in the justice system poses a real threat to confidence in the rule of law. Therefore, with this in mind, boosting judicial integrity is an integral part of the Doha Declaration Global programme aimed at strengthening judicial integrity and preventing corruption in the justice sector in line with Article 11 of the United Nations Convention against corruption.    

Participants who signed the declaration believed that the Doha Declaration on Judicial Integrity represents a global reference document that complements the journey of the Bangalore Principles for Judicial Conduct 2003, and also enriches it with new indicative components that are the first of the kind in the process of finding a unified international perspective related to the right to a fair and equitable trial within the framework of a clear and dominant rule of law in a professional and independent institutional judiciary. 

The Doha Declaration stresses the importance of training, research and studies programmes that would enhance the work of judges.

Addressing the closing ceremony, the President of the Supreme Judiciary Council and President of the Court of Cassation, H E Dr Hassan bin Lahdan Al Hassan Al Mohannadi, praised the outcomes of the meeting.

“The Doha meeting offered an opportunity to complete the foundation building of the Global Judicial Integrity Network, which is the first initiative of its kind in the history of international judicial work.”

He further said that the meeting also represented an opportunity to exchange experiences and expertise and review the developments in the field of judicial integrity and judicial work.

Nigerian judicial system is not left out in the quest to sanitise the processes of obtaining and delivery of Judgments. 

In 2007, Justice Rosaline Bozimo who, as then Chief Judge of Delta State, wrote: “It may be appropriate to state here that the absence of a written, judicial code of conduct before 1998 contributed a great deal to the level of decay which characterised the fortunes of the judicial arm of government in Nigeria at the time.

“The code of conduct for judicial officers as we presently have it, was introduced in 1998 by the National Judicial Institute (NJI) under the distinguished chairmanship of the then CJN the Hon Justice M L Uwais, CON (retd). 

Justice Bozimo added: "The code, which contains the ‘go’ and as well as the ‘no go’ areas and the attendant penalties for violators, is an all-embracing code, which has done so much in streamlining judicial activities nation-wide. Such infractions on the part of judicial officers, which border on corruption, abuse of ex-parte injunction, non-performance and such other related activities which may amount to misconduct on the part of a judicial officer are duly investigated, and where the officer concerned is found wanting, he is duly punished.

“Before the code came into being, of course, it was easy for many judicial officers who misconduct themselves to escape disciplinary action, as it was at the time, not easy to accurately pin-point which judicial activity was unethical and which ones were not. The decision of the lead speaker to include a discussion of the relevance of the code of conduct for judicial officers could never have been taken at a much more auspicious occasion. The emphasis, as rightly posited by the lead speaker is that all judicial officers, in consequence of the oath of allegiance and judicial oath of office taken, must ensure that these oaths are religiously observed and that it is for this purpose that the code of conduct was provided.”

What Ifeanyi Ubah's case has brought to the front burners of public discourse is that the National Judicial Council may after all not have done well to weep into line judges of the different divisions of the court to comply with best global practices. The Judiciary in Nigeria now stinks of indiscipline and corruption.

 Beginning with the illegal process that threw up the change of the last substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Onnoghen, removed by a quasi-judicial forum headed by an ethically-challenged chairman of the kangaroo panel of Code of Conduct Tribunal, through an illegal ex parte order which railroaded the current hierarchy of the judiciary, it can be stated that the same National Judicial Council, which defecated on the Nigerian Constitution by permitting the illegal deposition of the then Christian/Southern Chief Justice of Nigeria just to install a Northern Moslem as CJN, will need to do Self Cleansing Exercises. The Judiciary in Nigeria Needs Comprehensive Ethical Exorcism to weed out all corrupt practices and abuse of power by judges of the Nigerian court system. 

•RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist (www.huriwanigeria.com, www.emmanuelonwubiko.com), is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).

Source: News Express

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