Six chief judges of states are to appear before the chief justice of Nigeria (CJN) and chairman, National Judicial Council (NJC), Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, to respond to questions concerning the conflicting court orders that emanated from their states.
The judges are expected to appear with records of proceedings in all the suits from which conflicting ex parte orders emanated.
They are chief judges of Rivers, Kebbi, Cross River, Anambra, Jigawa and Imo states who are to be quizzed on the controversial conflicting orders delivered in their various states.
The chief judges summoned by Justice Muhammad are Justices Chibuzor Amadi of Rivers State, Mohammed Ambursa of Kebbi, Ijeoma Agugua of Imo, Onochie Anyachebelu of Anambra, Akon Ikpeme of Cross River and Umar Sadiq of Jigawa.
LEADERSHIP gathered that the latest of such interim injunctions by the courts that stretched the patience of the CJN are the conflicting orders sacking and restating Prince Uche Secondus as national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
A High Court in Rivers State had a fortnight ago ordered Secondus to stop parading himself as the chairman of the party. Three days after, a High Court in Kebbi State granted an experte motion for a stay of execution on the interim injunction by the Rivers court. And then on August 27, another High Court sitting in Calabar, the Cross River State capital, granted an order restraining Secondus from resuming office as PDP national chairman.
Also in Anambra State, there are orders and counter-orders relating to the nomination of candidates by political parties for the forthcoming gubernatorial election in Anambra State, especially by the three major political parties, the All Progressives Congress, the All Progressives Grand Alliance and the Peoples Democratic Party.
Besides the six chief judges, there are indications that the chief judge of Delta State High Court has also been invited to join the other six chief judges to meet with the CJN.
It was gathered that the unprecedented move is to reset the anti-corruption efforts of the Tanko Muhammad leadership and entrench a new culture of accountability in the judicial system.
Justice Muhammad is also likely to meet with the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association in the course of the week over the matter.
The director of information, National Judicial Council (NJC), Soji Oye, confirmed the development to our correspondent during a telephone conversation.
Last week, the CJN summoned the chief judges as a prelude to the larger one by the NJC to explain what warranted the issuance of conflicting orders by courts of coordinate jurisdiction.
Shortly after the judges were summoned, some senior advocates of Nigeria (SANs) commended the CJN for the swift action taken to look into what they described as reckless court orders.
It was gathered that the CJN had complained bitterly about the huge embarrassment caused to the Nigerian judiciary by the actions of those who issued the conflicting orders upon ex parte applications by some political parties.
The summons read in part, “My attention has been drawn to media reports to the effect that some courts of coordinate jurisdiction were granting conflicting ex parte orders on the same subject matter.
“It has become expedient for me to invite you for a detailed briefing on the development. This is even more compelling having regard to an earlier NJC warning to judicial officers on the need to be circumspect in granting ex parte applications.”
Our source, who pleaded anonymity, confided in our correspondent that the meeting between the CJN and the affected heads of courts was a prelude to the larger NJC meeting likely to be held next week.
The CJN, sources said, intends to use the meeting to be apprised of the facts to make for an informed NJC deliberation.
The Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, and some very senior lawyers had praised the CJN’s action.
President of the NBA, Mr Olumide Akpata, said the association had observed with dismay the unfortunate and recurring trend of contradictory court decisions and orders, especially among courts of coordinate jurisdiction.
He said the association would seek an audience with the CJN on the disturbing development.
Akpata said Nigeria’s rich history could not be complete without a mention of the invaluable contributions of the judiciary, especially during the military rule, when the courts stood up to tyranny and defended the rule of law and the supremacy of the constitution.
He stated, “Regrettably, we have begun to receive worrying news of recurring contradictory decisions by our courts based on apparently indiscriminate grant of orders and counter-orders. Examples include the orders relating to the nomination of candidates by political parties for the forthcoming gubernatorial election in Anambra State, especially by the three major political parties, the All Progressives Congress, the All Progressives Grand Alliance and the Peoples Democratic Party.
“An equally embarrassing situation is also playing out in respect of the PDP leadership crisis that has seen no fewer than three different rulings, all by courts of coordinate jurisdiction, in circumstances that leave a lot to be desired.
“These aberrations do nothing but bring the judiciary and the entire system of administration of justice to ridicule, and certainly erode the authority of the offices that our judicial officers occupy. If the society cannot trust the judiciary and the legal profession to safeguard our democracy, what then is the justification for the respect that the society has for us?”
Akpata added that in the NBA’s view, there was prima facie evidence of the breach of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners, 2007 by the lawyers responsible for the unrelenting embarrassment of the judiciary in political matters.
He stated, “Rule 1 of the RPC, which requires a lawyer to uphold the rule of law, foster the cause of justice, maintain a high standard of professional conduct and not engage in any conduct which is unbecoming of a legal practitioner, is clearly being violated in these cases.
“The NBA will not stand by and watch a ridiculing of the justice administration system and will be considering some deterrence options in this regard.”
A professor of law, Chief Awa Kalu, SAN, described the ex parte orders as reckless.
According to him, a judge in Kebbi cannot give an order in a case filed in Rivers state.
“He is supposed to know that he does not have jurisdiction in the matter. You are in Kebbi State and a matter came up in Rivers and you involved yourself, you should know as a judge that you lack jurisdiction.
”Why will you sit in Kebbi and involve yourself in a matter in Rivers? The judge should know that the case lacked every ingredient of jurisdiction in it and the best thing he should have done was to wash off his hands,” he said.
Another senior advocate, Abdul Balogun, commended the NJC for taking actions against the chief judges. He advised judges to learn from events of the past.
”This is not the first time the judiciary is experiencing this and I would have expected that the judges would have learnt from the mistakes of others.
”They should come and answer their summons and if anyone is found to have conducted himself in a bad manner, he should be dealt with according to the NJC Act,” he said.