General

2023: Checking forum shopping for favourable court judgments

The conflicting court orders issued in respite of the Anambra Nov. 6 governorship election and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leadership crisis, unarguably are capable of causing judiciary anarchy, nay, political anarchy.

 

In the case of Anambra, because of court orders issued by courts of coordinate jurisdiction, names of some party candidates, were not initially published by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Worried by the development, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, summoned six chief judges over conflicting orders that emanated from their states.

 

The affected states are Rivers, Kebbi, Cross River, Anambra, Jigawa and Imo.

 

The summon reads 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 earlier National Judicial Council (NJC) warning to judicial officers on the need to be circumspect in granting ex parte applications.”

 

Even before the summon, Justice Chioma Nwosu-Iheme of the Court of Appeal, who handled the Anambra case, had recommended that the NJC should discipline two judges for unprofessional conduct of dabbling into the Anambra gubernatorial election controversy and gave consequential judgments on it.

 

The judge also recommended that the NBA should discipline the senior lawyers who filed the suit on behalf of their clients for professional misconduct.

 

On his part, President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Olumide Akpata, said he would seek audience with the CJN on the issue.

 

“He observed with dismay the unfortunate and recurring trend of contradictory court decisions and orders, especially among courts of coordinate jurisdiction, typically arising from ex parte applications and almost always in political matters.”

 

According to him, the developments are antithetical to the actualisation of a just society and independent judiciary.

 

“They run contrary to everything we teach and hold dear as a profession. Indeed, they do nothing but bring the Judiciary and the entire system of administration of justice to ridicule.”

 

He, however, noted: “Before blaming the judges, we must first look inwards and call out our members, most of whom are senior members of the Bar, who continue to yield themselves to be used as willing tools by politicians to wantonly abuse the judicial process.”

 

Mr Festus Okoye, INEC National Commissioner, who spoke on multiple court judgments received by the commission on the Anambra election, said politicians are shopping for favourable court judgments.

 

“What is going on is what in legal parlance we call ‘forum shopping’ — people who are looking for a place where they can get a favourable decision,” he said.

 

“For a party primary that took place in Anambra, for instance, some people will go to Bauchi State, some people will go to Jigawa, some people will go to Imo and to other places to go and look for a place where they can get a favourable decision.

 

“It is important for the judiciary to intervene in what is going on.

 

“If this spate of multiple and conflicting court orders is carried forward to the 2023 general election, it is going to have far-reaching consequences on our electoral process.”

Prof. Mamman Yusufari (SAN) of the Department of Law, Bayero University, Kano, stressed that the issue of conflicting judgment “is a very serious issue and it is a good development that the CJN is very much concerned about it”.

 

He said it had been a lingering problem “which is not healthy for the development of the law.

 

“It is a problem as far as the development of the law is concerned and unless this is addressed, it will create crises in the system,” he said.

 

Yusufari said there was need for harmonisation, consolidation and communication across the judiciary, especially courts of coordinate jurisdiction.

 

“It is a big problem in the sense that some of these decisions are given by one court without the knowledge of the other.

 

“ So, if there is a way we can create a system whereby similar cases are put to the knowledge of different divisions so that they can be consolidated, it will help avoid conflicting decisions.

 

“Let there be some kind of communication among the divisions so that there won’t be conflicting decisions.

 

“ We need to do something about harmonisation, consolidation and communication,” he added.

 

Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) on his part urged the CJN to wield the hammer and sanitise the legal profession because “it has become a national embarrassment.

 

“I want to recommend that the judges and lawyers involved should be investigated and if found wanting to be disciplined and shown the way out.”

 

Dr Biodun Layonu (SAN) said that conflicting judgments by courts of coordinate jurisdiction are not a healthy development.

 

“Speaking generally, it is very bad, it removes confidence in the judiciary and it also gives room for insinuations of some wrongdoings somewhere.

 

“This is the kind of situation where people on the streets will say ‘someone has carried money to go and procure judgment’.

 

“ So it is bad for the judiciary, whichever way you look at it.”

 

The African Centre for Justice and Human Rights ( ACJHR) said the current multiple litigations witnessed in relation to the forthcoming Anambra governorship election was capable of ruining the election.

 

As a way of preserving the electoral and judicial processes, the organisation called on INEC not to obey judgments from courts of coordinate jurisdiction.

 

ACJHR’s Director of Operations and Programmes Development, Chioma Udonsi, who spoke, urged INEC to ignore pressure from political players who want to use judgments from courts of same jurisdiction to reverse names of published candidates instead of heading to a superior court.

 

She warned that if the commission bows to pressure and accepts what she described as reckless swaping of candidates’ names even when matters are on appeal, such will lead to judicial anarchy.

 

“Indeed, conflicting court judgments would breed anarchy.”

 

The controversial annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential Election by then Military President Ibrahim Babangida was given legal backing by a judicial pronouncement.

 

Justice Dahiru Saleh, then Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, who affirmed the annulment, said Babangida should not be blamed.

 

He said that the acclaimed winner of the June12, 1993 Presidential Election, Chief MKO Abiola, “Ought to have challenged his decision at a court of appeal, but chose not to.’’

 

As the ACJHR warned, INEC should not bow to pressure and accept conflicting court orders “procured through `forum shopping”.

 

Source: The Nigerian Observer