LEGAL IDEAS FORUM

OPINION BY NWAKOR GOSPEL-NIGERIA JUDICIARY: MATTERS ARISING

Anchor: A federal high court at Abuja gave judgement for the suspension of Oshimole as the APC chairman after which a Federal High court in Kano set the judgement aside, this should be a legal blunder, don’t you think so?

Nwakor Gospel: I strongly believe that the Constitution of Nigeria is very clear about the Federal High Court. There is one Federal High Court, sitting in different places for purely the reasons of administrative convenience.
As such, it is very improper to refer to dissenting judgements of courts of concurrent jurisdiction as a “legal blunder” Besides, the Court of Appeal sitting in different places give varied judgements at times, even on similar subjects. 
It again is very infamous for anyone in the law to refer to the bench in such ignoble terms. In a certain landmark case, the court frowned severely on a lawyer who barely described a judgement of a lower court as strange; how much more if they were to see a description of it as a “legal blunder”. Young lawyers like us must not leave out respect for the judge in their views to them, and certainly must recall that the law is embedded in the breast of the Judge. We cannot assault the hallowed bench with such defamatory adjectives.
The Federal High court is one Abiola v FRN. Ibori v FRN and as a concurrent court, it is well within its rights to disagree with itself for reasons sufficient to it. As established already, there is only one federal high court in Nigeria. Despite the fact that we have the FHC built in different states, we must note that they have equal jurisdiction and powers hence they are tagged courts of co – ordinate jurisdiction
As such one Federal High Court cannot set aside the decision of the other simply because of its geographical location. That was a blunder too great, I humbly submit.
Anchor: Would you say objectively that the Judiciary as the third arm of government is living up to its responsibilities giving to recent events in the country.
Nwakor Gospel: If “living up to responsibilities” means entertaining cases and interpreting laws, then, maybe yes.However we must first satisfy ourselves on “what exactly are the responsibilities of the judiciary?” Is it as established in the Constitution or as expected by the masses.
Anchor: As is now the case, an election by INEC is no longer considered as a conclusive way to win a political office in Nigeria, the court has somewhat increased their role in determining this. What is your comment on the judgement of Imo State gubernatorial election.
Nwakor Gospel: On this, I’ll like to say that the courts have jurisdiction to wade into electoral matters. It is a constitutionally protected right. It is cast in the metallic provisions of our laws and is changeable only through the furnace of constitutional amendment.
When the court exercises jurisdiction to do justice, it does so according to law no matter how unpopular that is to the laymen in society. Our laws are clear: elections are to be done in a lawful manner, and a deviation from the provisions of the law would necessarily translate to a booting out of the offender.
As in the recent election matters, The law knows nothing as the popular candidate or the people’s choice when there is a breach of its provisions. If the law empowers a court to act, only through amendment would it not act; otherwise, let Justice be done, though heavens fall. Conclusively, the court has always had this role to play.
Anchor: There is this popular parlance that Law has no emotion, don’t you think emotions should be aroused sometimes, like in the pronouncement of judgement,the purge of corporal punishment, in the Nigerian legal system. This actually brought controversy during the recent judgement of Maryam Sanda.
Nwakor Gospel: This is a matter of Jurisprudence. The issue of Law and Morality, as in the two schools of thought by scholars. In our courts today, judges have knowingly sent innocent people to jail, simply because their hands are tied, due to the laws that regulate proceedings and the rules of evidence. Mohammed Bello CJN (as he then was) has agreed to this when he stated that ‘We (judges) don’t do justice; we do justice according to law. Some of the judgments we pass, we do not like’.
Emotions may come in, but a judge is bound by the rules of evidence, what appears before him and what the law says.Though there is an interplay between the two, but the law prevails.
Anchor: Sowore was arrested inside the court and the judge was chased with a gun inside her chamber, what do you have to say about such a barbaric act considering the fact that the alledged offenders are yet to receive any sanction?
Nwakor Gospel: On Sowore’s seeming “arrest” in court, the following must be made clear: First, the court had risen or was rising; second, the defendant refused to leave the court; third, it is not true that the judge was chased with a gun [this is an unfortunate imputation of facts] Besides, it is impossible for security operatives to wield guns in court.
The law on arrest is encoded in sections 3, 4, 5, 6 & 43 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act.
Surely, a warrant of arrest may not be executed in Court, but we would err if we forget that in contempt cases, the defendant can be restrained, if not arrested in court or otherwise escorted out to be arrested. Instances abound where the court orders the restraint or escorting for arrest of impersonators and fake lawyers.
Next, does refusal to leave a court room not constitute a nuisance to the court?
Again, Sec. 43(2), ACJA provides that the arrest shall not be done while the court is sitting. A plethora of cases establish that a court is the Judge and not the building. If my lord had risen and the defendant refused to leave, operatives were within their rights to compel him to leave and escort him out in order for actual arrest to be effected. This of course is hinged on the fact that the court was not sitting.
To this end, it was within the bounds of law for an unruly defendant to be escorted out of the court room and arrested (handcuffed) outside. And that is honestly the unbiased review of the Sowore claim.
Anchor: A bit of a flash back to last year on a tensed issue. In 2019 the media was awash with the sack of Onnoghen, the then chief judge of Nigeria and his replacement with Muhammad Tanko, what do you think about such removal and appointment therefrom knowing that Tanko is a Sharia Court Judge?
Nwakor Gospel: On the sack of Justice Onnoghen, CJN, CFR, I’ll like to say that the Law was exploited by the most intelligent legal minds ever birthed: The NJC is ordinarily the body empowered to remove a judicial officer. But in this case, the government didn’t prosecute the CJ as a Judicial officer, but within the capacity as a public officer subject to the code of conduct for public officers. 
This is more like a student being punished either by the University directly or by his home faculty.
In this case, the CJN has breached the code of conduct, and would have been referred to the NJC had the constitution not created the Code of Conduct Tribunal as well. The trial of the CJN was with reference to his being a public servant and not as a judicial officer per se which would have vested the NJC with exclusive jurisdiction. 
The government lawyers saw a loophole and exploited it quite remarkably in my opinion.
There is a similar case where a state governor removed a CJ and the NJC punished the CJ that took over for the fact that he allowed himself to be used. 
In the instant case, the NJC had exclusive jurisdiction over a State CJ. Besides, in the Onnoghen case, the accused was the head of the NJC and as such, the rule nemo judex in causa sua barred the NJC from determining the case.
It was when Onnoghen, CJN was suspended, that the next most senior JSC assumed headship of the NJC. And on July 10, 2019, the NJC recommended for appointment, Dr. Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed, JSC as the CJN.
Let me state hear that it is shameful that persons in the law have given considerable time to degrade the reputation of my lord, Mohammed JSC. This is unethical and unprofessional. A man at the highest cadre of our nation’s judicial system is indeed worthy of every respect, emotions aside.
For the above stated reasons, let me enumerate my Lord’s qualifications:
Graduate from ABU Zaria in 1980, attended the Nigerian Law School and was called to Bar in 1981. Had an LL.M in 1985 and Ph.D. in 1998.
Became FCT Chief Magistrate in 1989-1991; served in the Bauchi Sharia Court of Appeal in 1991 till 1993. Ascended the Court of Appeal bench from 1993-2006. Sworn in as JSC in January, 2007 and became CJN in 2019.
No sane Nigerian Law student or Lawyer should look at the qualification of my lord and dismiss him as a mere “Sharia court judge”.
About the speaker
Nwakor Oluchukwu Gospel, Christian, is a Law student of Faculty of Law, University of Uyo, a writer legal author.
For knowledge and Justice

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