Ahead of next month’s general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has called for urgent action by the judiciary to address the issue of conflicting judgements in order to engender certainty in the electoral process.
Chairman of the commission, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, who stated this at a workshop on Election Petition for Judges and Justices in Abuja yesterday, said since 2015 general elections, INEC has been involved in over 1,200 litigations and obeyed all orders that emanated from them.
“There have been over 1,200 cases involving the commission since the 2015 general elections and not in a single case has the commission disobeyed a court order.”
Yakubu said: “Conflicting judgements, especially, by courts of co-ordinate jurisdiction at the High Court level, are putting the commission in a very difficult position and creating uncertainty in the process.
“The court in one judicial division may order the commission on a particular course of action only to be contradicted by another court of co-ordinate jurisdiction from another division or even within the same division on the same subject matter.
“Conflicting court orders are negatively affecting the consistency, neutrality, and public perception, not only of the commission, but the judiciary as well. There is therefore the urgent need to address the issue of conflicting judgements in order to engender certainty in the electoral process.
“Our second area of concern relates to the lack of consequential orders by the courts after making findings on an issue and stating the position.
“In such cases, the commission is compelled to take a position relying on previous decisions of the court on the subject. This, as in some cases, made the commission appear inconsistent and has also led to protracted litigation.
“Closely related to this is the issue of orders to maintain the status quo by the court without stating the exact status quo intended.
“This has given room to parties to misinterpret the order to suit their purpose, thereby knowingly causing confusion and controversy.”
The INEC boss further said the survival of the nation’s democratic process and the consolidation of the reforms aimed at entrenching stability and deepening democratic culture and ideals required the commitment of all stakeholders.
Acting CJN warns
In his remarks, Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria Ibrahim Tanko Mohammad warned justices and judges to guard their integrity and the integrity of the judiciary by avoiding acts that will bring them under the disciplinary jurisdiction of the Nigerian Judicial Council (NJC).
He said the NJC would not hesitate to wield the big stick on erring judicial officers found wanting in the discharge of their duties.
Mohammad said the workshop offered a unique opportunity to deliberate and agree on the basic tenets and guiding principles as well as ensuring quick dispensation of electoral matters.
He called on judicial stakeholders to consistently build upon the efforts of the judiciary in constant sterling performance with regards to determination of election cases.
“My Lords, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, in light of the foregoing, it’s expedient that participants are constantly equipped with the rudiments of the law to enable them accomplish this onerous task with the desired efficiency and competence at arriving at well-researched judgments and work out modalities to reduce the spate of conflicting judgments emanating from our courts.
“Conflicting judgements do not only confuse counsel but also lead to uncertainty with regards to Starre Decisis.
“Furthermore, conflicting judgements impact negatively on the public perception of our ability to guarantee unequivocal justice. In addition to this daunting challenges, the proper venue to institute proceedings remains a recurring issue which we must tackle frontally. ‘Recent events in the polity have shown that aggrieved candidates go shopping for judgements to suit their selfish political ambitions.’
“In light of the above, I must not fail to emphasise at this forum that the judiciary must not be drawn into this black-hole of political expediency as judges are not willing tools to be exploited by the whims and caprices of politicians.
“However, on your own part, in carrying out your judicial mandate as justices and judges, you must refrain from granting frivolous injunctions, remain impartial and most importantly, shun any form of inducement. It is mandatory for you to analyse facts based on the applicable laws without prejudice.
“My Lords, Distinguished participants, it is important that the judiciary must maintain absolute independence. Judges should handle election petitions without any external pressure or influence either by political parties, stakeholders or economic interest groups.
“The judiciary must continue to take steps to ensure that it is not seen as being partisan but must always demonstrate manifest integrity in its adjudicatory processes.
“Consequently, judicial officers serving on election petition tribunals must note that judgments must not be ambiguous and should be devoid of any form of external influence. Your Lordships should shun unnecessary associations with lawyers who may be acting as conduits for politicians no matter how innocent they may be portrayed.
“You must guard your integrity and the integrity of the judiciary by avoiding acts that will bring you under the disciplinary jurisdiction of the National Judicial Council as it will not hesitate to wield the big stick sanctions to any judicial officer who is found wanting in the discharge his duties.
“On our part, the judiciary will continue to do its best to ensure judicial officers remain conversant with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and other relevant laws towards ensuring efficiency a uniformity in the quality of judicial decisions.”