As the 2018 pre-election year approaches, the Chief Justice of Nigeria( CJN ), Walter Onnoghen has warned judges to be careful of desperate politicians who will stop at nothing to destroy their (the judges) hard earned reputation and integrity just to get to public office.
Onnoghen noted that as the nation moves closer to its electioneering season, politicians have become desperate and would do to anything to attain power.
He said: “Let me remind us that our salvation remains in our hands; so in the approaching frenzied political activities leading to the 2019 general elections, let us continue to watch the company we keep, the people we open our doors to lest we unwittingly open ourselves to ridicule and embarrassment as the politicians will do anything not necessarily legal, to have their way including destroying our hard earned reputation and integrity.
“I therefore say to all of us, be strong, courageous, fair but firm. Stick to the constitutional provisions, the law and doctrine of precedents (stare – decisis) and you cannot go wrong.
“Even when you are wrongly accused, as we very much are, be patient and remain assured that ‘truth crushed to the earth shall rise again the eternal years of God are hers.
Onnoghen spoke in Abuja Thursday during the opening session of the Annual Justices of the Court of Appeal Conference.
The CJN, who was silent on their names, said 14 new Justices have formally been appointed for the Court of Appeal.
Onnoghen preached against corruption on the bench and urged judge to respect the decisions of the higher courts.
He said: “As you may be aware, the National Judicial Council at it’s just concluded meeting, approved the elevation of 14 Judges to the Court of Appeal to fill in vacancies that had existed hitherto in the Court.
“This will certainly help to reduce the work load for the Justices of the court, as well as help in your preparations as we approach election year in our country.
“Your level of preparation, coupled with the determination of Mr. President, Mohammadu Buhari, GCFR to bequeath to Nigeria a legacy of credible election process, will guarantee the peace and stability we all desire.
“The fight against corruption must be holistic. Consequently, we must address those issues that tend to distract the Judicial Officer, as well as removing from our midst, undesirable persons of questionable character.
“It is my firm believes that if we identify and remove them at the lower courts, the appellate courts would have men of integrity, which in turn elicits confidence in the litigants who come before you.
“I urge you to change your attitude towards your obligation to stare decisis. The benefits are far-reaching and far out-weigh the few and feeble disadvantages.
“On Judicial precedents as it relates to election and pre-election matters, I want to remind us that the Supreme Court has decided in a number of cases that the principles of Judicial review such as Mandamus, Certiorari, Prohibition etc do not apply because election and election related matters, such as pre-election causes are suis generis.
“There is an emerging trend whereby a party in a pre-election or election matter, after exhausting his remedies sometimes up to the Supreme Court still pursues a parallel cause of action under the guise of judicial review hoping that one of such parallel actions may succeed, thereby making the court to contradict itself resulting in great embarrassment to the system.
“Much injustice is thereby created particularly in matters that may not get to the Supreme Court for correction.
“Where, however, the matter gets to the Supreme Court and the right thing is done, much injustice would have been occasioned by not following the principles of stare decisis.
“I am saying these because soon the tempo of political activities will pick up and some lawyers will stop at nothing in their effort to outsmart the Bench; so be very very careful and as I have always said, be on top of your game by mastering the principles of laws and facts relevant to the case or issues involved in the dispute so as not to allow legal practitioners to mislead you to the embarrassment of the Judiciary.
“Always be consistent by following the principles of stare decisis and the law. If you stick to this simple piece of advice, you will not go wrong in your determinations/decisions,” Onnoghen said.
The President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, who also confirmed the appointment of new Justices for her court, said those appointed were solely on merit.
She said: “I would also like to seize this opportunity to straighten the fact on the ongoing process of elevation of Judges to the Court of Appeal.
“It is strictly based on merit with particular preference for Judges who have distinguished themselves by the quality of their judgements in the lower courts and to fill in vacancies created by the death, retirement or elevation to the Supreme Court of our former justices.”
Bulkachuwa, who spoke about the many innovations to be introduced into the court’s operations in the New Year, urged Justices of the court to shun corruption.
She said: “Sometimes back, the Judiciary came under heavy attacks on allegation of corrupt practices.
“As judicial officers, it is not enough to simply talk about corrupt practices but one must believe in the fight against corruption and we must work at it together.
“I therefore, urge us all to eschew corruption and uphold best practices that will rekindle and bring back trust to the judicial arm of government.
“Let’s not ask how corruption can be tackled; our main focus should be on what we can do as individuals, or collectively as a body to address this plague,” Bulkachuwa said.