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NJC, NBA talk tough over abuse of ex-parte orders

By Olalekan Awojodu

Abuja

There are indications that judges and lawyers involved in the unholy act of procuring interim injunctions for political reasons may face sanctions as both the National Judicial Council(NJC), and the Nigerian Bar Association(NBA) have waded into the cases.

Already, the Chief Justice of Nigeria(CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad as the head of NJC, has summoned the Chief Judges of Rivers, Kebbi, Cross River, Anambra, Jigawa and Imo State have been summoned to Abuja for an emergency meeting.

In the same vein, the President of NBA, Olumide Akpata has vowed to ‘call out’ members of the association, particularly lawyers who allowed themselves to be used by politicians as “willing tools to wantonly abuse the judicial process”.

While NJC is the body that regulates discipline, promotion and conduct of judges, NBA is the umbrella body of legal practitioners that practices in Nigeria.

Although no date has been fixed for the CJN meeting with the Chief judges of the affected states, the move it was learnt is part of efforts to stem the recent wave of embarrassing and conflicting exparte orders emanating from judges in their jurisdictions. The CJN is likely going to chair a larger NJC meeting in a larger council deliberation soon.

In the letter of invitation dated August 30, 2021 and made available to newsmen, the CJN summoned the head of the concerned courts to get briefings on the incessant granting of the conflicting orders in Nigerian courts.

Gavel International recalls that most recently, there were conflicting orders where some suits instituted by different political parties before the various courts had conflicting orders being given.

While confirming the development, Spokesperson of the NJC, Soji Oye told Judiciary Correspondents that the letter indeed emanated from the office of the CJN, saying the meeting will be this week.

The invitation letter partly reads, “My attention has been drawn to media reports to the effect that some courts of coordinate jurisdictions were granting conflicting exparte 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 exparte applications.”

NBA on the same date also came out with a statement on the issue. The statement signed by Akpata reads:

“The @NigBarAssoc has 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;

While the Nigerian judiciary has in the past made invaluable contributions to the development of the country, there are nevertheless past failings which would hopefully remain permanently interred in the dark annals of history;

It is in this regard that we view with concern the recurring contradictory decisions by our courts, based on apparently indiscriminate grant of orders and counter-orders, in a way that evokes memories of those eerie and unwanted dark days;

We must of necessity reference the orders relating to the nomination of candidates by political parties for the forthcoming gubernatorial elections in Anambra State and the equally embarrassing situation playing out in respect of the PDP leadership crisis that has seen three different contradictory rulings by courts of coordinate jurisdiction, in circumstances that leave a lot to be desired;

These developments in our courts are antithetical to the actualisation of the just society and independent judiciary that we all aspire to, and 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;

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;

In our view, these actions contravene the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007 (“RPC”) especially the cardinal Rule 1 of the RPC which requires a lawyer to uphold and observe the rule of law, promote and 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;

We also concur with the Hon. Justice Chioma Nwosu-Iheme of the Court of Appeal in her condemnation of the indulgence by some judicial officers of politicians who go round the country shopping for judgments, and who thereby bring the Judiciary to public ridicule. Beyond that we shall say no more at this time;

I will on behalf of the NBA, urgently seek audience with My Lord, the Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria to address this issue holistically. the support of the Chairman of the NBA Judiciary Committee, Dr. Babatunde Ajibade, SAN as well as the Chairpersons of the NBA Section of Legal Practice (NBA-SLP) and NBA Section on Public Interest and Development Law (NBA-SPIDEL), Mr. Oluwaseun Abimbola, SAN and Dr. Monday Ubani for this proposed engagement;

The NBA, as the prime defender of the integrity and independence of the Judiciary, cannot and will not be a spectator whilst our hard-earned democracy is threatened by the venal acts of a few. This is particularly so as the nation approaches its next round of general elections. It can no longer be business as usual”.

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