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Politicians behind electoral disputes –Ajulo

Kayode  Ajulo SAN

 

 

 

 

 

 

Renowned lawyer and activist, Mr. Kayode Ajulo, SAN in this interview, speaks on contemporary national issues that have dominated the public space following recent court rulings

What are your perspectives on recent criticisms against the Judiciary?

The Judiciary all over the world from time to time has never ceased from facing criticisms generally. Without any gainsaying, in Nigeria, at every electoral season, the woods spurring the fire of criticisms just adds up more, hence, there is always a spike in the criticism of our Justices. It is however lucid that politics remains the game of politics and the Judiciary only performs its duties without sentiments and without political influences and interference.

Having practiced for over two decades, one thing remains clear, these criticisms against the judiciary are not uncommon, new or recent in nature. The electoral periods just spike it as no one who loses an election would accept or admit he lost the election willfully or his lawyer fails in the competency test of presenting the best in terms of evidential burden discharge as prescribed and expected by the Court.

From experience and I am conversant with how cases are won and lost, on the whole hitherto, I can categorically say that most times, the problems in electoral disputes are not the Judges who preside on the basis of what is been presented before them and don’t have a secondary duty of manufacturing facts or further evidences as the people expect, but always with the politicians and other brainwashed supporters whose duties are majorly to be sentimental as to the verdicts of the Court.

On a final note, I would not even in all genuine sense tag these as criticisms, I would rather call them sentiments politically inclined in nature

 

Does this support calls for reforms in the Judicial sector?

Reforms simply deal with changes in a thing, especially an institution or practice in order to improve it. Perusing through that basic meaning of reforms, you would immediately understand that reforms are daily expectations as against the criticism birthing same. In other words, with or without criticisms, there is a need for reforms day to day. Perfection is an aim for every man; thus, no individual, institution, sector or association is perfect, there is only a gear daily towards perfection.

That being established, there is no denial that some of the constructive criticisms are instrumental in reforms in the Judicial sector. However, what is gamut, germane and matters most is the need for a reform in every sector at all times. Without any iota of doubt, I must state that reforms in the Judicial sector is ongoing daily and few evidences to same is the act of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, my Lord, Honourable Justice OlukayodeAriwoola, GCON, inculcating various rules and guidelines, swearing in judges of various courts to occupy the vacant seats and add to the number of our Judges, and on the external facet, several pleas have also further been made to the National Assembly for the review of our 1999 Constitution as one of the features of a good law is that law is not absolute, but rather susceptible to changes thereby giving rise to its constant review.

In a nutshell, either induced or by default, what is crystal clear is the need for reforms in the Judicial sector. However, I won’t be a party to the school of thought that a reform in the Judicial sector is arrived at by the instrument of this new wave of criticisms. For instance, my office gains its further and better standards because of invites made to various friends, partners and seniors to the firm with the aim of doing a surveillance, review and giving a better outlook to what seems already established, and this is done quarterly

 

How do we lessen political interference in the judiciary?

Speaking from my experience and perspective, I am not of the opinion that there is any political interference in the Judiciary and this assertion would be backed up with several occurrences that have warranted my conclusion amidst several others.

Let me begin my above posited argument with the Landmark decision bordering on an appeal around the propriety or otherwise of the exercise of the powers (monetary policies) of the President acting through the Central Bank, in the conflict between the Attorney General of Kaduna State & Ors. Vs. Attorney General of the Federation & Ors (2023) LPELR-59936(SC), where the Supreme Court held that the preliminary objections lack merit and were dismissed firstly, also held that no reasonable notice was given as required by S. 20(3) of the CBN Act 2007 before the President gave the directive or approval in question, thereby ruling that the directive and its implementation is invalid. Finally, they held that the President refused to obey the order that the new and old versions of naira notes continue to circulate as legal tender by his broadcast negating same and on the whole, the suit was held to be meritorious and victory was against the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and other Political agents pushing for an order negating the well being of the people and enforcing self over citizens of the country.

I also remember in the same vein, a particular suit I was involved in specifically in 2022, the President through the Attorney General of the Federation sometimes in 2022 instituted a suit against my client seeking the intervention of the Court to delete and /or expunge the provisions of Section 84(12) of the electoral act, 2022 and amend some several other sections; the Court upon stringent look into the matter struck it out and held that it lacks jurisdiction to entertain the suit and that the suit would serve no useful purpose in the determination of its merit. This was a decision arrived at by the full panel of the Supreme Court.

The big question hitherto arises, if there were any political personnel capable of influencing the Judiciary, would the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or the Attorney General of the Federation not have been the best with weight and power to perpetuate the act of politically influencing the Judiciary?

I handled my briefs well and I won landslide against the Number one citizen who could justify this question you are asking. Therefore, my advice would be for my fellow members of the bar to be up to task and be vast with the provisions and the position of the law.

It would also interest you to note that a million and one commercial disputes are presided over and settled daily by the Judiciary and little or no dusts of allusions are raised over interference by Political figures. However, when disputes are political in nature, there’s suddenly that quick argument as to decisions of the Judiciary being influenced politically and these views and opinions are awful, wrong and disheartening to the hard work and diligence imputed daily by the Judiciary in the settlement of disputes in all sphere.

Conclusively on this therefore, my argument on this subject matter remains that the law remains Supreme irrespective of who you are and the tenets and principles of Rule of Law by A.V. Dicey is still in operation in the Nigerian Judiciary.

 

Do you support calls for litigations to end before the swearing-in of elected officials?

Ideally, that ought to be the proper and appropriate approach, however, several factors exist militating and mitigating against this approach as a result of the stipulations of the Constitution. The Constitution is lucid in its provisions and has clearly stipulated the time frame within which disputes to decisions of an election are to be instituted and decided upon. A solution and resolution to this approach commences with the process of an amendment to our Constitution with several sections clearly spelling out the timing of institution of suits, decisions and pronouncements as to the resolution of all conflicts before a swearing-in of elected officials is permissible. However, left to me, I’m never a party to wishful thinking birthing no results or otherwise.

 

Do you concur that Courts should not determine the winner of elections?

This opinion is one that sounds very stupid and ludicrous. I’m further of the belief that whoever argues in this light is merely a man of low Intelligence Quotient in understanding the workings of the Constitution and the functions of the Courts in matters relating to elections. Let me primarily establish that the Court does not determine an election nor its winners, rather, the Court only determines the validity of an election as pronounced by the INEC. The power of determining a winner of an election only lies and fully resides with the voters and the voters alone. The process is quite simple, a date is announced by INEC, accredited and eligible voters are allowed to vote and the votes counted from each polling units and further collated by the Returning Officer and it is upon the Returning officer’s collation that the Independent National Electoral Commission announces the winner of the election and issues a returning ticket to the validly elected candidates. Disagreements, grievances and dissents by individuals who contested in the elections, lost and are dissatisfied with the result of same are what warrants the institution of suits in the courts.

The Courts perusing through several evidence placed before it Judicially and Judiciously gives its verdict in accordance to the provisions of the law.

Simply summarized therefore, the Court only steps in as a result of the provision of Section 6 (6) (b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) which gives vires the Court to determine any issue between individuals, governments, authorities etc.

Several of those who are even of these vague opinions are the ones you would interestingly find in Court in cases of disagreements between them and their husbands/wives, cases of people owing them amidst several other occurrences.

On the whole, my perspective to this question is simple and straight, the Electorate determine the winner of an election by their votes and INEC only further announces the result of their votes and how they voted, and the Court is not in any way concerned with the duty of determining the winner of an election but rather settles disputes that arises from electoral processes and matters

 

How do we make the Judiciary stronger and better amid current challenges?

One thing remains sacrosanct, and that is the fact that there is always resultant and resulting challenges in every sector in the world and we are therefore not to make a hill out of tiny molds. All institutions of government have a mechanism, and what I am majorly and basically concerned about is that the institution must be stronger than even its occupants. Hence, the Judicial institution has a duty of being stronger than even the Justices and various Judges in the system.

Worthy of note should even be the fact that if there’s any visible institution with a structure, mechanism and scheme that evolves and gives strength to its occupants in Nigeria, only the Judiciary is fit of this crown presently. This is because setting aside the discretion of Judges, there are precedents and laid down laws that must be obeyed by members of its bodies, principles of stare decisis binding the lower courts as well as obiter dictum available to guide Judges and it is in instances of a Judge willfully stepping outside the yellow line that issue arises. Upon failure of a Judge to follow the guidelines and adopted mechanisms, there are several sanctions already in existence for this default and such negligence.

I would therefore only further recommend a stronger approach in the way of sanctioning erring Judges and therefore charge the National Judicial Council to double their efforts in the line of sanctioning of Judicial Officers. On the other hand, I would advise the thousands of people raising dusts on Judicial officers individually and collectively, through social media, TV broadcasts and interviews and several other mediums, many of which further graduates to noise as they don’t eventually get to their expected destination and just few percentages of them finally gets to these Judges in question, to take a step further by writing to the National Judicial Council as to their standpoints and expected reforms. It might even be shocking to note upon inquiry that the mails of the NJC are empty despite several lashes here and there with zero or no resultant effects

 

How would you assess the National Judicial Council (NJC) and do you think it can live up to its billing?

The National Judicial Council is a Constitutional creation as created by the schedule of the Constitution since 1999. It might interest you to know and I’m proud to reveal that upon the deliberation of the institution of the NJC, I was privileged to play a little role during my undergraduate days at the University of Jos as a law student. I remember the likes of Justice Kayode Esho amidst several other constituent assembly deciding and creating the body in an hotel room in Abuja and this aids in the easy knowledge of the mindset of those who came together to create the body and for what purpose. Casting my mind back, I could vividly recollect several debates on different pages of Newspaper as to whether NJC should exist or not. Having therefore seen misunderstandings, incongruities, the commencement and thus far staying for over 25 years, the progress of the body, I must say without any iota of doubt that the body has broadly delivered in its mandates and expectations. Personally, I’m yet to see any arm of government nor institutions today that has tried in its scope to discipline itself or laid down checks and balances mechanisms to curtail the excesses of its subjects. An applause should therefore be given to the Judiciary through the effectiveness of the National Judicial Council in how far it has managed to aid the development of the Judiciary. On the backdrop of the path at the back given, they should as well know that lot more can be done further in a bid to still make the Judiciary better than the state it exists in right now.

 

Election litigations have been a burden on the judiciary, how can this be addressed?

In all truism, litigation has overtime been a burden on the Judiciary and this is as a result of several factors, few of which would be highlighted by me.

Firstly, the challenge and issue of Manpower is primary, I’m one of those opinionated that the number of our Judicial officers we have in Nigeria is minute and small compared to the Number of cases awaiting decisions in dockets of our various Courts. I vividly remember a hypothesis I did by conducting and doing a little research on all the number of cases in Nigeria and the timing of resolution of all of them, and shockingly from the estimation I garnered, it would take nothing less than 3 decades and more to resolve each and every of the cases that are to be filed as at today. In essence, in the next 30 years, there would still be several cases that would be pending and awaiting Judgment. The big question would therefore be, why and what leads to this?

In my rumination and meditation on a solution to this menace, I thought of the possible doubling of the current number of Judges. For instance, Federal Capital Territory as at today has a total number of not less than 50 Judges, and in my estimation, I garnered from the research I conducted few months ago that for effective and timeous Justice administration to ensue in FCT for instance, a minimum of 100 to 120 Judges would be needed as against the current number of about 50 Judges. The reason of the above summation is not far fetched as currently, almost each and every of the Courts in FCT today have a list of voluminous case lists culminating sometimes to about 22 cases daily in some of them, the question then arises that if the Court in proper adjudication of each of these cases spends a minimum of 30 minutes or maximum of 1 hour at the hearing stages for instance for these 22 cases, would that not amount to the Court expending 22 hours out of the 24 hours existing in a day only to be left with 2 hours of rest, how then are the Judges expected to survive? Note also that these are the same Judges having administrative roles to play in their Courts as well as writing Judgments and rulings on several issues brought before them. So, my belief on the whole is the number of Judges should be increased and many more willing to join the bench should be employed and brought on board.

Worthy of note as well is the decision of President Tinubu when he resumed office which I believe I applauded and praised, However, on a second thought and outlook, I feel ashamed that my applause was without a second outlook but the truth however prevails as I’m a man of good conscience and seeing the effect now, I humbly submit that it is totally wrong for a trial Judge to be as Old as 70 years before bowing out from the Judiciary. I know this would cause an uproar and dissents by the members occupying those positions but on a second thought, I know I would be forgiven at the latter end for speaking out and stating my opinion objectively without any addition of sentiments to this position. These people deserve and need to be given some rest with an increase made on their pensions and further other emoluments. I’m largely aware of the fact that Justices of Appellate Courts are not with extremely cumbersome schedules and tasks as Judges of the trial Court and in the light of same, can be entitled to these privileges. However, this should not apply to our trial Judges to curb deaths from extraneous works. On the other end, it should even be noted that several other members of the bar are willing to transition to the bench, and the big question then is when would these willing minds be given a chance or a shot or an opportunity to fulfil their heart desires and eventually become members of the bench. A review is therefore needed as to this position.

 

Do you think we need special Courts for election offenders?

I’m not of the view that there should be classification or special courts for election offenders. Without tweaking words, an offence of whatever nature remains an offence and as such there shouldn’t exist a distinction in offences as a criminal remains a criminal and attempts to sugarcoat his crime, is just failing the administration of Justice. Hence, we have a simple duty of calling a spade, a spade without mincing words or spelling otherwise. Failure of us to quickly label out a crime as one would only create an immunity for those perpetrating the acts on election day and all of these would be under the disguise of politics. How would someone stealing the electorate ballot be labelled with a better name when he remains a common thief, or why would someone fighting, restraining or stabbing electorate on election day want or have to be tried in a special Court and be tagged an electoral offender, when such a person remains a batterer, charging to assault common citizens and on the whole remains a hardened criminal perpetuating crime. A crime remains a crime and anyone caught in the web of the commission of a crime should be dealt with strictly in accordance with the provisions of the law as this would aid in the administration of Justice and curb the practice of letting offenders escape all in the name of being electoral offenders. The only recommendation can only be for several Judges to be appointed in dealing with issues related to electoral offences, just as there exists Judges appointed to specialize and resolve matrimonial issues. But the act of opening or creating special Courts for electoral offenders should be frowned at and is not permissible in the proper parlance of Justice administration.

 

What is your parting shot on how to strengthen the judiciary?

Strengthening the Judiciary in my opinion begins with members of the bar. I would therefore use this opportunity to make a clarion call to members of the bar to always bear in mind that these Judges are and remain our own. This remains our industry and our level of energy in strengthening and preserving same determines the respect we gain from the Public and society at large. It should also be noted that by the office these Judges hold and expectations, they have limited powers in defending themselves and it thus hitherto becomes the duty of members of the bar to vigorously speak up for them. I remember the pivotal role in assembling some of my mates on our conferment date as Senior Advocates of Nigeria and admonishing us all to see ourselves as a Prince of the Court. This is because we are first seen as Ministers in the temple of Justice and upon elevation, I am by privilege now elevated upon the conferment of the title of a Senior Advocate. It is therefore in the light of this that as Senior Advocates of Nigeria, we are to have the illumination of being leaders of the Bar and in that same light, preserve the integrity of the Court at all times. This however does not connote that where a Judge errs or is found wanting, I would fail in my readiness to go all out for such Judge in a bid to retain the standard expected by and of the profession. The proper raising of eyebrow and frowning to misconduct of Judges would exist but the act or habit of discrediting the Court, or trying to weaken the Court, or bring the court to public opprobrium, and to disrepute it, would never be permissible and supported. This should as well sound as a warning to whosoever has an intent to drag the Court for one reason or the other as I personally vouch informing my colleagues that we will see ourselves as volunteers for the purpose of safeguarding and strengthening the Judiciary by giving adequate notice to as many found in the continuous perpetration of this act having a lot of people to contend with. I am also assuring as many of them that the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committees will have new partners in ensuring that our Courts and Judiciary at large are strengthened because it is in doing same that the Nations democracy is upheld and the pursuit of good governance is enhanced in the Nation at large.
Culled from The Sun

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