President Jonathan: Let the Judiciary in Ekiti State Run its Own Business Without Interference or Control from Another Branch of Government! But the NJC Must Do More to Protest Affront on Judiciary

Following repeated attacks on Judges, court staff and users in September 2014 by persons associated with Ekiti State Governor-elect Ayo Fayose, the Chief Judge of the State ordered the closure of State High Courts in Ekiti State. However, the National Judicial Council directed that the courts be re-opened for business and the Ekiti Judiciary apparently complied.

By Friday, the 10th of October, the security forces of the Federal government had altered the equation and barricaded the courts in Ekiti State, effectively ensuring that the courts in the State were effectively shut and have remained shut till this time. The courts affected are not just the high
courts, but extend to the Court of Appeal, the Federal Courts, election petition tribunals and the Magistrates courts, all of which are clustered together in the same vicinity. No cases are being heard in courts now.

 The courts will remain closed for business, it is feared, until October 16 when the Governor- elect is sworn in. The closure is said to represent a strategic political ploy to prevent any "surprises" from courts that may scuttle the inauguration of Ayo Fayose as Governor on the said date. The police have said the courts are closed because of a "bomb" said to be planted inside the premises of the courts. No bombs have been recovered or shown to the public, and the claims of a bomb threat is so bare of detail or substance, so intangibly sparse and insubstantial as to make it anymore than a stalking horse and subterfuge: the inexorable conclusion must be that the bomb scenario is a deliberately contrived ruse to keep the courts inaccessible until further notice.

 The forced closure of courts by security forces under the control of the President is a blatant, troubling trampling on the judicial branch of government. Closing courts under any circumstances has huge and severe consequences for governance, and the rights and obligations of a lot of other people. What has happened is that a branch of government has effectively shut down the operations of another branch of government! One arm of government is now deciding when, and under what conditions another branch of government can operate. This is an existential threat to the Judicial function and is clearly a tyrannical use (or abuse) of State power. In capriciously blocking physical access to courts with force, the Jonathan government has corruptly conscripted state power for illicit ends and has done incalculable damage to the rule of law.

 We are also deeply concerned about the other implications of these actions of the federal government in Ekiti State. Blocking access to courts of law will gradually become an attractive option to governments who fear adverse decisions from courts, and the replication of this practice will practically render courts redundant and powerless to effectively adjudicate disputes or exercise judicial functions. By doing this in Ekiti, the Jonathan administration has gradually ingratiated a virulent and pestilent form of executive lawlessness into our political and governance culture, the effect of which will endure for a long time to come. While this may be fair politics for a government that has little regard for the rule of law, it is also crude politics that is wrecking incalculable damage to our constitutional democracy. If courts need to be closed for security reasons, the leadership of the courts must be involved in the decision so as to mitigate the risks that such closure may be politically motivated. In this case, even the Chief Judge of Ekiti State was turned back from entering his court.

 The Chief Justice of Nigeria, the NJC and the Nigerian Bar Association should collectively make urgent representations to President Jonathan, and protest this gratuitous effort to insidiously control a branch of government with responsibility to safeguard the Constitution and protect citizen's rights. The Judiciary must never be a stamping ground for this kind of rabid politics. It will not be enough for the NJC to ask the Chief Judge of Ekiti State to announce the re-opening of courts as it was reported to have done at its meeting on the 13th of October 2014. The Judiciary and the Bar need to show stronger objection, indignation, remonstration and resolve against actions that will likely be replicated if the government
does not see credible and resolute opposition to its use.

Access to Justice urges the Jonathan administration to lift the siege on the courts now, and let the courts continue their business independently as a branch of government.

Signed,

Chinelo Chinweze (Mrs.) For: Access to Justice