Reported Directive of CJN to Hon. Justice Kafaranti to Reverse Judicial Order is a Grievous Blunder, Undermines Judicial Independence and sets another Dangerous Precedent

Media reports of Wednesday 22nd February claim that the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Hon. Justice Dahiru Musdapher has issued a directive to Hon. Justice Abdul Karafanti of the Federal High Court who reportedly gave an order restraining the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from holding the Saturday gubernatorial elections in Cross Rivers State, telling the Judge to reverse the Order. If the reports are correct, it would indeed be such an unfortunate, grievous blunder by the CJN.

Coming on the heels of a major national crisis ignited by alleged attempts by the predecessor CJN to interfere with proceedings before an election petitions appeals court, this reported directive by the incumbent CJN, this time around is hard to digest, and will only help to entrench, not reverse and repudiate, a quirky, dangerous and insidious culture of Chief Justices interfering in proceedings before other or lower courts. A Chief Justice of Nigeria should be the staunchest defender of the independence of Judges and protector-in-chief of the adjudicational autonomy of courts to decide cases freely, justly and without outside interference, not otherwise. By taking extrajudicial steps to secure the reversal of court orders and decisions, the CJN makes a mockery of the court system and implies that our justice system is incapable of remedying, by itself, some kinds of (assumed) errors made by trial court Judges.  If the Judiciary lacks the capacity to correct errors made by trial Judges, or cannot defend constitutional democracy in Nigeria, then something is wrong with it, and, as Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Dahiru Musdapher has the strongest responsibility to fix the problem. But it is completely indefensible and self-defeating for him to do this by interfering with the independence of Judges and courts.

A2Justice is deeply concerned that the CJN’s reported directive to Hon. Justice Adefarati brazenly violates the very foundation of judicial independence in Nigeria and will encourage others to explore extrajudicial maneuvers to set aside valid judgments or orders of courts. The reported directive is a grave derogation from the widely accepted principles of judicial independence, represents a grave, invidious threat to the rule of law and sets a dangerous, hard-to-curtail precedent. 

The United Nations Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary provide:

2. The judiciary shall decide matters before them impartially, on the basis of facts and in accordance with the law, without any restrictions, improper influences, inducements, pressures, threats or interferences, direct or indirect, from any quarter or for any reason.
4. There shall not be any inappropriate or unwarranted interference with the judicial process, nor shall judicial decisions by the courts be subject to revision. This principle is without prejudice to judicial review or to mitigation or commutation by competent authorities of sentences imposed by the judiciary, in accordance with the law.
We are not unmindful of the sometimes injudicious and disruptive use of injunctions by Judges in Nigeria and the impunity that has developed around the grant of injunctions, particularly ex parte injunctions, and have, on occasion ourselves, drawn attention to this. However, while we are concerned over the appropriateness and justness of the order issued by Hon. Justice Adefarati reportedly stopping the elections in Cross Rivers State, we see a directive to Justice Adefarati to reverse the order as a worse threat to constitutional democracy, the rule of law and good governance. We have alluded to the consequences of allowing the CJN’s directive to stand: if we get on this highway where high-up judicial officers can dictate outcomes of trials or issue orders to Judges, it will lead to utter anarchy. It will take us quickly to a future where Judges will be unable to decide cases freely and fairly because there would be “orders from above” to them many of the time. This would be such a huge ungovernable scenario for us all and we need to step back quickly from the prospects of encountering the nightmare. The CJN needs to immediately rescind his directive to Justice Adefarati, apologize to Nigerians for making them and take strong enough measures to insure that no one will follow this example.

 

Joseph Chuma Otteh                                                          LEONARD DIBIA
Director                                                                            Director of Programmes

 

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