The recent alarm raised by the Chief Justice of Nigerian, CJN, Justice Mahmoud Mohammed, over the worrisome Court of Appeal judgments, is to say the least apt, timely and in order. His fears are made to the point and fitting, if the judiciary must remain the sacred temple of justice and hope of the common man.
The red alert is suave and symbolic. It is instructive to save the nation’s democracy because the verdicts so far delivered in some appeal courts division appear to make a mockery of the judiciary arm of government. At the annual conference of the Court of Appeal held in Abuja not too long ago, the CJN called on the justices to quit delivering conflicting judgments.
He stated that the development was not only capable of eroding public confidence on the judiciary but could cast serious aspersions on its integrity. This is among other upsetting considerations, which the CJN bemoaned.
“We must not ignore the negative perception that is occasioned by conflicting judgments delivered at various divisions of the Court of Appeal,” he said. He went further to say, “Such judicial contradictions not only result in untold hardship to litigants in their quest for justice, and they further cast your lordships in an unfavourable light and leave the judiciary at the mercy of innuendos, crass publications and editorials.”
Continuing he said, “As the guardians of the law, we must not only be just but also convey certainty in our justness: My Lords, it bears reminding that the overriding objective of every legal system in the world is to do justice. However, this cannot be achieved where there is confusion as to the state of the law as pronounced by the court.”
He added, “As your lordships will agree, where an aggrieved person perceives, whether rightly or wrongly, that they will not receive justice, such a situation can indeed bode ill for the community in which he lives and can lead to acrimony and anarchy.”
Mahmoud further told the justices that they were not allowed to continue to shift the goalpost when the game was on and advised them to stop creating confusion. The CJN also urged the Court of Appeal to, “have an internal law report for justices to access either electronically or in print in order to reduce the avenue for conflict in its jurisprudence.”
The wise counsel of the CJN is indeed instructive, and no doubt at this critical time of the nation’s democracy growth. It has also raised hope and calm agitating nerves, notwithstanding the disturbing reaction and a number of accusations by political parties so far affected by the decisions of the Court of Appeal in electoral matters.
On one hand, the justices are accused of delivering conflicting judgments in similar cases and secondly refusing to follow the precedents laid down by the Supreme Court. However, beyond the worries of the bench as expressed by the number one judicial officer himself, we note the concerns of some members of the bar who have similarly faulted the appeal court justices. We are on this page in this.
Examples abound of how the Court of Appeal reportedly deviated in such cases as the Ambode vs Agbaje; Wike vs APC Rivers as well as the case of Gov Udom Akwa Ibom vs APC and lately Gov Ikpeazu vs Alex Oti of APGA, according to the lawyers. In all these, the legal representatives are worried like the CJN and a vast majority of the public and are of the view that it is about time this era of inconsistency is arrested.
We submit to the chief judge of the federation’s subtle counsel and the disapproval that have followed from both the bar and the open, over these discrepancies. We also sympathise with litigants who have been affected by the appeal court’s inconsistency. Indeed this may not be the time for continuous buck passing since the CJN has spoken and further recommended the advice given in 2008 by Niki Tobi, a former justice of the Supreme Court, who suggested, “immediately a decision is given in one division, it should be sent to the other division without delay.” This according to him will put an end to a situation where a division of the Court of Appeal delivers a judgment that contradicts the one delivered by another division.
We are in support of the CJN’s position and hope these eminent jurists at that level of the bench will reconsider their stands. And while we look forward to that, it is sacrosanct at this juncture that the Supreme Court takes a stern look at the areas where the various Appeal Courts erred in all the judgments and right the wrong. This is what Nigerians expect to see the apex and final court of the land do.
It is one thing for the CJN to raise an alarm over these irregularities in some of the appeal courts’ judgments, and it is another for the apex court to do the needful by giving the right ruling as well as justice without fear or favour. We reiterate that this is the appropriate thing to do, especially when cases are awaiting the supreme pronouncement. That is the only way the CJN can walk his talk by actually making the apex court carry out the onerous task of delivering impartial judgements.

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