by Dare Lawal
Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Mahmud Mohammed yesterday inaugurated 242 judges who will sit in tribunals to deliberate on petitions that may arise from the general elections. He advised them to always be guided by the law and avoid unnecessary technicalities.
The chief justice also urged the various chairmen and members of the tribunals to be guided by their conscience and avoid being used for selfish purposes.
He said that the decision to inaugurate the tribunal members before the polls was in accordance with the provision of Section 133 (3) (a) & (b) of the Electoral Act 2010, requiring that election petitions tribunals must be established 14 days prior to the elections, and that the secretariat of the tribunals must be opened seven days before elections.
Justice Mohammed also generally warned judges to avoid being used to end this nation’s democracy especially in light of various suits hurriedly filed by politicians or those being used by them to stop the February 14 and 28 elections or prevent candidates from contesting after being cleared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
It would be recalled that in 1993, Justice Bassey Ikpeme gave a late night judgment stopping the elections, the basis of which the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida military regime said it annulled the polls. The crises that followed the cancellation of the poll, which was believed to have been won by the late Bashorun Moshood Abiola, almost consumed the country.
Already, some have started calling for the disqualification of certain candidates and the postponement of the poll.
Justice Mohammed said: “Let me use this opportunity to sound a note of warning to all judicial officers. Do not allow any political party or politician to compromise your integrity or your future. We must never again be used as tools to truncate our nation’s democracy.
“I assure you that any judge found wanting would only have himself or herself to blame as the National Judicial Council will definitely not spare the rod in ensuring that the honour, respect and independence of the Judiciary is protected.”
He reminded them that their assignment would “be very laborious” and that they would “likely to be overstretched in the handling of election matters”.
Justice Mohammed also reminded the tribunal members that “praises and condemnations will be meted out to you in the course of discharging your duties. Unfortunately, some of the condemnations will come from our partners in the temple of justice ( i.e the Bar). However, I urge you not to be deterred by the uncomplimentary comments of some politicians and litigants anytime judgment is given against them.”
”As you start your assignment, I must re-iterate that while you are on the tribunals, you will be looked upon as the embodiment of this ideal of Justice. To that end, you must be the dispensers of justice, regardless of fear or favour, position or standing.
“You must uphold the stability of this democracy by stamping the hallmark of legality on the conduct of our nation’s elections as it is through your eyes that Justice perceives a wrong that must be made right.
“Since you all do not have the luxury of time in the discharge of your duties, I urge you all to be pedantic in your deliberations but do not allow ‘red- herring’ technicalities to distract you from the path of justice. You must listen attentively, and enquire appropriately, taking care not to descend into the arena.
“In addition, it is crucial that you consider all the evidence before you carefully, deliberate conscientiously, and adjudicate swiftly and justly as not only you but the entire Judiciary will also be on trial. Posterity will judge you on the words that you utter in judgment and my sincere prayer is that we will all not be judged harshly by history,” the CJN said.