Who Is Still Shopping For Justice? By By Josef Omorotionmwan
Nigeria is gliding towards anomy, all because everything is in shambles; and everyone has suddenly become an expert in everything. Professionals can no longer hold sway in their core professions. Our energy sector arrived there much earlier.
That was when we asked for light and we were plunged into darkness. Then, everybody, including those who had never seen the four walls of a classroom, started pontificating on mega-watts.
We have maintained elsewhere that if a man enters his house, at the touch of a button, light goes on and at the touch of a button, the light goes off; such would have no business with mega-watts.
Anyone sentenced to perpetual darkness must find the way to light. That was also the era when the debate on the desirability or otherwise of Nigeria taking a World Bank facility for development was deposited in the marketplace when we had thousands of sound economists who were paid solely for the purpose of regulating the economy. We have now reached the high point where litigants, particularly in the realm of politics, are shopping for justice.
As we speak, the problems in Abia State governorship struggle are not fully resolved. There were three major gladiators at the PDP primaries for the state gubernatorial election – incumbent Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, Dr. Sampson Ogah and Sir Francis Nwosu. Problems started multiplying on June 27, 2016 with two judgements delivered by Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja, sacking Ikpeazu from office and ordering that Ogah who came second at the party’s primary election be sworn in as Governor.
But on June 30, before Ogah could be sworn in, Ikpeazu obtained a conflicting order from Justice C.H. Ahuchaogu of the Abia State High Court sitting at Osisioma, restraining the Chief Judge of Abia State, Justice Theresa Uzokwe, or any Judge, from administering the oath of office on Ogah. In another case, while members are dancing naked at the market square for the soul of the PDP, conflicting judgements from courts of concurrent jurisdiction remain their main albatross. The penultimate week, the Port Harcourt, Lagos and Abuja Divisions of the Federal High Court gave opposing orders recognising two (or three?) factions of the PDP.
A clear search would reveal that three people have Federal High Court papers declaring each of them the authentic leader of the party. They are Senator Ahmed Makarfi, the care-taker chairman appointed in Port Harcourt; Prof Jerry Gana, the interim chairman picked in Abuja; and Senator Ali Modu Sherriff who was removed by the PDP governors but re-instated over and over again by various courts.
And so, the confusion continues. Last December, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Mahmud Mohammed, observed that the Court of Appeal gave conflicting decisions in many election petition cases. It is a disturbing development that politicians now prefer to shop for justice. Lawyers are very quick to decry the attitude of politicians who move to another court to “buy” a new judgement instead of appealing the earlier decision that they were not satisfied with. Again, the blames game is an unending one.
Who really deserves blame – the politician who shops for justice or the judiciary that has debased itself to the level of a shopping centre? Those now getting a comic relief from the dangerous theatricals in our courts must wait till the bubble bursts – when the ugly trend will spill over to the criminal courts. At that time, there will be no imprisonment. A litigant who obtains a guilty verdict at the Customary Court in Abudu would rush to the Customary Court at Ehor to have it overturned.
This would be a new approach to prison decongestion; but the courts will be very busy, with lawyers smiling all the way to the bank! What has happened to the doctrine of Precedent or Stare Decisis, which requires that cases should be decided the same way when the material facts are the same? Obviously, it does not mean that all the facts must be the same all the time because in the flux of life, all the facts of a case can never recur; but the legally material facts may recur and that is what the doctrine is concerned with.
Eminent jurists the world-over are agreed that it will not do to decide the same question one way between one set of litigants and the opposite way between another.
In his brilliant work, The Nature of the Judicial Process, Benyamin Cardozo (1870-1938) expressed this view most succinctly: “If a group of cases involves the same point, the parties expect the same decision. It would be a gross injustice to decide alternate cases on opposite principles. If a case was decided against me yesterday when I was a defendant, I shall look for the same judgement today if I am a plaintiff. To decide differently would raise a feeling of resentment…” If we must forge ahead, this doctrine cannot suddenly be thrown overboard.
Society must behave well to avert the looming anarchy inherent in conflicting court decisions. Indeed, things would have been better were it possible to avoid the courts since court decisions serve mainly the end of tyranny.
They are most undemocratic in the sense that they permit an unelected body to usurp the function of parliament. There is no running away from the obvious fact that Judges make laws. After all, the law is simply what the judge says it is.
The most nauseating aspect is when about half a dozen people veto the collective decision of millions of electorates – decisions taken under the sun and in the rain; and sometimes taken under the greatest threats to their lives! Shall we return to William Shakespeare? “Honour and shame on no part arise; act well your part and there the honour lies”.
If the contest is transparent; if the voter freely exercises his franchise; and if the electoral umpire plays well his role, then, the entire ugly trend can be obviated. That’s what is desperately needed now!