Three State Chief Judges (CJs) will any time from now appear before the National Judicial Council (NJC) to explain why disciplinary action should not be taken against them for alleged issuance of conflicting court orders. The decision to investigate the judges was taken by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Muhammad, after a meeting with seven Heads of Courts on Monday in Abuja.
Muhammad had last week Monday invited some CJs to explain the rationale behind the issuance of contradictory court orders and indiscriminate injunctions by judges in their jurisdictions. The invitation was sequel to a report by THISDAY on certain worrisome restraining orders against the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and some contestants in the forthcoming governorship election in Anambra State, as well as the leaderships of the major political parties in the country.
A statement by the NJC’s Director of Information, Mr Soji Oye, disclosed that the CJN, after a marathon meeting with the Heads of Courts, which lasted for over six hours, decided to use the three judges as warning to others. Although, disciplinary actions are usually taken against an erring judicial officer after investigation based on petition from members of the public, in this instance, the NJC is on its own investigating the three judges.
The statement was silent on the three judges pencilled down for investigation and possible sanction.
The CJs, who appeared before the CJN, are those of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, and Rivers, Kebbi, Cross River, Jigawa, Anambra, and Imo states.
The statement said, “The meeting, which commenced at 11am, and lasted till 5:30pm, began with a one-on-one interaction with the CJs. Each of the CJs was separately quizzed personally by the CJN for over an hour, before later reading a riot act in a joint session with all of them.”
According to the statement, the visibly angry CJN had stated that “a damage to one jurisdiction is a damage to all” and as such, they must put an end to indiscriminate granting of ex parte orders, conflicting judgements or rulings occasioned by forum-shopping.”
Muhammad was also quoted as saying, “Your job as Heads of Court is a sacred one, and it, therefore, includes you vicariously taking the sins of others. There must be an end to this nonsense. You shall henceforth take absolute charge in assigning cases or matters, especially political personally.
“We shall make example with these three Judges and never shall we condone such act.”
The statement said, “Three of the Judges who granted conflicting ex parte orders have been invited to appear before the National Judicial Council to show cause why disciplinary action should not be taken against them for granting the conflicting ex parte orders.”
Muhammad warned the CJs to henceforth avoid unnecessary assumption of jurisdiction in matters with similar subjects and parties already before another court, protect the court from lawyers who were out for forum shopping, and work in tandem with all the judges to salvage the image of the judiciary.
The CJN warned the CJs against making newly appointed judicial officers vacation judges and assigning complex cases to inexperienced judges.
The statement also disclosed that all Heads of Courts will be invited to a meeting to reemphasise the need for the judiciary to be circumspect on the issue ex parte orders. It said the Heads of Courts would also meet with the NBA leadership on the issue.
The CJN advised all Heads of Court to be current on developments in the polity and the judgments delivered by courts of various jurisdictions. He also told them to urgently issue practice direction to guide judges in their various courts to avoid giving conflicting decisions.
Muhammad concluded that the judiciary will no longer condone indiscipline or allow any judge to tarnish the image of the judiciary.