- November 25, 2023
- Posted by: Stephen Azubuike
- Categories: Opinions, Politics
THE KANO DEBACLE THROWS THE JUDICIARY INTO QUAGMIRE OF RIDICULE
In the 18 March 2023 Kano State gubernatorial election, Abba Yusuf, the candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) was declared winner. He defeated Yusuf Gawuna of the All Progressives Congress (APC). As expected, all roads led to the Kano State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal. The Tribunal sacked Abba Yusuf and declared his namesake, Yusuf Gawuna, as winner.
Abba Yusuf proceeded to the Court of Appeal. The events that unfolded were as though Kano State and indeed, the whole of Nigeria were invited to a Nollywood movie showing on Netflix.
The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja reportedly affirmed the Tribunal’s verdict sacking Abba Yusuf of NNPP as the governor. However, a certified true copy of the judgment which eventually surfaced, reportedly contained a contradictory verdict in favour of Abba Yusuf. The climax of the “movie” seems to centre on the report of yet another certified true copy of a judgment affirming the Tribunal’s verdict that Abba Yusuf remains sacked.
Mending the Fence, Legal Implications
The Chief Registrar of the Court of Appeal was said to have cited clerical errors as the basis of the confusion. Although human error may sometimes be inevitable, Judges are however trained to be highly meticulous. The position of the law is that once a court delivers its judgment, it becomes functus officio, meaning that it lacks the power to perform any subsequent task regarding the judgment. An exception of course is where the Court may need to deal with any clerical errors. But this power to correct clerical errors must not be abused. It is not an opportunity to change the content of the judgment in any material respect.
This unfortunate development from the Court of Appeal has some legal implications. First, there is confusion as to which of the judgments will form the basis of a further appeal to the Supreme Court. We may end up having parties awkwardly standing as both appellants and respondents. Second, the Supreme Court may be thrown into hearing multiple appeals regarding the alleged clerical error and its subsequent correction. The Supreme Court may be called upon to review the integrity of the entire development at the Court of Appeal. All of these may impact on the time within which the substantive appeal ought to have been disposed of in order to guarantee political stability in Kano State.
The Judiciary in Quagmire—Call for Cleansing
While meditating on the development in Kano State, I visualized the Nigerian Judiciary “stylishly” walking into a deeper mud of infamy. Then the word, “quagmire”, struck me and it made its way into the title of this discussion.
“Quagmire” is a word commonly used figuratively to describe “a difficult and dangerous situation”. But this sense of usage was drawn from its original meaning: “an area of soft, wet ground that you sink into if you try to walk on it”. As distinguished from mire (shallower area of wet and muddy ground), quagmire is much deeper.
Ever since Nigerians, wittingly or unwittingly, adopted the phrase, go to court, as an insulting expression used to signify mission impossible, and to mock the court system, I knew the Nigerian Judiciary has a great mission of self-cleansing and self-redemption. I am not the first to make this call. Recently, Bage, JSC remarked:
We need a sharp departure from infamy in the legal profession. All Judges are first and foremost lawyers. Thus, the bench and the legal profession must continue in internal regulation and/or self-cleansing. This, in my view, is to save the legal profession and invariably the entire structure with which justice is administered in this country.
His Lordship made this call while deciding a professional disciplinary case against a legal practitioner in Anthony Ojigho v. NBA & LPDC (2019) LPELR-46895(SC);  9 NWLR (Pt. 1678) 399.
The proposed cleansing in the Judiciary must necessarily begin with the process of qualifying as a legal practitioner. We have to restore the standards to a commendable level. We need only persons of above-average intellect and discipline in the legal profession. The requirements are already there. We need to strictly enforce them.
It is only on this basis that we can guarantee the quality of individuals who will occupy sensitive positions where lawyers are needed. We need individuals with sound legal and ethical background. Quality individuals beget quality institutions.
Against this background, the process of recruitment of judges is one critical area that is currently in need of attention. Olumide Akpata, the 30th President of the Nigerian Bar Association, recently spoke about the sub-optimal manner of screening of candidates. We have a long way to go.
With respect, the recent development in Kano is, perhaps, one of the highest points of judicial ineptitude. We expect the Court of Appeal to maintain the highest standard of coordination in the discharge of its judicial function.
The Kano development goes beyond an issue for only the Supreme Court to resolve. It also goes beyond judicial competence. I smell the odour of corruption and all its sophistications in the judicial atmosphere. There is a need for an urgent “forensic” investigation. I call on the National Judicial Council to look into the situation.