Ahead of the general election in the country, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, has cautioned judges selected to serve as chairmen and members of election petitions tribunals not to compromise their integrity.
The CJN vowed that never again would the nation’s judiciary serve as a tool to mortgage the country’s democracy noting that the National Judicial Council (NJC) would not spare the rod in dealing with any erring judicial officer.
He gave this admonition while swearing in the tribunal members.
He 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 (NJC) will definitely not spare the rod in ensuring that the honour, respect and independence of the Judiciary is protected.”
Section 133 (3) (a) & (b) of the Electoral Act 2010 states that Election Petitions Tribunals must be established fourteen (14) days prior to the elections and the secretariat of the said tribunals, opened seven days before election.
The CJN said that the swearing in was necessary to enable the tribunal’s secretariat be opened in accordance with the Act.
He urged them to ensure that all petitions were founded upon grounds which contained in Section 138 of the Electoral Act and not on extraneous provisions of law, as the tribunal was not a court of vain inquisition.
He said: “All your considerations must be founded in law only and not coloured by personal sympathies, opinions or affiliations, remembering that there is a resonance to the truism that the ‘judiciary is the last hope of the common man” and may I add, also the hope of the not so common man.
“I must congratulate you all on your nomination to undertake this onerous task. It is evidence of the faith which the judiciary reposes in you, an affirmation of your sound abilities, and a call for you to continue to act in such commendable manner. It is often said that the reward for hard work is more responsibility. Serving on the bench of the election petitions tribunal is certainly a special task, a national assignment for which there can be only one outcome -justice.
“The following will be your working tool the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic; the Electoral Act of 2010; the Federal High Court Civil Procedure Rules; and the Practice Directions. The Court of Appeal will make available the copies of the above listed documents to all the tribunals.
“I need not remind you that the tribunal assignment is very laborious and that you are likely to be overstretched in the handling of election matters. Praises and condemnation 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.”
He told members of the tribunal that they were painstakingly selected based on their integrity and competence even as he charged them to sustain the virtues throughout the period of the tribunal assignment.
“May I also warn that the NJC will not hesitate to deal with any judge who allows himself to be influenced by any interest group,” he added.
He also urged then to dispense justice without fear or favour saying “you must be the dispensers of Justice regardless of fear or favour, position or standing.”
He asked them to uphold the stability of this democracy by stamping the hallmark of legality on the conduct of the nation’s elections adding that “as it is through your eyes that Justice perceives a wrong that must be made right.”