The law in as much as it relates to the dispensation of justice, ought to be clear as not to confuse.
Justice, when delivered by the law, should direct and enlighten and not confuse. Justice by its very nature is like a bright lamp on a hilltop, visible to all.
The law is supposed to be the pathway to justice. The court, regarded as the last hope of the aggrieved and the common man, is the vehicle through which the law dispenses justice.
Like everything else in contemporary Nigeria, it is increasingly becoming impossible to know what the law is. But the law shouldn’t be this confusing. In fact the law ought not to confuse. The law ought to be clear, else it leads to anarchy.
If the law is the law, how come two different courts looking at the same set of facts will deliver two conflicting sets of judgements?
Learned minds might scoff at the ignorance of the writer in asking; at his ignorance of the technicalities of the law. But even these technicalities ought to be clear, consistent, concise and universally applicable. This is because Justice in its impartiality ought not to be left to conjectures.
But Conflicting judgments from courts of concurrent jurisdiction keep recurring. And there seems to be no end in sight to this state of confusion that has seriously impinged the integrity of the judiciary.
Most disturbing is that these conflicting judgements mostly occur in politically related cases. At the height of the PDP crises before the 2015 elections, two factions laid claim to the leadership of the party. Both factions hinged their legitimacy on conflicting judgements of courts of concurrent jurisdiction. One by Justice Liman of the Port – harcourt division of the Federal High Court and the other by Buba of the Lagos division. That internal crises of the PDP which could have subjected itself to the internal dispute mechanism of the party was irredeemably compounded by the conflicting orders of court which greatly debilitated the party and caused it grave injury during the 2015 general elections.
Other classical examples include the 2016 governorship election dispute in Abia State between Okezie Ikpeazu and Uche Ogah – all of the PDP – and Appeal Court panels in Abuja and Ilorin decisions on the Public Order Act.
There have also been glaring extreme cases where these courts have not only fragrantly refused to be bound by their own decisions but by the decisions of the Supreme Court.
Another election season is here and the courts have once again embarked on a spree of conflicting judgements. In the run up to the 2019 general elections, two courts issued conflicting judgements on whether the INEC can accept candidates presented by the All Progressives Congress, APC, for the Zamfara elections. While the Federal High Court in Zamfara ruled that the APC conducted its primaries and thus can present candidates for the elections, the Federal Hight court in Abuja ruled otherwise. The ripples of those conflicting judgements are still source of tension and political uncertainty in Zamfara state till this moment. Such cases exist in other States of the federation in almost equal measure and especially in Delta state APC where candidates already elected on the platform of the party risk losing their seats.
A former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Mahmud Mohammed once had cause to address the problem.
During the annual conference of Justices of the Court of Appeal (JCA) in Abuja, the CJN said: “We must not ignore the negative perception that is occasioned by conflicting judgments delivered at various divisions of the Court of Appeal.
“Such judicial contradictions only result in untold hardships to litigants in their quest for justice. They further cast your lordships in an unfavourable light and leave the judiciary at the mercy of innuendos, crass publications and editorials”
Of course, the law is made of it’s “letter and “spirit” and both must be considered when delivering justice. But should the “letter” trounce the “spirit” that give life to the law? In other words should technicality deny justice? Should justice die on the alter of technicalities?
Everyday, for the most selfish of reasons, we sow the seed of anarchy that portends a tumultuous future. For, if a concept as hallowed as justice, can be twisted and battered beyond recognition by its custodians in its very own sacred temple, then the future is uncertain. When the people lose trust and confidence in the ability of the courts to consistently interpret the law and to deliver justice, they will recourse to self help. The result therefrom will be anarchy.