INTERIM INJUNCTIONS OVER PARTY ELECTIONS THREAT TO DEMOCRACY?
Judges are exalted Public Officers but they are Public Officers all the same (see Schedule 5 Part 2 S.5 1999 Constitution) Doubtless they are employees of the state and are paid from the public revenue. In reality it is to society that they owe their allegiance or loyalty. The commodity they trade in i.e. justice is of primary concern to society and their service can be successful if society expresses approval or satisfaction therewith. Violation or non-compliance with the provisions of the constitution is express evidence of disapproval or lack of confidence.
The 1999 Constitution guarantees inter alia fair hearing before courts constituted in such a way as to secure its independence and impartiality.
The net result of prolonged military rule and the assault on the institution by Nigeria's fascist dictators was the near-total loss of confidence in the judiciary by the Nigerian Society whom it was meant to serve. The society became, and still is cynical and suspicious of the activities of judicial officers especially on election cases.
One of the weapons of assault deployed by Nigeria's evil dictator Ibrahim Babangida to sit-tight in office after the 1993 Presidential Elections was a Court Order of interim injunction issued by a judicial Officer in the dead of night.
The entire Country suffered irreparable damage by the judicial order.
Hence the need for urgent steps to avert mischief of interim injunctions and its misuse by Politicians through corrupt judicial officers to throw spanner in the wheel of our nascent democracy.
The re-birth of the Judiciary started with the setting up of Eso Panel. It is a truism that the realisation of a problem is a substantial progress towards its solution. The Panel Report's excellent recommendations on the matter of interim injunctions deserves a second look.
The recent issuance of an interim injunction to remove the National Chairman of the ruling Party on the eve of the National Convention for Presidential Primaries is a timely foreboding that should stir increased public scrutiny and attention to the work of Judges and highlight the risks inherent in complacency in these matters.
The present level of public confidence challenges the Judiciary authorities to take urgent steps to redress the perennial abuse of discretion to grant injunctive relief. Successive Chief Justices of Nigeria (CJN) including the incumbent have implored judicial officers to exercise caution in granting ex-parte injunctions.
Yet, in only three months to the April 2011 General Elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been served 64 injunctions and counter orders enjoining it in the performance of its statutory fiunctions over Party Candidate Selections. Some of these cases would continue for years even after the April elections and result in legal, constitutional and logistical incongruities.
Nigeria has operated this democracy for about twelve years. That is enough time for judges to learn the ropes and rein in arbitrariness in the issuance of interim injunctions over election matters.
Unless the matter is addressed promptly our hard-won democracy may be scuttled in much the same way the coup plotters bring down constitutionally elected representatives of the people with guns purchased with our tax naira. Any steps taken thereafter would be medicine after death.