JUSTICE ADAMU'S GAFFE
Recent goings-on in the polity indicate that the judiciary, the arm of government which has, in recent times, suffered a lot of pummeling over a number of untoward acts, is yet to wean itself of the charges of corruption against it.
This much was confirmed by the impolitic action of the acting President of the Court of Appeal (PCA), Justice Dalhatu Adamu, when he ordered the disbandment of the Borno State Governorship Election Tribunal just a few minutes before the panel was to deliver its judgment. The tribunal secretary who announced the dissolution of the panel said he had just received a message from the PCA to that effect. No reason was given for the action.
But in a twist that confirmed the unreasonableness of the action, the PCA, the next day, reversed his earlier order and directed the tribunal to go ahead with the judgment. The somersault on the part of the PCA was most untidy. It does not tell the story of an institution that has put its acts together.
If anything, it erodes the little confidence that the people still have on the judiciary on account of the promise of the newly appointed Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Dahiru Musdapher, to cleanse the rot in the judiciary. It is to be recalled that Alhaji Mohammed Goni, the Governorship candidate of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) in the last Governorship election in the state, had approached the tribunal challenging the declaration of Kashim Shetima of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) as the Governor of the State.
According to the Electoral Act 2010, hearing of election petition must be concluded within 180 days. If the PCA had gone ahead with his earlier order, it would have violated this provision of the Electoral Act as the sitting of the tribunal would have gone beyond the time limit permitted by the law. It is unfortunate that Justice Adamu did not take this into consideration before issuing the administrative order.
Besides, the order, if it was not reversed, would have amounted to a breach of the order of the Supreme Court which had, in its earlier decision on an interlocutory appeal filed by PDP and Goni, rejected the petitioner's request for the disbandment of the panel. The impression Justice Adamu's action leaves in the minds of the concerned public is that he was either not conversant with the issues involved or he willfully wanted to use an administrative order to reverse the superior decision of the Supreme Court. If this had happened, it would have brought further ridicule to the temple of justice.
For us, the whole idea of disbanding an Election petition tribunal is most unbecoming. This is especially so when no cogent reason was adduced as in the case of Adamu. We recall with regret that the disrepute which the dissolution of an Election Appeal panel in Sokoto State brought to the judiciary is still festering. It was a bad precedent which the judiciary is still struggling to overcome.
Justice Adamu himself is a product of the damage the Sokoto incident foisted on the judiciary as he had to succeed Justice Ayo Salami who was suspended from office on account of the face-off that ensued between him and the former CJN, Justice Aloysius Katsina - Alu, over the Sokoto incident. Justice Adamu should therefore have exercised caution and good judgment. But he failed abysmally in that regard.
It is, indeed, regrettable that this is happening at the top echelon of the judiciary. What it means is that the charge of the CJN on the reform of the judiciary is yet to be assimilated by those who ought to have made it an article of faith.
The CJN should therefore see the gaffe of the PCA as an avenue to reaffirm his resolve to reform the judiciary. He should call erring judicial officers and judges to order. That is how best his message can achieve the desired result. His action in this regard will be very worthwhile if he orders an investigation into the reason behind Justice Adamu's order. The public deserves to know why the PCA acted in the manner he did. Treating the issue as if it never happened will not be in the best interest of the judiciary.