BY TIMOTHY AGBOR, OSOGBO
With the increasing number of electoral litigation in Nigeria, a former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa, SAN, has lamented that the Justices of the Supreme Court are overworked and that the workload is already affecting the system.
He expressed worry that the country only had 14 out of the 21 Justices that were required for the apex court, adding that there was an urgent need for appointments of the seven remaining judges to complement those on ground.
The National Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, had disclosed that the umpire had been joined in 1,241 intra-party lawsuits in different courts of law. Also, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Olukayode Ariwoola, had said the Supreme Court was overwhelmed by cases, some of which were flimsy. To him, some of the cases should not be in court, let alone on appeal. Justice Ariwoola had noted that the Supreme Court ranks as the busiest in the world, owing to Nigerians’ preference for litigation as against exploring other dispute resolution mechanisms.
Speaking recently on judicial and electoral reform, Aondoakaa noted that not all election petition tribunal cases should get to the Supreme Court, insisting that this was one of the reforms that should be made by concerned authorities.
He urged the National Assembly to speed up the process of amending the Constitution to reduce the number of cases that go to the Supreme Court He said, “Nigeria only has 14 Supreme Court judges instead of the 21 that is required. That is very unfortunate. We expected remaining Justices of the Supreme Court to have been appointed as raised by the NJC. I have expected that at least, with what is coming, we would have had a full complement of the Supreme Court. Unfortunately that is not done and it has affected the 14 judges”In Nigeria, House of Assembly elections go from pre-election tribunal to Supreme Court, that is another aspect we can also make reforms in our electoral process. House of Assembly ought not to go beyond theCourt of Appeal. Now, we have Presidential election and everybody who lost have gone to court, nobody is accepting defeat. Governorship election tribunal ought to stop at Court of Appeal as originally designed by the constitution. How do you expect 14 judges to cope? Even at the Court of Appeal, they were expected to have more judges, interviews were supposed to have been done but it’s not yet done, so, the workload on these people is so enormous.”
“The NBA and senior lawyers like myself, Falana and Agbakoba have been saying, let’s create a robust system and conducive working conditions for judges. At least, electronic recording to reduce handwriting. Go to the Supreme Court, it’s not done, judges are taking manual notes. So, these fundamental issues should be incorporated in our judicial reforms. It’s even convenient for parties when trial is recorded instead of judges writing with hands,” the ex-AGF submitted.
Speaking further on the need for judicial reform, Aondoakaa said, “In my opinion, like other countries, I have been wondering why the governorship tribunal goes to three stages. When I was an Attorney General, such a proposal came but I turned it down. I didn’t see any justification why the governorship election petition will go to three stages – Tribunal, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.
“That is another area we have to make some reforms. There should not be such a disparity. If at all there is going to be a disparity, it should have been the Presidential election and an amendment should be effected so that the Supreme Court will clear this once and for all as a court of first instance.” On whether it is possible to have all election petitions closed before swearing in, the former minister noted, “Itis highly desirable but we must allow the judges to operate within the ambit of the constitution. The constitution provision has been that everything in the court of first instance should be done within 180 days. Of course, issues are commenced by writ of summons, testimonies have to be given, judges have to evaluate them, the judges are doing handwriting.
“So, we must appreciate the special circumstances the judges find themselves. It is not just one presidential petition, it is about three to four presidential petitions and people want them done with before the swearing-in? I don’t find it conceivable.”