By Binzak Azeez
Towards the end of 2023, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, disclosed the totality of the judgments and rulings delivered by the Supreme
Court in the 2022/2023 legal year. The apex court decided 1, 271 cases which were emanated from political, criminal and civil appeals and motions. During the same legal year, the 20 divisions of the Court of Appeal handed down 7,295 judgments and rulings, as revealed by the President of the Court of Appeal of Nigeria, Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem.
In the same vein, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho, estimated the decided cases of the court divisions to 12, 870 judgments. At the Federal Capital Territory, the High Court Divisions adjudicated 4,293 cases while the Magistrates’ courts determined 7,328 cases according to Justice Hussein Baba-Yusuf, the FCT chief judge.
On the side of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, its president, Justice Benedict Kanyip, revealed during the commemoration of the 2022/2023 Legal Year of the NICN that 4,108 industry/labour-related disputes were resolved by the divisions of the court within the last two years. Across the 36 states of the federation, the divisions of each State High Court must have recorded a great number of judgments, though no available unified breakdown of these decided cases.
The growing tradition of handpicking one or two sensational political cases within a plethora of decided cases as a credibility test for Nigeria’s judicial institution amongst legal practitioners, revered columnists and veteran public affairs analysts, has continued to violate the basic principles of making a fair judgment. This barometric approach is far-fetched from unveiling the exact hallmark of Nigeria’s judicial institution.
No democratic institution, judiciary inclusive, has immunity against criticism. There are no extant laws that criminalise the public expression of contrary viewpoints to court verdicts. And there can never be any reasonable justification for considering the enactment of such laws. Be it unfair or misleading, the representation of the entire judicial institution on the basis of critiquing a handful of court decisions should never be criminalised.
Though, a dispassionate and comprehensive assessment of judicial institutions should be inculcated into legal critiques for the sake of national interest and the development of the nation’s legal jurisprudence. Every decided case ought to be analysed in isolation within the context of the available facts before the court. Casting aspersions on the entire judicial institution by singling out a court verdict has no basis in advancing any good cause.
A painstaking approach is required in the cause of righting any perceived wrong decision taken by the court to avoid being unconsciously turned into a pawn. Over the years, the denigration of the judiciary through coordinated attacks has become a ploy by some power brokers who can go to any length in the pursuit of their vested interest. They do not mind toeing the line of anarchy and flamming up the entire country just to actualise their selfish goals.
On the other hand, it would amount to intellectual short-sightedness to classify every criticism against the judiciary as a sponsored attack. Many judicial reviews are done in good faith. Meanwhile, a half-baked legal appraisal may be synonymous with ambushing the judiciary. The tradition of one-sided reviews has the tendency to hamper a fair and just legal process in the country. Judicial institution thrives on public confidence. The fear of public backlash from the strong voices within the society must not determine or sway the judicial decision-making process. Notwithstanding, judges are encouraged to listen to the voice of legal reason.
Azeez writes via binzak2010 @gmail.com
In this article