By EA Uzumnism
The pendulum swung in favour of Festus Keyamo SAN who took the Senate Chamber on a voyage of legal tourism and moot suggestions during his clearance as a Minister designate. I congratulate him.
As expected, Keyamo seized the floor eliciting his legal sagacity and eloquence. This did not fall short of expectations especially from the gallery. However, an aspect that requires further clarification was the learned SANs attempt to bandage a wound without proper first aid. He suggested: “Unbundling the Supreme Court”.
To the layman, it means creating more Supreme courts in the various regions or federating units. Let’s accept without conceeding that this is the way to go.
The final interpretation of our statutes rests on the Supreme Court and that is where courts of lower jurisdictions draw their ultimate precedent. The doctrines of Res Judicata and Stare decisis are ultimately hinged on it.
Note that we have hierarchies within our judicial system: From the lowest courts – Customary/Magistrate/Area courts to the State High Courts and Federal High Courts (though both are of concurrent jurisdiction), the Court of appeal and finally, the Apex/Supreme court.
At this point, the SC is the final arbiter. Now, an appraisal of some contradictory rulings of High courts and conflicting judgements from the various divisions of the Appeal Court even on very sensitive National issues have been a major pitfall in the development of our legal system.
We have judgements emanating from a competent High Court but the same precedents are not followed even by inferior courts. Some High Courts decline jurisdiction on issues that a court of concurrent jurisdiction in another state assumed jurisdiction. It is even worse at the appellate level where some judgements are clear deviations from established case law authorities even from the Supreme Court.
These issues are very fundamental as it weakens the true taste of justice, erodes the confidence of citizens in the judiciary.
Corruption, Nepotism and conflicting legal orientation play roles here but to a large extent, these issues are most times resolved at the Supreme court.
At the Supreme Court, we have 21 judges with 7 seated and 4 as Quorum but all within the Supreme jurisdiction and it’s jurisdiction is without bounds. I want to believe that the solution is not by increasing the number of Supreme courts but strengthening Judicial Institution with National Judicial Council functioning optimally.
How will increasing the numbers of supreme court eradicate the judicial haemorrhage we have as a Nation?
Now, if we UNBUNDLE the Supreme Court as suggested by Festus Keyamo SAN how does that help the National Judicial Council manage the fallouts of conflicting judgements, or corruption within the judiciary. What about Executive encroachment in terms of references of the NJC? How does UNBUNDLING the Supreme court forestall the appointment of less competent judges in the face of qualified legal luminaries, rather it reinforces ILLEGALITY.
Another question is, which of the courts will be more Supreme? is it the South South Supreme court , the North East supreme court, South West supreme court or North Central Supreme Court?
This is already playing out even in our straitjacket supreme court system where it is believed in some quarters that Western State Judges are believed to be Pro West which I totally disassociate myself from that view. However if you ask average Southerners their opinion on our former CJ, most persons will tell you that His Lordship Justice Walter Onnoghen CJ as he then was, paid the price for being a Southerner.
Today some of the Northern elites are very comfortable with the leadership status-quo of our Apex court even with the attendant challenges it faced during the removal of the former and confirmation of the present.
The suggested legal surgery by Festus Keyamo SAN may lead to more conflicting judgements as our judicial system and nascent democracy cannot guarantee or support such.
Conflict of judgements is a recipe for anarchy, thus let’s strengthen our judicial institutions rather than unbundling the Supreme court to create regional mushroom court which will definitely be easier to compromise.