Wed, 29 May 2024 Feature Article

Kano's Judicial Circus: Conflicting Court Orders and the Need for Ethical Therapy for Judges and Lawyers

Kano's Judicial Circus: Conflicting Court Orders and the Need for Ethical Therapy for Judges and Lawyers

The recent events in Kano have laid bare a troubling aspect of Nigeria's judicial system, where conflicting court orders and federal interference have created a maelstrom of confusion and chaos. Ideally, the judiciary should be a bastion of fairness and order, but it has been reduced to a pawn in a game of political chess. Judges, the Chief Justice, registrars, lawyers, and the Attorney General find themselves ensnared in this web of intrigue. The situation in Kano underscores the urgent need for ethical therapy for those at the helm and across Nigeria's judicial system.

The drama began when a Federal High Court in Kano ordered the eviction of Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II from the Kofar Kudu Palace while simultaneously ensuring that Aminu Bayero, recognized as the 15th Emir of Kano, received all rights and privileges due to him. Justice S. A. Amobeda, who presided over the case, emphasized the need to maintain justice and peace in Kano. However, this ruling was immediately controversial, as many believed it was a matter best handled by the state courts. Adding to the confusion, Governor Abba Yusuf alleged that Justice Mohammed Liman had granted an order from the United States, stopping the reinstatement of Sanusi Lamido as the 16th Emir of Kano. This move was seen as highly irregular and sparked outrage among legal professionals. The media reported that these federal judges were engaging in judge shopping and wielding federal might inappropriately, especially given that Kano has its own competent court system. The excuse that the federal judges were protecting human rights seemed hollow, as state courts have broader jurisdiction encompassing human rights and local disputes.

While some argue that virtual court proceedings allow judges to sit anywhere due to global jurisdiction, others insist that Nigeria's judicial system adheres to territorial authority. Judges typically exercise jurisdiction within Nigeria’s borders. The Federal High Court’s rules allow judges to conduct judicial activities outside the country in specific circumstances, such as participating in international arbitration proceedings. However, the Federal High Court’s embrace of virtual court proceedings raises questions about the appropriateness of a judge presiding over a case from abroad. Lagos lawyer Michael Okpu pointed out that the NJC’s Guidelines for Virtual Court Proceedings (2020) only allow virtual hearings under certain conditions, such as urgent matters and simple civil cases. The guidelines mandate that judges, parties, and legal representatives be within Nigeria’s territorial boundaries during virtual proceedings. Therefore, a Federal High Court judge cannot participate in a virtual court proceeding from outside Nigeria, as this compromises access to necessary resources, files, or support staff.

In stark contrast to the federal interventions, a State High Court in Kano stepped in to protect Muhammadu Sanusi II from eviction. Justice Amina Aliyu directed the police, DSS, and the Nigerian military to refrain from actions that would disrupt Sanusi’s residence or harass him and his associates. This ruling, which extended protection to the four key kingmakers of Kano, highlighted the absurdity of the federal court’s involvement in what is fundamentally a local matter. Justice Aliyu’s orders included protections against harassment, the confiscation of symbolic regalia, and maintenance of the status quo pending further hearings.

The conflicting orders from different courts and the rampant use of ex parte orders have plunged Kano into a state of legal anarchy. This situation reveals a deeper issue within Nigeria's judiciary: a profound lack of ethical standards and a susceptibility to political manipulation. Many judges appear to be engaging in unethical practices, and the Chief Justice and the Attorney General have been criticized for their silence and inaction. Ethical therapy for judges is urgently needed to restore the integrity of the judiciary. This therapy should encompass rigorous training in judicial ethics to ensure judges understand and adhere to the highest standards of conduct. Additionally, there must be robust mechanisms to hold judges accountable for unethical behavior, including a transparent system for filing and investigating complaints against judges. Judges should be subject to regular evaluations to assess their adherence to ethical standards and their performance in delivering justice. They also need access to support systems that provide guidance on ethical dilemmas and help them navigate complex cases without compromising their integrity.

The Chief Justice and the Attorney General play crucial roles in maintaining the judiciary's integrity. Their silence and inaction in the face of these ethical breaches are troubling. They must take proactive steps to address these issues, including enforcing ethical standards uniformly across all courts and taking action against judges who engage in unethical behavior. The Chief Justice must ensure that ethical standards are enforced uniformly across all courts. The Attorney General must advocate for judicial independence and resist political pressures that undermine the judiciary's integrity. Both the Chief Justice and the Attorney General must lead by example, demonstrating their commitment to ethical conduct and the rule of law.

The situation in Kano is a microcosm of the broader challenges facing Nigeria's judiciary. Conflicting court orders, federal interference, and unethical practices by judges have created a state of confusion and eroded public trust in the judicial system. Ethical therapy for judges, coupled with strong leadership from the Chief Justice and the Attorney General, is essential to restoring the integrity of Nigeria's judiciary. As Nigeria approaches its 25th year of democracy, it is imperative that the judicial system upholds the principles of fairness, justice, and independence, ensuring that local matters are handled by state courts without undue federal interference. The ultimate goal must be to restore coherence and trust in the legal system, promoting mental well-being and upholding the principles of democracy and the rule of law.

Ultimately, the local reality is that Kano is now divided over two emirs because of politicians' fight for power. It will be the people of Kano who decide the outcome. Bayero should think twice and leave the scene honorably, recognizing the need for stability and respect for local governance. The shameful manner by which all sorts of ex parte orders are used to confuse the Nigerian people means that many of these judges need ethical therapy, beginning with the Chief Justice who is quiet or dull to all these confusions. Also, the nation's Attorney General and the President need to improve, as Nigeria's democracy is about to be 25 years old. The military must stop doing the local and domestic jobs of the police, civil defense, and private security guards. This abuse has gone too far in different domestic matters, and they must return to the barracks. Their mere presence psychologically induces fear and is not good for the people. The judiciary’s abuse of ex parte orders has long plagued Nigeria’s justice system, reducing the courts to mere tools for political manipulation. Ex parte orders, which are intended for urgent matters to protect interests pending the final determination of a suit, have been misused by politicians and their lawyers for personal gain.

Such judicial misconduct is often driven by corrupt practices, with some judges becoming tools in the hands of moneybag politicians, thereby tarnishing the judiciary’s image. The Nigerian judiciary, once known for its integrity and respect, has lost its way, necessitating urgent reforms. The past directive by the former Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho, instructing all judges of the Federal High Courts across the country to refrain from granting ex parte orders in political cases was a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done. The current Chief Justice of Nigeria must enforce stricter measures to prevent judges from entertaining matters outside their jurisdiction and to curb the abuse of ex parte orders.

Ex parte orders, historically meant to address urgent matters where providing notice to all parties could result in irreparable harm, have often been misused. The concept of ex parte, meaning "for one party," allows for temporary judicial relief without the presence of the other affected parties. This is typically reserved for situations where immediate action is necessary to prevent harm, such as in cases of domestic abuse where a temporary restraining order might be issued to protect the victim without notifying the alleged abuser in advance.

However, in the context of political cases or other non-urgent matters, the misuse of ex parte orders can lead to significant abuse. In divorce proceedings, for instance, a disgruntled spouse might use ex parte orders to gain an upper hand, temporarily removing children from the other parent without prior notice. While these orders are intended to be temporary and subject to review, the interim period can cause considerable damage.

The judicial misuse of ex parte orders in Nigeria has highlighted the need for stringent oversight and ethical reforms. These orders, when granted improperly, not only undermine the principles of fair notice and due process but also erode public confidence in the judiciary. The Nigerian judiciary must address these issues by ensuring that ex parte orders are used appropriately and only in genuinely urgent situations. This involves not only reinforcing existing guidelines but also implementing robust systems to monitor and review the issuance of such orders.

Ethical therapy for judges should include comprehensive training on the appropriate use of ex parte orders, emphasizing their original purpose and the potential consequences of misuse. Judges need to be reminded of their duty to uphold justice impartially and to be vigilant against any attempts to manipulate the judicial process for personal or political gain. By fostering a culture of integrity and accountability, the judiciary can work towards restoring public trust and ensuring that justice is served fairly and equitably. The ethical training should be done by the Nigerian Association of Forensic Psychologists (NAFOP).

The integrity of Nigeria’s judiciary must be restored to ensure it remains the last hope of the masses. Ethical therapy, stringent accountability, and unwavering leadership from judicial authorities are essential to achieving this. As Nigeria approaches a quarter-century of democracy, it is crucial that the judicial system is fortified against political interference and remains dedicated to upholding justice and the rule of law.