…135,592 cases pending at FHC
…SANs seek separate courts for election cases
The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), on Monday, said the Federal Government would soon resume the mass prosecution of Boko Haram suspects being held in selected military formations in Nigeria.
The PUNCH reported that a similar exercise had been conducted some years ago when such trial was conducted in military facilities in Niger and Borno states.
According to him, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has approved funds for the exercise.
The AGF, represented by the Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice, Beatrice Jedy-Agba, dropped the information in Abuja during a special court session to mark the new legal year (2022/2023) for the Federal High Court.
He said, “I would like to use this opportunity to appreciate the recent special intervention granted by His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, for the provision of funds and other logistics for the commencement of the second phase of prosecutions of Boko Haram suspects.
“It is my considered advisory that the fast-track innovations that were introduced in the electoral cases should also be extended to certain cases which are of high economic or commercial importance in view of the ripple effects of delay in the conclusion of such cases.”
The Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho faulted the National Assembly for amending the Electoral Act without inputs from the Judiciary.
He expressed reservation that other arms of government were increasing the workload of the Judiciary without a commensurate increase in funding.
Justice Tsoho said, “By virtue of Sections 29 (5) and 84(14), of the Act (Electoral Act 2022), exclusive jurisdiction is foisted on the Federal High Court in the hearing and determination of pre-election complaints.
“Linked to that jurisdiction is Section 285(10) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), which provides that such pre-election cases must be concluded within 180 days from the date of filing of the suit.
“This is notwithstanding the judges’ existing ‘high-volume’ dockets that present enormous challenges.
“It is necessary to place on record that the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2022 was enacted without any consultation with the court.
“Also, no support whatsoever was provided to address the increased responsibility. This weighed heavily on the operations of the court.”
The Chief Judge, who called for an increase in the number of judges of the Federal High Court, said poor funding was a major constraint to the court’s effective operation.
“The budget of the court this year, unfortunately, makes it impracticable to effectively achieve its normal running. It is in reality, not different from that of last year, considering the raging inflationary trend.
“This brings to fore, the need for the Judiciary to exercise control over its administrative, financial, and operational matters, to have the capacity to implement the necessary reforms within the system.”
He said despite the additional burden that the new Electoral Act has placed on the Federal High Court, the court has performed appreciably well in promptly dealing with the total 1838 pre-election cases filed before the court.
“As of today, a total of 1,838 pre-election cases were filed in the court, out of which 1,285 cases have been disposed of, leaving a total of 556 cases pending,” he said.
Speaking on the court’s performance in relation to other cases in the last legal year, Justice Tsoho said, “The 2020/2021 legal year officially closed in July 2021, with a total number of 131,821 cases pending at end of that legal year and carried over to the 2021/2022 legal year, (i.e. September 2021 – June 2022).
“Within that legal year, a total of 17,677 cases were filed, while the total number of cases disposed of was 13,906.
“When this is added to the total number of cases carried over from the previous year which is 131,821, we have a total of 135,592 cases pending at the end of the legal year.
“This comprises 41,788 civil cases; 31,832 criminal cases; 39,799 motions and 22,173 fundamental rights enforcement applications pending at the end of the legal year,” Justice Tsoho said.
The representative of the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), expressed concern that election cases were consuming the courts’ time to the detriment of other cases.
He suggested the creation of a special court to deal with elections and related cases.
He said such a court was provided for under Section 250 of the 1995 Construction proposed by the Sani Abacha military government.
He said, “Normal cases inevitably had to suffer adjournments thereby frustrating good and urgent causes.
“With all humility, we have reached a stage when very urgently, the Parliament, Judiciary and stakeholders in the administration of justice should consider the establishment of the National Constitutional Court of Nigeria.
“The Constitutional Court is one that will handle all constitutional, political and election matters. It will be a federal court, of the status of a High court with divisions in all the states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory.
“The court will have unlimited jurisdiction to determine all causes relating to or connected with the interpretation of the Constitution, enforcement of fundamental rights of the citizens, determination as to whether any person has been lawfully elected into any office from the President to the State Governors and members of all the Legislative houses.
“The court will be like the National Industrial Court of Nigeria that exercises jurisdiction on matters related to employment and other industry-related matters.
“All the decisions of the court will be appealable to the Court of Appeal and all appeals end at the Court of Appeal.
“There will no longer be the need to take away about 500 judges from their normal court responsibilities to sit on election tribunals all over the country.
“We have enough human resources to serve the Court in all capacities.”
Awomolo said that such courts exist and function effectively in countries like India, South Africa, South Korea, Egypt, Zambia, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Germany.
He said, “In all these countries, records are available to show that Constitutional courts have become a solution that enhances jurisprudence, specialization and promotion of political stability through judicial interventions.
“Nigeria is perhaps the only country in the world where litigation on political disputations including election causes is the highest in the world.
“The courts, including the Supreme Court, have constituted the most reliable pillar of support for the practice of democracy since 1999.”