A prominent constitutional lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN) wants the return of retired judges to the bench for the purpose of handling elections’ petitions.
The backstory: Falana’s advocacy is based on his frustration with the abandonment of other cases by judges who have been assigned to election petition tribunals. According to him, since retired judges already handle issues around arbitration and judicial commissions of enquiry, their role can be extended to cover “election petitions and appeals arising from them.” Falana’s proposal will require a constitutional amendment.
Mr. Falana’s alternative suggestion was based on the following arguments:
- Delayed cases – “Apart from appeals arising from pre-election cases and election petitions, both the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court are adjourning all pending appeals till 2020 and 2021.”
- No rest for the Judges: “The vacation of the Justices of the Court of Appeal has been cancelled to enable them to handle election-related appeals.” Traditionally, the Appeal Court goes on a yearly break from July to October. However an exception was made for, “justices with medical appointments or other pressing family issues”. Those in this category are allowed a break of not more than 15 days within this period.
The big picture: With over 350 judges drawn from across diverse courts in the country for the purpose of the petition, a number of significant cases in the country have been affected and stalled. A case in point is the indefinite adjournment of El-Zakzaky’s application to travel abroad by a Kaduna court as a result of the leave of absence by the trial judge. The original trial judge had been away for about 3 months to serve on an elections petition tribunal in Borno state. The matter was only just heard recently with the assignment of another judge.
This means that the judges will remain overburdened and many cases will continue to suffer unnecessary delays. The speed of justice delivery remains a big concern over Nigeria’s judicial sector. An investigative report by Punch in 2018 revealed that the court is burdened with over 5,000 cases, with some spanning over 3 decades. Falana’s suggestion seems quite reasonable given the present circumstances of our courts.