The recent crisis, which rocked the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), brought to fore the unending abuse of ex-parte orders impugning the nation’s administration of justice.
Ex-parte is a Latin phrase whereby judicial proceedings are conducted for the benefit of only one person or applicant in a matter of urgency before the court with a view to protecting the res pending final determination of a suit.
In the word of Niki Tobi (1992) JSC, he said: “Ex-parte in our adjectival laws means proceedings brought on behalf of one interested party without notice to and in the absence of the other party. This means that the application for interim injunction brought ex-parte is heard by trial judges in the absence of the adverse party.”
But overtime, the Nigerian justice administration had, in one of its numerous reforms, fine-tuned the use of ex-parte by ensuring that the other party in a suit is put on notice before ex-parte application is determined while preserving the res.
This means that no interim injunction or restraining order can be procured behind the back of an interested party in a case before the court. In this case, such ex-parte application must be heard expeditiously by a trial judge who will abandon other cases to entertain the ex-parte application because of its urgency.
Over the years, especially the last 20 years of democracy, ex-parte order has variously been abused in the courts by politicians through their lawyers, thereby bringing the hallowed temple of justice into disrepute.
Recent example of such abuse is in the leadership crisis, which rocked APC as some party chieftains rooted for the removal of its erstwhile national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.
Two judges gave different orders in one case. For instance, an Abuja High Court had ordered the temporary suspension of Oshiomhole as APC bational chairman pending the determination of a suit before it.
The judge, Justice Danlami Senchi, ordered Oshiomhole to stop parading himself as national chairman of APC pending the final determination of a suit filed by the party’s National Vice Chairman (North-East), Comrade Mustapha Saliu and five others.
But less than 24 hours after Senchi’s temporary order, a Federal High Court of coordinate jurisdiction in Kano presided over by Justice A. Lewis-Allagoa, returned Oshiomhole to office. The court set aside the earlier ruling, which suspended Oshiomhole from office.
Besides, the judge restrained the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from dealing, communicating or howsoever recognising any person other than Oshiomhole as the bational chairman of APC for any party business or carrying out duties vested on the Commission by the Electoral Act.
This is nothing but a judicial recklessness and an abuse of ex-parte interlocutory injunctive order amplified on corrupt practice among judicial officers.
Ask an ordinary litigant or a Nigerian, they would tell you that the underlining factor responsible for abuse of ex-parte order is nothing but corrupt practices. This is not to say that there are no incorruptible judges on the Bench, but some of them have made themselves tools in the hands of moneybag politicians, giving the judiciary a bad name.
The nation’s judiciary, which once paraded the likes of Kayode Eso, Chukwudifu Oputa, Nnaemeka Agu and Niki Tobi, no doubt, has derailed; it needs urgent reform to rescue it from the path of judicial blaze, which may otherwise consume its mantra cardinal principle of last hope of the masses.
Nigeria’s judiciary was one of the best in terms of sound mind and judgements, ethics, strict adherence to oath and principle of justice under these first generation of judges.
Judges of that era were the cynosure of all eyes as some nations in Africa ‘borrowed’ judges from Nigeria, even as our judges were the best in Commonwealth nations.
Today, the judiciary has derailed from its traditional duty of arbitrating without fear or favour. Abuse of ex-parte order, cash-and-carry judgements and the masses resorting to self-help are on the rise following this misdemeanour in the nation’s judiciary.
It is, however, obvious from the above that the rabid raison d’etre for the abuse of ex-parte order is one of the many reasons the judiciary needs reform if the third arm of government must regain its lost glory.
The recent directive by the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho, to all judges of the Federal High Courts across the country to refrain from granting ex-parte orders in any political case brought before the courts is a welcome development.
No doubt, Justice Tsoho’s directive is an indication of the high level of abuses in the exercise of such powers in the country’s judicial process, especially as it has to do with political matters.
There is no gainsaying that political litigants embrace the instrumentality of ex-parte orders to cause unnecessary political logjams through frivolous applications.
This is the time Chief Justice Mohammed Tanko, who is the head of Nigeria’s judiciary, should stamp his feet against further abuse of ex-parte order with punitive sanctions against erring judges.
Also, the Chief Justice must ensure that no judge must entertain matters of which the course of action has arisen from outside their judicial divisions as demonstrated by Kano court in Oshiomhole’s case if the flagrant abuse of ex-parte order must be checked and sanity restored to the hallowed chamber of the nation’s temple of justice.