DPA CONGRATULATES SENATOR ORJI UZOR KALU AND THE SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA FOR A JUDGMENT THAT CLARIFIED NIGERIAN LAW IN A FUNDAMENTAL WAY
By DPA Admin
The May 8 judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria on an interlocutory appeal filed by Senator Orji Uzor Kalu can be characterized as a tsunami in Nigerian law. The aftershocks and tremors of that earthquake are being felt all over the country. Nearly a hundred criminal cases pending and concluded at various Federal High Courts all over the country are affected. Some of the pending cases are presently on appeal to either Court of Appeal or even the Supreme Court.
As this judgment reverberates, we need to commend Senator Orji Uzor Kalu and Mr. Udeogu for their audacity and rigor, and the Nigerian Supreme Court for exceptional courage and daring.
Senator Kalu and his casemate, Mr. Udeogu, must have been under intense pressure to play along and to avoid rocking the boat. It was not easy to look at a Federal High Court Judge in the face and tell him that he has no authority to preside over a case and that the authorization he got from the President of the Court of Appeal to that effect was null and void. It was a big risk to dare to incur the displeasure of a whole college of senior judges in one’s country. Also, by his appeal, Senator Kalu was challenging the constitutionality of a profoundly important piece of legislation in Nigeria – the Administration of the Criminal Justice Act 2015. (The first time that law was ever challenged on constitutional grounds). That was how high the stakes that Orji Kalu played were. It required extraordinary courage to do so. And he succeeded.
On its own part, the Supreme Court understood how high the stakes were. The Court was basically invited to declare the provisions of an important federal law unconstitutional. To understand the enormity of the issue at stake, you need to know what happened when the appeal first arrived at the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division. The Court of Appeal Justices chickened out. They did not want to touch the appeal because an honest review of the case required them to do two things they seemed too scared to try. First, it required them to declare null and void the authorization which the leader of their court (President of the Court of Appeal) issued Justice Mohammed Idris to continue to preside over Senator Kalu’s case even after Idris had been elevated to the Court of Appeal as a judge. Second, as the Court of Appeal Justices read Senator Kalu’s notice if appeal, they understood that many of their colleagues were in the same boat as Idris. The appeal required them to stop several of their own colleagues from continuing with several cases they were handling. For these Court of Appeal Justices, the wrong was too huge for them to try to correct it. They preferred, instead, to allow the abnormality to become the new normal. So, the Court of Appeal dodged the appeal and refused to hear it.
Given the appellate track of Kalu’s case, one must commend the Supreme Court for extraordinary courage and rare wisdom. The Supreme Court judgment basically says: no error can be too big to be corrected, and no injustice could have run too far to be recalled. That is indeed setting a new standard in Nigeria. And for that, the Supreme Court Justices deserve our commendation.
Another important thing to note about this judgment is that it opened the floodgates for further challenges to other deficiencies in the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 which is a law motivated by the worst political witch hunt in Nigerian legislative history. The law was designed to railroad political opponents and critics of Government to jail by denying them the opportunity to stay a criminal trial even while they are legitimately challenging the jurisdiction of the trial court. The Act made it possible for a judge that lacks jurisdiction to convict a person while his challenge to the courts jurisdiction is pending on appeal. That was the mechanism used to dislodge Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen before his interlocutory appeal on jurisdictional grounds could be heard. That was the mechanism used to jail Senator Orji Uzor Kalu and destroy his business empire while his interlocutory appeal challenging jurisdiction was pending.
It will take Nigeria so much in financial and opportunity cost to revisit over a hundred cases caught up in the chaos caused by the provisions Administration of Criminal Justice Act. That law is a fraud on the nation. The Supreme Court judgment has opened the floodgates for further efforts to correct the injustices caused by that piece of legislation.
The damage is indeed enormous. Justice Bulkachuwa, President of the Court of Appeal, admitted that she had issued authorization 50 times to about eight Justices of the Court of Appeal, including Justice Idris, to enable them to conclude cases they were handling in various High Courts before they were promoted to the Court of Appeal. Apart from Kalu’s case, Justice Idris alone handled fifteen other cases in similar circumstance. Also, apart from Justice Idris, Justice Talba, Justice Umar, and Justice Ojo from the FCT High Court; and Justice Aliyu from the Federal High Court were involved in cases of similar circumstances.
The DPA organization is putting together a team of lawyers to identify people, particularly poor people, who have been convicted by judges operating under the nullified provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, in order to get them out of prisons and to seek damages for them against Federal Government of Nigeria. You cannot put a put a person in prison contrary to law and refuse to pay him damages.