By Ameh Ejekwonyilo
When the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Terhemba Tsoho, was sworn-in as the substantive head of the court on December 13, 2019, by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammad, he knew what he wanted to do to advance the frontiers of swift justice delivery within the court’s jurisdiction.
“I am committed to improving on the achievements of my predecessors in office, both in terms of infrastructure and human resources development,” Justice Tsoho had said during his address at the special court session to mark the commencement of the Federal High Court new legal year on Tuesday in Abuja.
The Chief Judge revealed that the problem of efficient and qualified manpower is being tackled with the support of the Federal Judicial Service Commission, adding, “We have bolstered the strength of the court with over a hundred officers. They are all qualified in different fields of learning and competence.” Also, the process is on the way for the appointment of some judicial officers to the bench in the coming year,” he said.
Another transformative effort was to arrest the issue of conflicting judgements and rulings that had dogged the court through interactive discussions among judges of the court, while appealing to legal practitioners and litigants to shun the unwholesome practice of ‘forum shopping,’ which had cast the court in a bad light
On Wednesday, December 16, 2020, Justice Tsoho unveiled the presentation of the Federal High Court’s Law Report for 2013 and 2014.
During the unveiling, the Chief Judge said the report is a compilation of judgements delivered by judges of the Federal High Court, adding that it would help lawyers, researchers and members of the public in their various endeavours.
Justice Tsoho equally advised his colleagues to be wary of actions that would put the court in bad light.
He charged judges and supporting staff of the court to be battle ready for the upsurge in cases that would follow the eventual control of the coronavirus disease.
“I encourage your Lordships to be wary of actions that will put us and indeed, the court in bad light. We have managed in this new beginning, to arrange interactive discussions in the course of this conference. It is my hope that Your Lordships will appreciate such arrangement.
“I will continue to urge Your Lordships and staff to put in more efforts to tackle the upsurge that will follow the eventual control of the virus, with regard to increase in the number of cases and attendant services.”
Justice Tsoho spoke on Wednesday at the opening ceremony of the annual Federal High Court Judges’ conference in Abuja.
He commended the judges for their adherence to the COVID-19 Practice Direction and other directives that were geared towards the efficient and effective administration of justice during the lockdown that was occasioned by the pandemic.
The CJ lauded President Muhammadu Buhari and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammad for their support and inspiring leadership to the judiciary, adding that the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN) and the National Assembly were equally instrumental to the modest success that was recorded by the judiciary.
Justice Tsoho noted that the process of appointing new judges had commenced, assuring that “efforts will be made to ensure that there is equitable representation on the Bench of the court.”
While giving an account of the court’s discharge of its mandate in the outgoing legal year, the Chief Judge disclosed that the court determined over 8000 cases in the 2019/2020 legal year that has just ended.
Justice Tsoho said in the year under review, a total of 10,464 cases were filed, comprising of 2,851 civil cases, 2,599 criminal cases, 3,049 motions and 1,965 fundamental rights applications.
“The total number of cases disposed of during that year was 8,585 with a total of 123, 513 pending at the end of the legal year,” he said.
The Chief Judge of while speaking on Tuesday at the commencement of the court’s new legal year (2020/2021), in Abuja, said the public criticism that greeted the court in the wake of an order freezing the bank accounts of some corporate institutions by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), was misguided.
He noted that the court did not freeze bank accounts of #EndSars protesters, but those of corporate bodies under suspicion of money laundering.
The Chief Judge said that those who made such allegations of the court freezing the accounts of #EndSars protesters were being uncharitable to the court.
According to him, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) approached the court seeking an order to freeze certain accounts of corporate bodies and names of individuals were not attached to the applications.
“I assigned those cases and no individual’s name was mentioned.
“Three months before the protest, the CBN kept bringing applications, almost in their hundreds, based on what they call deliberate resolve to ruin the economy through money laundering.
“So, it is unfortunate for people to begin to call and vilify the court; making damaging allegations against the court,” Tsoho said.
He maintained that if such steps were not taken, the Nigerian economy would have collapsed.
He added that if any of the accounts belonged to any #EndSars protester, it was a mere coincidence.
The Chief Judge had earlier noted that the legal year now ending, had been very challenging due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
He noted that as far as the virus was concerned, the country was not yet out of the woods and urged everyone to continue to take necessary measures to stay safe.
For his part, the Attorney General of the Federal and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), noted that the judiciary had risen above the challenge of Covid-19 by developing virtual court proceedings.
This, he said was to ensure that the wheel of justice was kept in motion.
Mr. Malami who was represented by Mr. Dayo Apata, (SAN), the Solicitor General of the Federation noted the need to maintain the use of ICT, particularly as the country seemed to be experiencing a second wave of the pandemic.
Speaking on behalf of the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria , Mr. Joe Gadzama (SAN) said, the outgone year was challenging in many respects a year of challenges, which made physical court hearings impracticable as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr. Gadzama lauded the Federal High Court for its foresight in providing the procedural framework for the adoption of digital tools in the administration of justice.
“The new rules, which were promulgated long before the outbreak of the pandemic, prescribe the establishment of an e-Filing Unit (Order 58). By May 2020, the Honourable Chief Judge of this court had issued Practice Directions tailored to the peculiar needs of those strange times, which Practice Directions included provisions for virtual hearings,” the Senior Advocate of Nigeria said.
Also speaking, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Olumide Akpata, who was represented by Mr Yusuf Kadiri, (SAN) noted the need to build on the ICT advantage gained as a result of the Corona virus pandemic to speed the adminstration of justice.
He noted that the challenges of the legal year ended, had however, not diminished the court’s resolve to dispense justice as the court had continued to conduct its business as vigorously as ever.