Agenda for Dongban-Mensem

After the initial delay, President Muhammadu Buhari finally approved the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC), that Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem be appointed President of the Court of Appeal (PCA). For inexplicable reason, Dongban-Mensem’s appointment was stymied in speculative controversy. But, thankfully, on June 12, she was sworn in after her confirmation by the senate, in accordance with section 238(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).

We congratulate Justice Dongban-Mensem for the feat she has attained as President of the second highest court in our country, and fortuitously, the second female president of the appellate court. We identify with the advice given by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad (CJN), to the new PCA: “If you sustain your good character and conduct, your tenure will definitely be an excellent one.” The CJN also added: “Try to be yourself and do not allow others derail you. Remain what we know you for.”

If Justice Dongban-Mensem was an excellent judge, as testified by the CJN, she should keep it up; but if she was less than stellar, then she should brace up, considering the enormous responsibility placed on her shoulders. But there is no doubt that many litigants see the Court of Appeal as a mere bus stop, in their journey to the Supreme Court. Perhaps the reason for that is because the Court of Appeal has not been giving judgments that are inviolable by the Supreme Court, based on sound reasoning and sagacious jurisprudence.

If, over time, decisions of the appeal court get confirmed by the Supreme Court, the urge to go further to the Supreme Court would reduce; and it lies in the hands of the justices of the appellate court to make it so. The new PCA can help make it happen by providing practice directions that will make the procedures of the court unassailable. Take for example the unbridled instances of ex-parte injunctions, and conflicting decisions by the different divisions of the court, sometimes over matters that are all fours, with each other.

We urge the PCA to create a robust and secure website for the various divisions of the appellate court, so that all the justices in the various divisions, by touch of a botton, can know the pending cases in other divisions, and what decisions have been reached by their brother justices on similar matters that may amount to giving conflicting orders in related cases to related parties.

As we have seen at the high courts in recent times, litigants are never afraid of forum shopping in their inordinate ambition to overreach their opponents. Such conflicting decisions put the courts in bad light, and give the impression that justice is for sale. The PCA must therefore work hard to ensure that the Court of Appeal avoids such pitfalls. The status of the court under her care will either increase or diminish based on how she administratively controls the various divisions of the court.

To succeed, the PCA must consult regularly with the heads of the divisions and other justices of the appellate court. His Lordship must get her colleagues to buy into her vision and programmes for the court. A shared vision, no doubt, is the recipe for success. The new PCA must brace up for hard work, noting the advice of the CJN that: “work load in the Court of Appeal, especially in the divisions, is the highest.” Again, the CJN rightly called the Court of Appeal “a home of cooperation” and we urge Justice Dongban-Mensem to ensure the divisions cooperate to restore confidence in the appellate court.

Read the full article in The Nation

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