June 17, 2024

PEPT: MURIC warns Catholic bishops to stop bullying judges

Sequel to the judgement delivered by the five-man Presidential Elections Petitions Tribunal (PEPT) which ruled unanimously in favour of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Vice-President Kashim Shettima, the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), Archbishop Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, has warned the Supreme Court not to bend the law in favour of anyone.

The warning came on Sunday, 10th September, 2023 during the opening ceremony of the 2023 second plenary assembly of the CBCN.

Meanwhile an Islamic human rights organization, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) has faulted the catholic bishops.

In a statement issued by its Executive Director, Professor Ishaq Akintola, on Tuesday, 12th September, 2023, the organisation accused the bishops of insincerity, double-speakin, bias against those who won the case at the tribunal and bullying of Supreme Court judges.

The full statement reads:

“The president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), Archbishop Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, on Sunday 10th September, 2023 descended heavily on the verdict of the five-man Presidential Elections Petitions Tribunal (PEPT) which ruled unanimously in favour of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Vice President Kashim Shettima.

“MURIC finds the bishops’ stand on the verdict pregnant with insincerity, double standard and bias against the defendants. In particular, we find the bullying of Supreme Court judges debasing, denigrating and totally unacceptable.

“It is a manifestation of insincerity for the bishops to first reject the tribunal’s verdict and to follow it up by warning the Supreme Court judges ‘Not to bend the law in favour of anyone’.

“Nigerians need to contextualise the warning against the background of an existing judgement given in favour of ‘someone’ already while juxtaposing it with the bishops’ rejection of that judgement. Had there been no judgement at all in favour of anyone had been good, but there is a subsisting judgement which the bishops are faulting.

“It simply means the bishops spoke with a mindset. They have a favourite. They have a candidate and what they mean is this, ‘Oh ye judges of the Supreme Court, the tribunal has ruled in favour of ‘someone’ but we have rejected it because the judges ‘adopted a dismissive approach’. We therefore warn you ahead. Your ruling will be rejected by us if it also fails to favour our candidate.’

“We are pleasantly surprised that the bishops described a judgement document of more than 798 pages as ‘dismissive approach’. The voluminous document that got many of the lawyers sleeping in court as it took fourteen hours to deliver. The learned judges were meticulous in their delivery of the judgement. To call that ‘dismissive’ is to be guilty of premeditated trivialization.

“Yet the bishops engaged in double-speaking when they described the delivery of the judgement as ‘marathon’. The gap between ‘dismissive approach’ and ‘marathon’ delivery is like the distance between heaven and earth. Such inconsistency is unexpected of men of the bishops’ caliber whom many look upon as models and leaders.

“We expected the catholic bishops to seize the opportunity of the second plenary of the seminary to lecture the authors of the plethora of prophecies about the outcome of the election, and even that of the tribunal judgment, all of which turned out to be false. They became a monumental embarrassment.

“As leaders the bishops also failed to advise the opposition against cyber bullying, threats, insults, abuses and blackmail. That is not how we should continue in Nigeria.

“We were disappointed that the bishops failed to advise the opposition on global best practices among the electorate and the citizenry generally. Perhaps the bishops are comfortable when judges and members of their families are threatened and when the pictures of people’s children are sent to them as threats.

“Instead of speaking out against these bohemian attitudes, the bishops decided to set bad precedent by sending a chilling warning to judges of the Supreme Court. The only achievement expected in that warning is the emboldening of characters behind cyber-bullying, threats and insults and the depletion of confidence and trust in the nation’s judiciary.

“For deciding to issue this jaundiced statement, and for warning the highly revered judges of the Supreme Court, the bishops have proved that they are worse than the Obedients. There is no difference between that warning and the threats issued by the Obedients

“By issuing that warning, the bishops became impediments to a free judiciary. It is not only a tyrannical government that can be a threat to the independence of the judiciary and its freedom, a belligerent citizenry as well as any arrogant institution or group, whether social or spiritual, that proves unwilling to submit to the rule of law can equally constitute cogs in the wheel of freedom of the judiciary.

“The judiciary must be free from fear of physical, psychological and spiritual attacks to be able to deliver judgement without fear or favour whereas the bishops’ warning was calculated to create fear in the judges of the Supreme Court even before the case files reach their tables. It is calculated to coerce the judges to make judicial pronouncements that will favour the bishops’ favourite candidate.

“It is unclerical to bully judges and, by the way, only those whose cases are watery and without merit try to intimidate judges. Only men of little faith do. This is what the bishops are expected to have in abundance (faith) by virtue of their calling. Nigerians are tremendously disappointed. It is demeaning. The bishops and all Nigerians must have tons of faith in the judges that the Nigerian judiciary may remain credible.

“MURIC charges judges of the Supreme Court to ignore the veiled threat from the Catholic bishops and to confront the case brought before them with truth, strength, vigour and faith.

“To all judges we say, ‘Stand firm like the Rock of Gibraltar and fear not. Your chamber is hallowed and your profession most noble. Men of conscience will stand by you but, above all, Almighty God will vindicate you’.”

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