⦿ CASE SUMMARY OF:
Chief (Alhaji) Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola v. Federal Republic Of Nigeria (1995) – SC
Disqualification/recusal of justices;
Likelihood of bias;
Chief (Alhaji) Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola
Federal Republic Of Nigeria (1995)
(1995) 7 NWLR (Pt.405) 1;
⦿ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
⦿ LAWYERS WHO ADVOCATED
- FOR THE APPELLANT
- Chief Ajayi, SAN
- FOR THE RESPONDENT
- Mr. Onwugbufor, Solicitor-General
The Appellant filed a motion asking the Supreme Court to restrict its’ following justices from sitting in another Abiola’s case before the Supreme Court which has to do with determining MKO Abiola’s bail/liberty.
MKO Abiola has been in jail for quite some time; he was imprisoned by the military government for declaring himself President.
The justices applied to be restricted are:
Hon. Justice Mohammed Bello – Supreme Court;
Hon. Justice Uthman Mohammed – Supreme Court;
Hon. Justice Sylvester Onu – Supreme Court;
Hon. Justice Abubakar B. Wali – Supreme Court;
Hon. Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi – Supreme Court;
Hon. Justice Emmanuel O. Ogwuegbu – Supreme Court;
Hon. Justice Muhammadu L. Uwais – Supreme Court;
Hon. Justice Salihu M. Alfa Belgore – Supreme Court;
Before now, the justices have severally sued the Concord Press Nigeria Ltd on the 5th January, 1994 claiming N50 million each as general damages for defamatory publications alleging gross improprieties and corruption against them in the Weekend Concord of 11th December, 1993 published by the Concord Press Nigeria Limited. The suits are still pending for determination by the High Court, Lagos.
It was further deposed that the applicant (Abiola) is the Chairman, Chief Executive and Publisher of the Concord Press Nigeria Limited and controls 90% of its shares. His wife, Alhaja Doyin Abiola, is the Managing Director of the Weekend Concord.
The affidavit deposes: “9. It will be in the best interests of the administration of justice in Nigeria if the Justices of the Supreme Court who have sued the respondent (the applicant) to court for substantial damages which, if awarded will erode the respondent’s financial viability, are not placed in a position to decide issues relating to his personal liberty (bracket mine.)”
⦿ HOLDING & RATIO DECIDENDI
The Supreme Court granted the motion for the said justices to be disqualified from hearing the suit.
i. Furthermore, the evidence shows that in the alleged libel complained of, the Weekend Concord accused the Justices of “gross irregularities” and corruption. Under the circumstances, it is reasonable to infer, as Chief Ajayi, S.A.N. did, that the Justices have grievances against the applicant as the publisher of the alleged libel. That being the case, I do not think it would surprise anyone if a reasonable man would think it likely or probable that there would be a real likelihood of bias on the part of the Justices if they hear and determine Chief Abiola’s case and particularly if they decide adversely against him. In that event, right-minded persons would go with the impression: “What did you expect? He accused them of corruption!” In other words, reasonable people would have the impression that the Justices were biased and would lose confidence in the administration of justice. Indeed, justice is rooted in confidence and the courts should abstain from doing anything that may erode the root of justice. The courts should enhance confidence in the administration of justice.
⦿ SOME PROVISIONS
⦿ RELEVANT CASES
The decision in Regina v. Camborne Justices (supra) together with other authorities were reviewed by Lord Denning, M.R., in Metropolitan Properties Co. Ltd. V. Lannon (1969) Q.B. 577 at page 598-599 in these words: “A man may be disqualified from sitting in a judicial capacity on one or two grounds. First, a direct pecuniary interest in the subject matter. Second, ‘bias’ in favour of, one side or against the other. So far as bias is concerned, it was acknowledged that there was no actual bias on the part of Mr. Lannon and no want of good faith. But it was said that there was, albeit unconscious, a real likelihood of bias. This is a matter on which the law is not altogether clear; but I start with the often repeated saying of Lord Hewart C.J. In Rex v. Sussex Justices. Ex parte McCarthy (1924) 1 K.B. 256 at 259: “It is not merely of some importance, but is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.’ In Regina v. Barnsley Licensing Justices, Ex parte Barnsley and District Licensed Victuallers’ Association (1960) 2 Q.B. 167 at 187 Devlin appears to have limited that principle considerably, but I would stand by it. It brings home this point: in considering whether there was a real likelihood of bias, the court does not look at the mind of the chairman of the tribunal, or whoever it may be, who sits in a judicial capacity. It does not look to see if there was a real likelihood that he would, or did, in fact favour one side at the expense of the other. The court looks at the impression which would be given to other people. Even if he was as impartial as could be, nevertheless, if right minded persons would think that, in the circumstances, there was a real likelihood of bias, on his part, then he should not sit. And if he does sit, his decision cannot stand: see Reg v. Huggins (1895) 1 Q.B. 563 and Rex v. Justices of Sunderland (1901) 2 K.B. 357 at 373 C.A.) per Vaughan Williams LJ. Nevertheless there must appear to be a real likelihood of bias. Surmise or conjecture is not enough: see Reg. v. Camborne Justices. Ex parte Pearce (1955) 1 Q.B, 41) and Reg. v. Nailsworth Licensing Justices Ex parte Bird (1953) 2 All E.R. 652 P.C.), There must be circumstances from which a reasonable man would think it likely or probable that the justice, or chairman, as the case may be, would, or did, favour one side unfairly at the expense of the other. The court will not enquire whether he did, in fact, favour one side unfairly. Suffice it that reasonable people might think he did. The reason is plain enough. Justice must be rooted in confidence and confidence is destroyed when right-minded people go away thinking: The Judge was biased’.”
⦿ NOTABLE DICTA
In law, the author, the printer, and the publisher may all be liable for a libel in respect of an article published in a newspaper. – Bello, C.J.N Abiola v. FRN (1995)