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RAISING BIAS ON JUDGES BASED ON TRIBE OF LITIGANT

Dictum

I must not conclude this judgment without addressing the unnecessary and unfair allegations against the learned trial judge by Appellants’ counsel. Judges are human beings, they do not fall from heaven nor are they manufactured from Mars or Neptune. As with all human beings they originate from somewhere, a race, a community, or tribe. Appellants’ counsel devoted a lot of energy on attacking the personality of the learned trial judge on pages 17-19 of the Appellants’ brief on the basis of an alleged kinship with the 2nd Respondent. The attack was unnecessary and mischievous in the circumstances of this case. This Court held in Abalaka v. Minister of Health (2006) 2 NWLR (Pt. 963) 105 at 134 per Muhammed JCA thus: “The constitutional provision of fair hearing has no tribal insinuation of the composition of the bench vis- a-vis the tribes of the parties. A party should not be heard to complain that because he is not of the same tribe with members of the bench, he cannot have a fair hearing. That in my humble view is the most invidious and incongruous approach to this very important legal principle. If the contention is correct, then most if not all trials in our judicial system, must be faulted because the composition of most Courts may not agree with the tribes of the litigants. Perhaps an example will make the point clearer. No Asian, American, German or any other foreigner would submit to the jurisdiction of a Nigerian Court because virtually all Courts in Nigeria are constituted by Nigerians. Was Section 3 of the 1979 Constitution, which is now Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution , designed to cure such a crude situation. No, not at all. Tribal Composition at the bench per se cannot be basis for the charge of bias or likelihood of bias, unless the aggrieved party shows by the conduct of the bench such bias, or likelihood of bias. The constitutional provision of fair hearing is already large and omnibus and I am not prepared to expand the frontiers beyond its onerous content or ambit.”

— H.M. Ogunwumiju, JCA. Godwin Ukah & Ors. V. Christopher A. Onyia & Ors. (CA/E/295/2008, 21 Jan 2016)

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BIAS DEPENDS ON THE IMPRESSION IT WOULD CREATE ON OTHER PEOPLE

In the case Kenon v. Tekam (2001) 14 NWLR (pt. 732) pg. 12, Bias is defined as – “An opinion or feeling in favour of one side in a dispute or argument resulting in the likelihood that the court so influenced will be unable to hold an even scale.’ On the test for determining real likelihood of bias, the court does not look at the mind of the Justice himself or at whoever it may be who sits in a judicial capacity. It does not look to see if there was 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 the other people. Even if he was as impartial or could be, nevertheless if right minded persons think that in the circumstances there was a real likelihood of bias on his part, and then he should not sit. And if he does sit, his decision cannot stand. The reason is plain enough. Justice is rooted in confidence and confidence is destroyed when right-minded people go away thinking that the judge was biased.”

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BIAS MUST BE REAL – IT MUST HAVE AN IMPRESSION ON OTHER PEOPLE

The test of determining a real likelihood of bias is that the court does not look at the mind of whoever sits in judicial capacity. It does not look to see if there was real likelihood that the judge would, or did, infact, favour one side at the expense of the other. It rather, looks at the impression which would be given to the other people. The likelihood of bias, nevertheless, must be real, not a surprise, caricature or a game of chance.

– T. Muhammad, JSC. Womiloju v. Anibire (2010) – SC.211/2002

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BIAS – CAPABLE OF PERVERTING JUSTICE MUST BE ESTABLISHED

On the ‘role’ played by Mr. Kolawole as counsel, even if Kolawole JCA was indeed the same person who participated as a solicitor to the plaintiffs and they lost and the suit proceeded to appeal court wherein one of the judges was alleged to have played a role when he was a lawyer, such allegation can hardly disqualify him from participating as a judge except where it can be established that his participation is capable of perverting the cause of justice against the adverse party.

– T. Muhammad, JSC. Womiloju v. Anibire (2010) – SC.211/2002

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REAL LIKELIHOOD OF BIAS MUST BE INFERRED BY A REASONABLE PERSON

If it can be reasonably inferred by a reasonable person sitting in court, from the circumstances that there is a real likelihood of bias against one of the parties on the part of the court, it must follow irresistibly that party’s right to a fair hearing had been contravened and the decision on the issue between the parties by the court in such circumstances should not be allowed to stand.

– T. Muhammad, JSC. Womiloju v. Anibire (2010) – SC.211/2002

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THE EFFECT OF BIAS ON A JUDGE

On the subject of bias, I make bold to say that the allegation once made is a serious one. This in my opinion is more serious because in this instance, the integrity of the Judge is being attacked. The language of bias is indicative of a deliberate action by the Judge to look outside the law and the facts to decide a matter. Accusing a judicial officer of bias is to say that the judicial officer is not fit to take over the responsibility of such great honour and a direct affront to the oath of office that he took on the day he was sworn in. In fact, a Judge is a representative of God on earth and therefore should imbibe the principle of justice and therefore jealously guide this divine calling. To be a judicial officer takes more than knowledge of the law and been intelligent but must more requires good character in both the strict and general sense of the word. An appeal on grounds of bias is a challenge on the character, the integrity of the judicial officer. It is a challenge that takes away from him the covering of decency as a judicial officer. I am going into all that to drive home the point that lawyers should be very careful in accusing a judicial officer of bias except when there is convincing evidence to buttress that. I make bold to say that the time has come for disciplinary action to be taken against lawyers who accuse a Court or Judge of bias which he can not establish. Once a Court has been accused of bias, unfortunately it cannot be taken back and no matter how clean the judicial officer is, there is a dent on his integrity even if it is by one person who earlier held him in high esteem. – EBIOWEI TOBI, J.C.A. Abdul v. State (2021)

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NATURE OF BIAS IN A PROCEEDING

‘Bias’, generally, is that instinct which causes the mind to incline toward a particular object or course. When a judge appears to give more favour on consideration to one of the parties before him, either in his utterances, attention or actions, which is capable of perverting the cause of justice, or where fair hearing cannot be said to take place, all in favour of the party he supports covertly or overtly, then an allegation of bias against him can be grounded. That of course is a Judicial bias. But where a trial has been conducted in which the authority of the court has fairly been exercised in consistence with the fundamental principles of justice embraced within the conception of the process of law, then there is said to be a fair hearing. This contemplates of allowing the parties equal opportunity to present evidence; to cross-examine witnesses and for the trial court to make findings which are supported by evidence.

– T. Muhammad, JSC. Womiloju v. Anibire (2010) – SC.211/2002

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