Unending ‘war’ between Nigerian politicians and judges

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By Jide Ojo

There are three arms of government, no doubt: the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. They are very pivotal to sustainability of any democracy. Other institutions of democracy include the Election Management Bodies such as the Independent National Electoral Commission and State Independent Electoral Commission, Civil Society Organisations, the media and the political parties. Members of political parties are called politicians. They elect among themselves leaders to run their party offices. Some of the organs of political parties to which people are appointed or elected to occupy include the Board of Trustees, National and State Executive Committees, National and State Working Committees among others. Part of the functions of political parties include leadership recruitment and political socialisation.

Leadership recruitment function of political parties includes sponsorship of candidates for elections into both the executive and legislative positions. Critical to party nomination process is what is generally known as party primaries which is an intra-party election. When a party wins election, it gets to form government. Out of the three arms of government, politicians populate two of them, that is the Executive and the Legislative arms. But for the doctrine of Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances, the politicians would have taken over the control of the judiciary as well. However, judges in Nigeria do not stand for elections as members of the two other arms do.

Politicians across party lines are inclined to act with impunity. Many of them prefer to jettison conventional rules for rules of the thumbs. Whether in power or in the opposition, they prefer shortcuts to due process. The rule of law counts for little in their reckoning. A Friday, May 24, 2019 Supreme Court judgment had stripped the All Progressives Congress of its electoral victories in Zamfara State due to the fact that the party conducted invalid primaries. This means the primaries were not in tandem with provisions of Section 87 of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended.

Ahead of the 2019 General Election, the same apex court had barred the ruling party from contesting over 50 elective positions – Governorship, Senate, House of Representatives and State House of Assembly positions in Rivers State. This unprecedented act by the Nigerian judiciary has drawn the ire of politicians in the ruling APC who condemned the judgment of the Supreme Court.

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It was like the judges are on a war path with the ruling APC as over 20 out of about 27 Certificates of Return earlier issued by INEC to newly elected individuals under the platform of the party were withdrawn on the orders of the courts. I bear witness to the fact that the judges of different courts who have ruled against the APC may not have anything personal against those candidates. I said this because several other political parties including the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party have also suffered a similar fate as did some of the APC members. Recall that Nigerian judges had ruled against the PDP in Rivers State when the party withdrew the nomination of Chibuike Amaechi in 2006 then as a governorship aspirant, without cogent and verifiable reason, as stipulated in the Electoral Act 2006.

Nigerian judges in a rare demonstration of courage have also upturned the electoral victories of the PDP in a number of governorship cases. Examples that readily come to mind are those of former Governors Peter Obi of Anambra, Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo, Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti, Adams Oshiomhole of Edo and Rauf Aregbesola of Osun. These gentlemen might never have been governors if not for the judiciary who assisted to retrieve their stolen mandates from the PDP. But for the judiciary which came to the rescue of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, he would not have served out his tenure as Vice President neither would he have contested the 2007 presidential election under the Action Congress. It was another ‘locus classicus’ when the Supreme Court ruled that joint candidacy of contestants and their running mates ends at the polls and does not extend to government. Hence, in 2007, we witnessed a divided presidency with the President (Olusegun Obasanjo) being in the PDP and his deputy being in the AC.

When some governors were trying to elongate their tenures through the backdoor by misinterpreting Section 180 (2) of 1999 Nigerian Constitution as amended in 2010 to say that their tenures start to count from the day they were sworn in after winning re-run elections, it was the Honorable Justices of the Supreme Court who in a landmark judgment on January 27, 2012 that correctly interpreted that section of the law that any governor whose election is annulled and is asked to be re-conducted, should he win the re-run, his tenure will start to count from when he was initially sworn in and not the time he wins the re-run. This position was later reflected in the 2010 constitution amendment. It was through judicial activism that Nigeria now has staggered elections in which case governorship elections in Anambra, Kogi, Bayelsa, Ekiti, Edo, Ondo, and Osun states now hold on different dates.

Beyond elections, the Nigerian judiciary has been redressing executive recklessness and legislative rascality. It was members of Bench, judges, who have been nullifying many of the rash and unconstitutional impeachments of many deputy governors and indeed governors by the state Houses of Assembly. Among them was the nullification of the impeachments of former Governor Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State as well as those of the ex-deputy governors Sunday Onyebuchi of Enugu State, Mohammed Garba Gadi of Bauchi State, and Ali Olanusi of Ondo State.

I dare say that if not for the steadfastness and activism of some of the judges and justices of our courts, politicians would have rail-roaded Nigeria’s democracy into autocracy with the likelihood of military intervention. Rather than lampoon judges who demonstrate courage by righting the wrongs committed by politicians, we should rather laud their yeoman’s effort and encourage them to do more. Even though in electoral matters it is the politicians that win and lose, they should learn the right lessons from their electoral misfortunes.

Judges are not after the job of politicians but give these landmark judgments in order to promote democratic ethos in our political parties. I know for a fact that every judgment a judge gives wins him or her friends and enemies alike, be they in civil or criminal cases including election petitions. It is most unfortunate that politicians from the other two arms of government have been relentless in compromising the integrity of many judges by offering some of them hefty bribes that are irresistible. The political elite should desist from this ignoble practice and allow members of the bench to carry out their functions without let or hindrance; fear or favour..

Party administrators, seeing what the judiciary has done in the aforementioned election petitions cases, should be committed to due process in the management of their party affairs. It should be clear from the electoral misfortunes of the APC in Rivers and Zamfara that party constitution is subordinate to the country’s constitution, the Electoral Act and INEC Regulations and Guidelines for the conduct of the elections. Will they heed this noble advice? Time will tell.

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