Dr Anthony Phillips
From time immemorial, the Judiciary has and will always be the last bastion of justice and democracy. However, when it abandons its rightful role as ascribed to it by the Constitution, it is not only discrediting but also destructive to any Nation.
With respect to the recently concluded election, one can safely say that the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) failed in carrying out its duties when the presidential election, a good percentage of the governorship elections and the legislative elections ended up in the courts to seek justice. So again, one can see that a significant proportion of the election is being decided by the courts.
What role is the ballot-box playing in our democracy when election results have over 50 percent of them decided by the courts?
Why bother to campaign for votes when you could simply muster enough funds to pay your way through the Judiciary? INEC’s role in this last election was that of the courts’ gatekeeper.
The 2023 elections were fraught with so many problems. Some of my observations include the following:
1) The ruling party used its power to enact the Electoral law which it did not comply with and then used the court to bypass the process. A case in point is the former President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan, and the current Senate President Godswill Akpabio, both of whom contested for the presidential candidacy in their party primaries and could not take part in the senatorial primary to avoid double nominations in compliance with the electoral law. The Supreme Court reclaimed these senatorial seats for both gentlemen, even when they did not participate in the primary elections for these positions. Only the ruling party was faced with the challenge of double nominations in court in another case involving the Presidential Candidate of the party. And the court’s ruling on the matter was that the double nomination was not committed intentionally, therefore, it could not be considered a violation. How did the court arrive at that conclusion? Is the court now a psychic mind-reader? Wow, what a joke this Judiciary has turned itself into!
2) The courts became complicit in rulings. Cases related to double nominations mentioned earlier are good examples of how the courts have failed to protect our democracy. We had the era of the former Chief Judge of the Appeal Court, Justice Ayodele Salami, who usurped the function of the election umpire, INEC. Justice Salami used the court, through his application of substitution by elimination, to juggle figures of election results to favour the party of his paymaster. This errant crookedness was used to subdue the paymaster’s opponents over time. However, Salami’s tricks were finally uncovered and he was investigated. By then, unfortunately, several cases had been compromised, including that of Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola vs Olagunsoye Oyinlola. The Judge was removed from office eventually, and probed by the Judiciary, but nothing was heard of the investigation. Instead the opposition party became the ruling party and reassigned him to head a quasi-legislative committee. A reward for a job well done it seems.
3) Lately, the Supreme Court ruled that some matters before the elections were post-election matters, only for the presidential election tribunal (after the elections) ruled on the same matters as being pre-election. What a confused Judiciary! Again, the Constitution stipulates that criminals cannot hold elected positions in this country, but here we have a Judiciary that invalidated our Constitution by refusing to rule in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. Rather members of the Bench continue to apply the laws to curry favour and support the government; in which case, even if they have to be relieved of their duties after the damage has been done, they would be given protection by their employers i.e. the ruling party. As stated earlier, the fact that former Justice Salami was enhanced by the government, instead of making him to face the consequences of his actions shows that we have a long walk ahead of us. When people continue to destroy our democracy without anyone being held accountable and no repercussions for those who gained from these corrupt practices, what message is being passed the future dealers who might find themselves in such positions in future? What awaits the potential dealers who benefited from these sharp practices? If our nation is not prepared to address these concerns that threaten our future generations and our democracy, then we should be ready for the unanticipated consequences.
4) The Judiciary that refuses to recognise the changing mood of the society is not in any position to interpret the Constitution. Nigerians and the slavery mentality has been that once a President is sworn in, he could not be removed. That had been the case over the last few election cycles and it is now expected to continue. The Judiciary had been responsible for this scandal because it had ruled over many cases to sustain the ruling parties in power for decades until now. So we are at the crossroads now. The people have changed; they are calling for justice and nothing less. They realise that the compromises of yesteryears yielded no tangible benefits to our current economic situation, neither have they grown our democratic institutions and processes. Those compromises of the past, aimed at unifying the nation, were made towards settling our tribal and cultural differences. But they failed to resolve our problems, which had very little to do with the solutions proffered by the ruling party; and the Judiciary were not only selfish and corrupt, but also dangerous to our democracy.
5) For over two decades, the voting population has been shrinking because citizens have no confidence in the electoral processes and the results published, which are irreconcilable with their own facts. The ruling party enticed the voters by ensuring that electoral laws and regulations were published and advertised in Social Media, Electronic Media, as well as Print Media. After all these, the umpire, INEC, put all kinds of impediments in order to control the process, knowing full well that it was not ready to deliver a credible result. A lot of the voters couldn’t register because of the proximity of registration centres to the voting population. So registration was grossly inadequate and underfunded in spite of all the money allocated to INEC. On the D-Day the voters were prevented from voting for their choice candidates by hoodlums; and many voters only succeeded in casting their ballots at the risk to their lives. Now waiting for the election results to be released in real time as promised by the umpire (INEC) became a problem. And when the results were announced, it was clearly not in consonance with the facts. The results were tampered with by the umpire. And what is worse is that till today, the results have not been published by the umpire who announced the winner of the presidential election. Why? Most of the results announced at the collation centre were falsified. And yet the presidential election tribunal ruled in favour of the winner even when no final figures were available as a result of lack of diligent implementation of the electoral processes.
Again, in the last-minute deliberate attempt to frustrate the opposition by the ruling party, the Electoral Act enacted violated the rights of those parties by instructing them to rewrite their constitutions by redefining the composition of the delegates to national primary elections. The parties should be able to exercise the right to organize their own house preparatory for all elections. All the draconian laws hurriedly put together were designed to make it harder for the opposition parties to prepare for elections; while the ruling waded through their own rank-and-file to select candidates instead of electing their presidential, senatorial, House of Representatives and governorship candidates. These are issues that the world can see but our Judiciary has failed to highlight.
In conclusion, our Judiciary cannot continue to undermine the people or rather the citizens as the legitimate sovereign.
The Judiciary as the third arm of government is given the power to interpret the law and sometimes make laws in the process. The Constitution ensured that the three arms of government are given powers of checks and balances in their assigned roles. However, our Judiciary continues to compromise its duties by dancing to the rhythm of pecuniary motivations to move away from the application of the rule of law and to ensure that the sanctity of our Judiciary is respected and preserved. Going this perfidious way, the Judiciary aids those derailing our democracy and undermining our Constitution through imposing an authoritarian regime. Until our Judiciary can cushion itself from corruptive politics, our freedoms will remain restricted and compromised while our nation’s democracy will remain in jeopardy.
DR ANTHONY PHILLIPS WRITES FROM LAGOS