Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Nigerian judiciary’s contributions to democratic consolidation

Last month, Nigeria celebrated 18 years of uninterrupted democratic rule in the Fourth Republic. Both the executive and legislative arms spoke glowingly of their contributions to the country’s democratic consolidation. However, not much was heard about the contributions of the third arm, the judiciary. In the recent past, particularly under this All Progressives Congress government, there have been unrelenting in demonising the members of the bench and bar. Judges and lawyers are castigated as being the cog in the wheel of anti-corruption.
There are indeed corrupt judges and lawyers just as there are corrupt persons in all walks of life. However, the ignominious actions of few should not be used as a yardstick to judge an entire institution. I dare say that, but for the courage and activism displayed by the judiciary, there would have been anarchy in this country and military may have had a good reason to stage a coup to topple extant civilian administration.  Nigerian judiciary is contributing immensely to sanitising the country’s electoral process. It is  the arm of government that has been able to largely rein in the excesses of the political class.
Slowly and steadily, Nigeria’s judiciary is restoring internal party democracy into our political system and I do hope our politicians, particularly the party executives are taking note. When Dr. Chris Ngige was illegally declared the governor of Anambra State in April 2003, it was the court that restored the peoples mandate freely given to Governor Peter Obi. When Obi was wrongfully impeached by Anambra State House of Assembly, it was the same judiciary that reinstated him to office. When the Independent National Electoral Commission conducted governorship election in the state in April 2007 which saw to the emergence of Senator Andy Uba as the new governor, it was to the court that Governor Peter Obi went. The court later sacked Uba when it said the tenure of Obi starts to count from the time he was sworn in and that he is not serving out the remainder of the term of Ngige.
When the then Hon. Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State contested and won the nomination of his then party, the Peoples Democratic Party in December 2006 only to be unlawfully replaced by Sir Celestine Omehia without cogent and verifiable reasons; it was to the court he ran for succour. The Supreme  Court in a landmark judgment regarded as ‘locus classicus’  in law  on October 25, 2007 declared Amaechi the rightfully elected candidate of PDP even though he did not campaign nor have his name on the ballot. He was asked to be sworn in immediately by the apex court. The Supreme Court in taking this unprecedented position took judicial notice of its earlier judgment restoring Senator Ifeanyi Ararume who was similarly denied the gubernatorial ticket of PDP in Imo State only to be expelled by the party in order to render the court judgment a nullity.
It is important to also refresh the minds of readers that former Governors Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State, Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, Adams Oshiomole of Edo State and incumbent Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State may never have been governors if not for judiciary who assisted to retrieve their stolen mandates. Indeed, 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 party. It was another ‘locus classicus’ when the Supreme Court ruled that joint candidacy of contestants  and their  running mates end at the polls and does not extend to government. Hence, in 2007, we witnessed a divided presidency with the president being in PDP and his vice being in AC.
It took judicial intervention to retrieve the stolen mandate of Senators Ben Obi and Joy Emordi of Anambra State, Hon.  Jenkins Gwede of Delta State,  Senator Bassey Etim of Akwa Ibom State, Hon. Ben Nwankwo of Anambra State, Senator-elect Shuaibu Isa Lau of Taraba State and House of Representatives member-elect Mrs. Dorathy Mato of Benue State. Just last Friday, June 23, 2017, the Supreme Court sacked Senator Sani Abubakar Danladi (PDP, Taraba North) and the lawmaker representing Vandeikya/Konshisha Federal Constituency of Benue state in the House of Representatives, Hon. Herman Hembe (APC). Not only were they unceremoniously removed for being usurpers, the apex court also mandated both of them to, within 90 days,  return all the salaries and allowances they have collected in the last two years since they were illegally occupying their plum offices.  These judgments have now paved way for Alhaji Lau and Mrs Mato to be sworn in by the respective leadership of National Assembly to replace Danladi and Hembe.
It is noteworthy that since 2014, the Supreme Court in order to deter our political parties from wrongfully nominating or substituting their candidates has been asking all the usurpers to refund all the emoluments they have collected illegally while holding their exalted offices. It first happened in Delta State in a State House of Assembly tussle involving Mr. Edoja Akpodiete and Mr. Jenkins Gwede both of Democratic Peoples Party.  In its lead judgment delivered by Justice Walter Onnoghen, the Supreme Court ordered that the latter should take over the seat from Akpodiete as the bonafide representative of Ugelli North Constituency II. The apex court also ordered him to refund to the state coffers all the salaries and allowances he had collected since he had been occupying the seat in 2011.
 In a case involving two Basseys, the Supreme Court on February 27, 2017 sacked Senator Bassey Akpan (PDP, Akwa Ibom North) and asked INEC to issue Certificate of Return to Mr. Bassey Etim. Akpan was to refund all monies he had collected since June 9, 2015 when he was illegally inaugurated as a member of Nigerian Senate. On April 7 this year, the Supreme Court had similarly booted out Sopuluchukwu Ezeonwuka of the PDP as the representative of Orumba North/South of Anambra Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives. The Court replaced him with Chief Ben Nwankwo while asking Ezeonwuka to refund all salaries and allowances he had collected to the coffers of National Assembly.
When some governors were trying to elongate their tenure through the backdoor by misinterpreting Section 180 (2) of 1999 Nigerian Constitution as amended in 2010 to say that their tenure start to count from the day they were sworn in after winning a re-run elections, it was 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 was annulled and 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 re-run. This position was later reflected in 2010 Constitutional amendment.  It was through judicial activism that Nigeria now has staggered election in which case gubernatorial elections in Anambra, Kogi, Bayelsa, Ekiti, Edo, Ondo, and Osun now hold on different dates.  
Judiciary it was who has 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.   
Much as I like the way Nigerian judiciary has been redressing injustices in our electioneering processes, I wish that our lawmakers will amend the Constitution to put time limit to pre-election matters just like they did in 2010 for post- election matters. Most of the above cited cases were pre-election matters and they have taken the courts average of two years to make final pronouncements   on who are the rightful candidates in the legislative elections. Though those sacked have been asked to refund all the monies collected, however, unlike in the cases of the executive positions where the tenure of the winners will start to count from when they are inaugurated, the tenure of a legislator ends simultaneously with those of his or her colleagues who had been in office while the plaintiffs were in courts. This is unfair.
Of what essence is the constitutional requirement that INEC should observe party primaries, congresses and conventions when by virtue of section 31 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, the electoral body is divested of any say in who the rightful candidate of the party is, even when it knows that some of the candidates emerged from flawed nomination process? Since political parties have proved incorrigible in following due process in nominating their candidates, thereby constituting burden on the judiciary, it is my considered view that INEC should be involved in the screening of candidates put forward by parties for election.
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