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2023 Elections: Judiciary under pressure


•Elections Tribunal sitting in Lagos

As the battle for the validity of the results of the elections shifts to the Election Petitions Tribunals, the Nigerian judiciary is perhaps most critical now unlike any other time in the country’s history, as is under unprecedented pressure and scrutiny to deliver justice on the petitions before it

In Nigeria’s history, the judiciary has never been faced with mounting pressure as it is facing currently. Since after the general election when the battle for the validity of the results of the polls shifted to various Election Petitions Tribunals, everybody has turned his or her focus to the judiciary, with many wondering if it would be able to deliver substantial justice without fear and favour.

 When the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) introduced the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), a technology that would drastically reduce electoral malpractices, Nigerians had thought election results would be more credible and less prone to legal challenges. But this was not the case.

Opposition parties alleged that the same INEC in their estimation flagrantly and willfully refused to use BVAS or followed its rules and regulations in the presidential and governorship elections. This made the several results it announced controversial and subjects of litigation.

With the results of the 2023 general election declared and the aggrieved parties asked to go to court, the only option currently before many Nigerians is to be anxious.

Many are wondering if the judiciary would be able to ensure substantial justice with their decisions reflecting the expectations and will of the people, as expressed at the polls.

The presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, who was declared winner of the election by INEC would be sworn in on May 29, and begins to discharge the functions of the president.

But many, especially his opponents, who also lay claim to victory, feel that a brave Supreme Court, like that of Kenya, can annul the election if it is found to be deeply flawed or fraudulent.

While the Supreme Court had on many occasions annulled several governorship elections, it has never tampered with the outcome of a presidential election, whether in the Second Republic or the current dispensation since 1999. This had raised questions as to whether the irregularities that led to cancellations of governorship elections were not present on a larger scale in the presidential elections.

With some controversial judgments by the Supreme Court such as the recent judgment that affirmed the Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, as the valid candidate for his senatorial district and a previous judgment that declared a governorship candidate who came fourth in the governorship election as the winner, the question on the lips of many Nigerians is whether the third arm of government would be able to live up to the expectations of the aggrieved people who filed petitions to challenge the process.

 It is against this backdrop that the organised labour and the civil society coalition, under the aegis of the Citizens’ Democratic Movement, on International Workers’ Day, urged the country’s judiciary, especially judges of the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, to help safeguard democracy by doing justice to all the election petitions brought before them.

The movement, comprising several civil society and youth organisations, alleged that INEC had seriously damaged the country’s democracy with its poor showing at the elections.

Co-conveners of the movement which included Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), Senator Shehu Sanni, Ambassador Nkoyo Toyo, Professor Udenta Udenta, Salisu Mohammed, and Olawale Okunniyi, were joined by the President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Joseph Ajaero, and the General Secretary, Trade Union Congress (TUC), Nuhu Toro, during the event.

 In his speech, Ajaero appealed to the judiciary to use the opportunity of adjudicating in the petitions arising from the 2023 general election to redeem its fast-waning image. He said the labour movement and its allies were prepared this time to monitor the operations of the judiciary.

 Ajaero, in a speech titled: “The Threatening Decomposition of Democracy in Nigeria and the Urgent Need for Citizens’ Intervention,” said the judiciary had through its many flops attracted many questions from Nigerians, adding that, “if they fail to answer those questions within a short time, we would create a hall of shame for those judges that come up with judgments, for those judges that create such problems, that would happen soon.”

 He further said there was a need for the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and all arms of the judiciary to speak out on happenings in the judiciary and frankly ponder whether the judiciary was still the last hope of the common man.

 Ajaero, who reminded the members of the judiciary to remember that the destiny of the country was in their hands, said, “It is either they fulfill it or they betray it once again. When they tell you to go to the court, they’re telling you that, that is the end of the matter. Somebody will steal yam and say go to the court. On what basis are those statements being used?

 “That’s the level of ridicule that the judiciary has brought and as Nigerians, we all need to come out to rescue the judiciary, else there’ll be no need to continue to go to court.”

 Ajaero noted that NLC identified with the movement not necessarily on a political basis, but in order to rescue the country.

Addressing journalists at the end of their meeting at Labour House, in Abuja, the spokesperson of the group, Toyo, accused INEC of attempting to destroy democracy by failing to uphold the provisions of the Electoral Act and even their own set rules.

 Toyo stated, “This 2023 general election became an anti-climax, dashing the hopes of Nigerians for credible elections and denying citizens the emergence of qualitative political leadership across Nigeria.

 “Clearly, INEC in cahoots with some members of our political class has driven a death nail into the democratic experience of most Nigerians, thus, leaving the electorate despondent to resort to self-help in their effort to salvage whatever is left of their vibrant political engagement with the 2023 elections. 

 “Unfortunately, the majority of Nigerians, especially the youths, who fought with patriotism to reset their country through the ballot box, are now wondering if elections have not become the tool for legitimising the corrupt takeover of Nigeria.

 “Therefore, as affected individuals and parties resort to the court as the main conflict resolving mechanism, we hope that the judiciary, as the final arbiter, will ensure that the malfeasances of those powerful individuals and their corrupt allies will not be rewarded but, rather, they will be discredited and punished.

“We are calling on the Justices of the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court to rise up to the occasion by restoring the people’s confidence in the processes that were abused by INEC and also stem the deep decline of our democracy.”

Recently, in his Easter message, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Matthew Kukah, told judges that the future of the country depends on how they arrive at their much-awaited judgment.

He added that Nigerians are saddened that the judges’ sacred temples have been invaded by the political class leaving the toxic fumes that now threaten their reputation as the last hope for all citizens.

 The renowned clergy said it was sad that their hard- earned reputation is undergoing very severe stress and pressure from those who want justice on their own terms.

 “Nigerians are looking up to you to reclaim their trust in you as the interpreters of the spirit of our laws. The future of our coun­try is in your hands. You have only your conscience and your God to answer to when you listen to the claims and counterclaims of Nigerian lawyers and have to decide the future of our country.

 “We pray that God gives you the wisdom to see what is right and the strength of character and conscience to stand by the truth. You have no obligation to please anyone. Our future depends on how you arrive at your much-awaited judgment,” he said.

 On his part, former Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Onaiyekan, said it doesn’t make much sense for President-elect, Bola Tinubu, to be sworn in before the conclusion of the election tribunal.

Speaking during an interview on television last week, Onaiyekan said the system of electioneering in the nation should be reviewed, noting that it would produce winners who don’t have the shadow of the court lurking behind their victory.

“There are cases in court that have not been disposed of. That is why we are in an anomalous situation. We have a president-elect whose election is being challenged and the court is handling it. I’m still waiting for the court to tell me who won the election. It doesn’t make much sense to be swearing in people when they are still in court, he said.

 Ahead of the hearing and determination of the various petitions filed to challenge the elections, Olu Fasan had implored the tribunals not to use technicality in subverting the will of the people. He specifically urged the Supreme Court not to treat politicians as if they are fungible or substitutable, but to annul the election and order a rerun for there to be direct electoral links between the governed and those governing them.

 He urged the apex court to be brave like the Supreme Court of Kenya, which can annul the election if it’s deeply flawed or fraudulent.

 “Would the judiciary ensure substantive justice so that their decisions reflect the will of the people, as expressed in elections, instead of perverting it? Or would the tribunal or the court be the continuation of politics by other means, whereby judges give subjective judgments that are not defined by law, evidence and justice? Sadly, based on the past, few can vouch for the judiciary to do the right thing.”

However, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo (SAN), had slammed the labour union for threatening to create a hall of shame for judges that undermine the tenets of the judiciary and come up with ridiculous judgments on election petitions.

Keyamo warned that any attempt to ‘intimidate’ the Nigerian judiciary as it prepares to begin hearing in the presidential election petition would be an invitation to crisis.

In a long treatise on Twitter, Keyamo drew attention to a group of people he said had formed themselves into “watchdogs” over the judiciary in respect of the pending election petitions.

“Any attempt to destroy the judiciary as these characters are bent on doing, is an invitation to another Sudan. Just as they often issue the empty boast that they are a different movement and the judiciary should not ‘mess’ with them, they will soon realise that the judiciary is also a different kind of institution with which they cannot ‘mess’ with,” he wrote.

With the alleged failure of the INEC to make the elections credible, free, fair, transparent and therefore acceptable to all the stakeholders, the judiciary is now under immense pressure. (THISDAY: Text, excluding headline)



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