By Akin Daniels
Of all the three tiers of government and institutionsÂ that underpin our democracy, none has safeguarded Nigeriaâ€s political system like the judiciary. As it is often said, an independent judiciary is the soul of every political system be it presidential or parliamentary.
In the last 10 years, the Nigerian judiciary matured to deliver defining judgments that have made the Nigeria and Nigerians proud. Whenever the hammer of justice strikes without fear or favour, it is not only the people that rejoice, but society is strengthened. The Values of a democratic society are upheld and hope for the common man is rekindled.
But because the wheel of justice sometimes turns slowly, it takes a long time for the judiciary to deliver judgment. But in this meticulous, due process and commitment to the rule of law era, we find the very ingredients that make our judiciary independent cautious and uncompromising in its fight against any appearance or possibility of justice being miscarried.
It is in this light that the decision of the Chief Justice of Nigeria who is also the chairman of the National Judicial Council , katisina â€“â€“Alu to put on hold the deliberations of the Sokoto election Tribunal in February 2010 must be seen for what it is- a triumph for the judiciary and a salute to courage. Hereâ€s why. The chief Justice of Nigeria, Katsina-Alu, upon the receipt and initial investigations of two petitions from the counsels of Governor Aliyu Magatakarda Wammako, in respect of Appeal in Sokoto governorship Appeals before the Abuja and Sokoto Courts of Appeal and another petition against the honourable President of Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice Isa Ayo Salami in respect of the same election appeal took the decisive step to stop further action on the appeals before the courts until the allegations are properly investigated. In the letter dated FebruaryÂ 19, 2010, addressed to all the five judges on the Sokoto election tribunal, Chief Justice Katsina-Alu directed inter-alia, â€œâ€¦â€¦ I forward herewith two petitions both of which dated February 15, 2010 by one Yahaya Mahmood Esq, Principal Solicitor to INEC and one Alfred N. Esq, Solicitor to Alhaji Aliyu Magatakarda Wammako. The petitions are self explanatory. Your comments should reach my chambers by 11am on Monday February 22, 2010â€. The chief Justice of Nigeria went further to direct firmly instruct thus, â€œYou are to ensure that further action on the Appeals is put on hold pending the determination of the serious allegations leveled against you and the President of the Court of Appeal, pleaseâ€.
Clearly, the Chief Justice was well within its right as the Chief Justice of Nigeria and as Chairman of the National Judicial Council to order a stay of action on the Sokoto election matter based on the strength of the petitions before him. He is saddled with the onerous responsibility of ensuring that the judiciary is not ridiculed in any way. He also has the duty to ensure that any allegations or petitions against the learned gentlemen under his supervision are investigated to determine their merits or otherwise and ultimately he is empowered to act when the need arises to ensure that there is no miss-carriage of justice. Justice must not only be seen to be done, but most be seen to be manifestly done. This is the burden of the Chief Justice Katisna-Alu and it takes decisiveness to be able to take the decision he took.
Last week, precisely On February 24, Sokoto state was prevented from sliding into political anarchy were it not for the order suspending proceedings by Katsina-Alu. His decision also prevented the judiciary from being ridiculed. It kept abay the possibility of a judicial anarchy that could have tarnished the carefully earned image of the nationâ€s judiciary. Though the Democratic Peopleâ€s Party, DPP made a show of writing a similar petition to the NJC asking it to investigate Justice Katsina-Alu for what it calls â€œâ€¦â€¦ arresting Judgment in the case of the Sokoto election tribunalâ€¦â€¦â€, the kernel of its argument that Justice Katsina-Alu lacked the powers to put on hold further action on the Appeals is on very slippery ground. The laws and the provisions therein concerning the powers of the Chief Justice are clear in our constitution and need no repeating. Katsian-Alu has not only acted according to the dictates of his conscience, but most importantly in accordance with the powers vested in him by his office.
The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and its candidate, Governor Aliyu Magatakarda Wammako have re-instated that they want justice to be done with a vow to defend the mandated of the Sokoto people freely given at the ballot box. They have expressed their faith in the nationâ€ judiciary and hope to seek every available means under the law to ensure that it is not cheated of justice.
Justice Katsina-Alu has done well so far, but he needs to do more. First, he must not allow himself to be cowed or harassed by any party to the appeals or any member of the judiciary under his watch. Rather, he must be courageous to follow through with his convictions and live up to the tradition of probity and integrity for which he is known. He must move speedily to conclude the investigation into the allegations and must give the people involved the opportunity to defend themselves. If for any reason there is a shadow of doubt that these judges have been compromised, he must again act decisively in yanking them off the case. The tribunal in Sokoto is so powerful such that his judgment when delivered is final according to our laws. This perhaps explains further why Katsina-Alu is being painstakingly careful to ensure that justice is dispensed without any undue influence.
In the case of the Anambra governorship Appeals which saw Governor Obi triumph, that of Rivers State which saw Amaechi Rotimi also triumph, to that of Governor of Delta State, Emmanuel Uduaghan who won finally among other cases, the judiciary performed creditably. The Sokoto election Appeal is another test case for the judiciary. Having had the courage to halt proceedings, the Chief Justice must commit to ensuring that anyone that stands in the way of justice is shown the way out.