*How the judiciary may determine the polls
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
This report examines the role of the courts on issues bordering on next month’s polls.
Obviously, the judiciary is on the march. However, the direction in which it is marching is now the subject of grave concern in political circles. Democracy may well be defined as government of the people, by the people and for the people, considering the overwhelming role the judiciary has so far played in determining the authenticity of candidates of various political parties for next month’s general elections. But this has left many wondering whether it cannot be rightly said that Nigeria is practising ‘Democracy by Court Orders’.
It was not for nothing that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, recently cried blue-murder over about the 200 injunctions issued against it by different courts across the country. Other cases would come up immediately after the elections.
The judgments recently delivered on the crisis in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in Ogun State, and that of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), in Kano State, signpost the important roles the judiciary can play in ensuring that elections are conducted in strict compliance with the express provisions of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and the Electoral Act, 2010 as amended.
The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court had, penultimate Thursday, ordered INEC to recognise Chief Adetunji Olurin as the gubernatorial candidate of PDP in Ogun State, just as it dismissed objections of the party against his candidacy.
The party had insisted that it would only issue tickets to its aspirants in Ogun State who emerged from the primary election conducted by its team sent from Abuja. The court faulted this position – notwithstanding that Section 31 of the Electoral Act states that only political parties would submit names of its candidates for elections and not individuals.
Justice Abdul Kafarati, who delivered judgment on the matter, stated that he was convinced that the Chief Fadiro-led state executive committee of PDP lacked the locus standi to be involved in conducting parallel primary election in that state considering that it was ab initio dissolved by the National Working Committee of PDP.
The court went ahead and okayed the list of candidates submitted to INEC by the Dayo Soremi-led harmonised committee of PDP in Ogun State. The party said it never instituted such committee.
The party had, through its lawyer, Chief Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), argued that: “The plaintiffs concealed from this court the fact that an Abeokuta High Court in suit No AB/166/2010, Chief Joju Fadiro& 28 ORS Vs Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo & 5 Ors, restrained PDP from dissolving or interfering with the Chief Joju Fadiro Executive Committee of the party in Ogun State. “The plaintiffs misrepresented to the court the fact that there was a harmonised Executive Committee of the party in Ogun State, led by one Chief Dayo Soremi, when no such committee exists and when the National Executive Committee or National Working Committee of the party did not ratify or approve any such harmonised Executive Committee. My lord, whatever action or decision that body took in respect of the forthcoming gubernatorial election in Ogun State is illegal and same is not binding on PDP. Therefore, any candidate that emerged from the said process will not be recognised or sponsored by the party.”
With the court judgment, the faction of the PDP loyal to former President Olusegun in Ogun State got the mandate to contest the April election while the faction loyal to Governor Gbenga Daniel, together with the national headquarters of PDP, heads for the Appeal Court with a view to securing a higher order that would set aside the judgment of the trial court.
The appellants are contending that “the learned trial judges erred in law in granting the claim of the plaintiffs without appreciating the fact that the plaintiffs’ suit was incompetent as necessary parties were not before the court, which feature robbed and still robs the court of jurisdiction.”
The same division of the Federal High Court, penultimate Friday, ordered CPC to, forthwith, recognise Mohammed, son of the late military head of state, Sani Abacha, as its gubernatorial candidate in Kano State.
Though Abacha emerged winner after a primary election was conducted by CPC for all its gubernatorial aspirants, the party rather opted for General Ja’faru Lawal Isah, rtd, who came second in the shadow election. Whereas Isah got only 78,671 votes, Abacha polled 144,066 votes in the contest that featured three other gubernatorial aspirants.
In his judgment, Justice Gabriel Kolawole told CPC that its decision to substitute Abacha’s name amounted to a gross violation of both the Electoral Act 2010, and the electoral guidelines of CPC.
The court held that the plaintiff, having scored the highest number of votes in the primary election that was conducted by CPC in Kano on January 12, ought to have his name forwarded to INEC in line with the provisions of Section 87 of the Electoral Act 2010.
According to the judge, “it is clear that the plaintiff won the Kano State primary election but the question remains, why has the 1st defendant, CPC, refused to forward his name to INEC? If, indeed, the said election was marred by irregularities as asserted in the affidavit deposed to by the national secretary of CPC, Alhaji Buba Galadima, why did the party, rather than conduct a fresh election, forward the name of the 3rd defendant, Isah, who came second from the same inconclusive primary election, to the INEC?
“What was the yardstick that was used by the party to clear the plaintiff for the primary election if he is not qualified under Article 18 of the CPC Act to have his name forwarded to the INEC as the winner of the said inconclusive election?”
The judge held that: “In line with the powers conferred on this court by both Section 6(a) and (b) of the 1999 Constitution and Section 87(9) of the Electoral Act, I hereby order the 2nd defendant, CPC, to, forthwith, remove the name of the 3rd defendant, Isah, from its list of candidates for the scheduled general elections and replace it with the name of the plaintiff.”
Just as PDP appealed the Ogun State judgment, CPC has vowed to appeal the verdict.
In advanced democracies, political mandate resides in the voting powers of the electorate while the onus of setting up the requisite apparatus that would make it possible for the electorate to make informed political choice resides with the political parties.
However, in a situation where the tenets of internal democracy of a political party are bastardised, Section 87 (9) of the amended Electoral Act has made it possible for the judiciary to wade in and invoke its original jurisdiction accordingly.