By Ochereome Nnanna
NOT being a lawyer, I am leaving the legalisms of this matter to lawyers and judges. But as a private citizen with a strong viewpoint, I am saying NO to the verdict of Justice Adamu Bello of the Federal High Court of Abuja, which on February 23, 2011, ruled that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should not conduct governorship elections in five states because the tenures of their incumbent governors had not expired.
The benefiting governors are: Murtala Nyako of Adamawa, Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa, Liyel Imoke of Cross River , Ibrahim Idris of Kogi and Magatakarda Wamakko of Sokoto. These governors had had their elections nullified in 2008.
They returned to the polls to re-contest within 90 days. They were able to win again and were sworn-in for the second time. The most ridiculous case is that of Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta, who after spending about 42 out of 40 months, had his election nullified.
He re-contested, won, was sworn-in again and has gone to court to have his name included in the court-imposed largesse of tenure elongation which, if granted will have him spending over 11 years if he wins his “second” term some time in the future.
Many lawyers had applauded Justice Bello’s verdict as a correct interpretation of 180 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria “as it is”. Sometimes, these lawyers and judges confuse those of us who are not “learned” in their art of riding the law as if it is an ass. Today, a judge interprets the law “as it is”, while tomorrow, under a different set of stimuli he interprets it “as it should be”.
When he dwells on it “as it is”, he is interested in the bare and clinical letters of the law, but when he switches to “as it should be” he is exploring the spirit of the law, where the issues of value judgement, etiquette and morality come in.
There is a purpose and an intendment behind every enactment to solve the problems of society. The question that immediately came to mind after going through Justice Bello’s verdict was: What problem did it solve? I, personally, did not see any. Rather, the learned Judge: (a) granted the governors illegal tenure elongation; and (b) gave bountiful rewards to “sinners”, thus contradicting the principle: “The wages of sin is death”.
By arguing that a governor who takes an oath for a second time after his first election was nullified is starting afresh, Justice Bello overruled the constitutional limit of four years or a maximum of eight years for occupants of the seat of governor. I am wondering why some legislators, whose elections were similarly nullified and they underwent re-runs and returned to their legislative chambers after winning again were never given similar tenure elongations. No legislator stays put after the expiry of his/her legislative session simply because they got favourable court verdicts. If it does not apply to them why should it apply to governors?
The law punishes offenders. It does not reward them. These governors were sued to the tribunals over alleged electoral offences. The courts examined their cases and agreed that they were wrongly put in power by the INEC and thus ordered them to go and run again. There are those who argue that having discovered that they were favoured by the electoral umpire after fouling the laws of the land, they should have been barred from participating in any re-run.
This argument stretches the point a bit. The fact is that the INEC, being the statutory agency empowered to pronounce winners and losers of elections gave victory to them. Unless acts of lawlessness are traced directly to the governors, it may be a bit unfair to ask them not to participate in a re-run.
But having allowed them to re-contest, it is outright irresponsibility to allow them to start all over again, as if the period they spent in error in power did not exist!
The danger in Justice Bello’s interpretation, apart from rewarding sinners rather than sanctioning them, is that governors with evil intentions can manipulate the situation and be in power for as long as 15 years! If Uduaghan is allowed to enjoy this unholy booty, he would spend seven and a half years doing his “first” term. Nothing stops him, when he stands election for his “second” term, from funding another nullification of his election nearly four years into his second tenure, return to the poll and win again to start a fresh four years.
It can happen. Governors control huge funds and can develop the network in the judiciary to give them what they want at the expense of our constitution and our democracy.
I give kudos to the INEC under Professor Attahiru Jega, for the bold step it has taken to challenge Justice Adamu Bello’s verdict on appeal. It is a pro-democracy, pro-constitution and patriotic step. We hope the process would be exhausted before it is too late, and that the Higher Bench will apply due wisdom in reining in this unconstitutional transgression.