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Separating morality from legality

By Kunle Oyatomi
The defective nature of the 1999 constitution is becoming more glaring. If anything, the latest judgement on the Zamfara Governor Mahmud Aliyu Shinkafi’s defection from ANPP, (the party on which platform he was elected), gives urgency to the need for thorough rework of that constitution.

In his judgement on the matter, the presiding Federal High Court judge, Justice Adamu Bello said that though the defection of Governor Shinkafi and others was “morally reprehensible,” the governor did not offend against the constitution.

In other words, an “immorality” which is not specifically punishable by the law cannot be declared illegal by our (or any) court. This is sad but true. However, it is patently counter-productive for our fledgling democracy.

We are at a loss to determine whether or not the lacuna in the constitution regarding carpet crossing for Executive Governors was deliberate. I like to give the drafters of the 1999 constitution a benefit of doubt and assume that it wasn’t their intention for sitting governors to betray their party’s trust by such “morally reprehensible” conduct as Shinkafi’s defection from the ANPP to the PDP.

What this tells us in very clear language is that the current breed of politicians cannot be trusted to act responsibly at critical moments when morality and the law are at play, and commonsense dictates that, for the good of our constitution and the future of democracy in Nigeria society, it would be better off if the moral imperatives are respected.

The law becomes awkward if immorality prevails as a result of such lacuna under which Shinkafi and co would justify (as the law court has confirmed) such morally irresponsible conduct.
This kind of separation of morality from legality breeds injustice and inequity.

And, if left to persist, could constitute flash points for grievous social discontents that can distabilize the polity. It is for this reason in particular that a thorough review of the entire law governing our political process becomes desperately inevitable.

… And Endless Electoral Battles

The question of political maturity of the current breed of politicians is again regrettably at play in the endless litigation process over who won or did not win an election that was held over two years ago. Whereas a good number of people may claim (rightly or wrongly) that they are fighting injustice, this whole process of endlessly elongated litigation over an election that’s been more than two years “decided” at the polls makes our democratic experiment not only clumsy as well as insecure, it gives a very poor picture of the quality of the people involved in the entire process- from ‘construction’ of the constitution to the process of its operation.

I am particularly disturbed by Sir Celestine Omehia’s return to the Supreme Court asking it to reverse itself on the case of Governor Rotimi Amaechi, which the Apex Court had disposed of since October 2007!!

The crux of the Supreme Court judgment was that by the 1999 constitution, people vote for parties and not individuals. Therefore it is only that candidate so lawfully nominated by the party that should represent it at an election.

It was Rotimi Amaechi who was duly nominated by the PDP to contest the governorship of Rivers State in 2007, CERTAINLY not Omehia. Since the PDP won the election, the court held that it should be its duly nominated candidate that should be governor.

Why is this so difficult for Omehia to grasp? Maybe he craves underserved sympathy from sections of the constitution which by their very provisions do not negate the fact of law that no candidate can contest election except on a party’ platform.

Omehia was smuggled onto the PDP platform in 2007, he was not duly nominated.

So, why not let Rotimi Amaechi be for heaven’s sake? By returning to the Supreme Court, two years after, to seek a reversal of that October 25, 2007 judgement is a culpable mockery of the Nigerian judicial process.

One hopes also that Mr Great Ogboru in Delta State will let the re-trial judgement stay, if only to stop the mockery which the political process has now been subjected to.

My take on these endless litigations over the 2007 election is that we are not only expending valuable energy on an irredeemable travesty, the political atmosphere is being  avoidably polluted and made unsavory. It is bad for the system.

What should attract our attention now, and on which we should expend the last ounce of our energy is to ensure that both the defects in the constitution and the weaknesses of the electoral process are fundamentally reviewed.

That, to me, is a more sensible path to take than press further with some of these cases which look like irritatingly overdue for disposition. There must be an end to litigation.
Nigeria deserves to move forward positively.


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