ByÂ Chianugo Offor
The right of access to court is a fundamental right the sterling status of which is accorded constitutional recognition under the provisions of section 36 of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, thus establishing the right of citizens to access the courts of our land as the fulcrum, the hallmark and the epicentre of our existence as a democratic.
The practice of Constitutional democracy flourishes where the doctrine of Rule of Law operates and there cannot be any rule of Law without the independence of judicial institutions â€“ the courts whose constitutional responsibility is to interpret the law and mete out justice in accordance with the law.
The recent application brought by Andy Uba at the Court of Appeal, Enugu, which has attracted a lot of press commentary, most of which are purely expression of sentiments devoid of legal or logical content presumably orchestrated to pre-empt the judgement of the Court of Appeal in the matter challenges our collective aspiration to counted amongst the comity of nations governed by the practice of rule of law and democracy.
Reading between the lines, it is easily discernable that most of the commentaries published in the print media are basically unwholesome campaign aimed at stampeding the Honourable Justices of the Court of Appeal into jettisoning application of the letters and spirit of the law in reaching its decision in the matter with the ultimate goal to unduly influence the judges into handing down a decision that favours the authorsâ€™ skewed, tainted and sponsored opinion devoid of any legal foundation and thereby stunting the development of the law and jurisprudence.
Briefly put, Uba was elected governor of Anambra state by virtue of the governorship election held on the 14th day of April, 2009, in Anambra State in the same process under which other governors in Nigeria were elected. He was subsequently duly sworn in.
Thereafter, 9 (nine) candidates of other political parties in who contested the election along with him instituted separate election petitions at the Election Petition Tribunal challenging his declaration and return.
Before the election petition could be heard by the Election Petition Tribunal, the Supreme Court give judgment in favour of Peter Obi in another case which had nothing to do with the Andyâ€™s Ubaâ€™s election and unrelated to the subject matter of the 9 (nine) election petitions brought against him at the Election Petition Tribunal.
However, in the said judgment of the Supreme Court in the said Peter Obiâ€™s case, the Supreme Court ordered Uba to vacate the governorship seat of Anambra state so as to enable Peter Obi to exhaust his tenure. The Supreme Court was emphatic that the said judgment related only to the governorship office of Anambra State only and had nothing to do with any electoral matter.
Following the Supreme Court judgment aforesaid, the Election Petition Tribunal, Anambra State, without any further ado, struck out all the election petitions brought against Dr. Andy Uba, but curiously nullified his election and inauguration as Governor of Anambra State.
Aggrieved by the judgment of the Election Petition Tribunal, Dr. Andy Uba proceeded on appeal whereat he challenged the judgment of the Election Petition Tribunal as perverse. He prayed the Court of Appeal to set aside and nullify the judgment of the Election Petition Tribunal in the respective petitions aforesaid. After hearing the parties in the appeals, the Honourable Court of Appeal, in a considered judgment, upheld Dr. Ubaâ€™s appeal and consequently set aside and nullified the judgment of the Election Petition Tribunal.
For students of jurisprudence, the judgment of the Court of Appeal, which for all intents and purposes, is the final court and or Court of last resort in Election Petition Matters relating to the office of a governor, presents a profound Constitutional and legal question of law which is: What status quo prevails at the juncture when the judgment of the Election Petition Tribunal that nullified the election of Dr. Andy Uba as Governor of Anambra State was itself nullified and set aside by the Court of Appeal?
In other words, what is the effect in law of the setting aside and nullification by the Court of Appeal of the judgment of the Election Petition Tribunal that nullified the election and inauguration of Dr. Andy Uba as Governor of Anambra State. It is not intended herein to proffer any answer to the legal issues raised above as same appears to be the very germane questions awaiting resolution and determination of the Court of Appeal, lest we run foul of the principle of subjudice.
Dr. Andy Uba from every indication approached the Court of Appeal following the publication by the Independent National Electoral Commission of its preparedness to conduct a fresh Governorship election in Anambra State on the 6th of February 2010. All well meaning Nigerians should appreciate this approach as a commendable step worthy of emulation if indeed we are sincere in our efforts to enthrone a regime of rule of law and due process in the conduct of our Political enterprise and engagement.
The burden of determining whether Ubaâ€™s action is competent or not resides within the domain of the sacred judicial sanctuary of the Courts manned by erudite justices who are trained to hand down justice in accordance with the law, and not discordant tunes littered on the pages of newspapers where jaundiced sentiments of interested parties are expressed with the ulterior motive of intimidating the judges into determining case against their conscience.
The Andy Ubaâ€™s case presents an opportunity for us to manifest sincerity and seriousness in the practice of Constitutional democracy and rule of law. Our judges must be allowed to discharge their duties without fear or favour. The crude attitude of â€œjudgingâ€ a case pending in court on the pages of newspapers must stop as it depicts us as a people without discipline.
The desperation to use the press as a willing tool to bias the minds of judges must cease. The answer to the fundamental questions posed by the Andy Ubaâ€™s matter lies only and in the law and NOT in the employment of propaganda and cheap blackmail. Let the law take its full course uninterrupted by sentimental considerations.