By Douglass Anele
We shall also discuss the fairness or unfairness of resorting to plea bargain which offers undeserved soft-landing to prominent Nigerians who were found guilty of elephantine corruption and financial crimes, whereas ordinary citizens convicted for stealing pittance would face up to ten years imprisonment.
On the Ekiti case, a lot has been said and written on the matter already. As usual, an overwhelming majority of the commentators have lauded the Appeal Court’s decision to declare Kayode Fayemi of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) the duly elected governor of Ekiti State.
But there are some important issues arising from that very decision (and others like it) which we wish to draw attention to before people get carried away by the judicial technical knockout the Peoples Democratic Party has suffered once again.
To start with, Fayemi has been commended for his fighting spirit and doggedness. However, there is certainly something seriously wrong in a justice system that declares someone the winner of an election just seven months to the end of the four-year tenure of the person previously proclaimed to have won it.
Therefore, delay in deciding electoral matters in Nigeria is a dangerous trend, more so considering distractions from actual governance and the amount of energy and financial resources expended on litigations arising therefrom.
The cases of Peter Obi of Anambra State and Ikedi Ohakim of Imo State are glaring examples in this regard. It is true the National Assembly has amended the Electoral Act such that petitions concerning elections must be concluded before the swearing-in of victorious candidates after election.
But nothing concrete has been done or provided to empower the judiciary to carry out its assignment effectively within the stipulated time frame. Specifically, apart from inadequate number of judges and logistical support for them to do their jobs well, the amendment did not take care of antiquated cumbersome court procedures and rules of evidence to facilitate speedy adjudication of cases brought before the courts.
Moreover, although the judiciary has created new divisions and appointed new judges to sit over them, there is still an urgent need to expand the judicial platform over electoral matters, bearing in mind that high court judges still have to deal with regular matters, including high-profile corruption cases.
Fayemi’s case at the Appeal Court in Ilorin which ended about two weeks ago was not the first time the matter was brought to the judiciary for settlement. First of all, the matter went to the Ekiti State election tribunal and from there to the Appeal Court. The latter ordered a retrial, after which Fayemi went to the Appeal Court a second time.
Throughout, Segun Oni of the PDP remained governor until October 15, 2010 when the court delivered judgment in favour of Fayemi.
These arduous legal battles and their aftermaths manifest a disturbing pattern in the handling of matters arising from elections in the country, namely, the conflicting judgments emanating from various courts. We have seen courts of coordinate jurisdiction give logically incompatible judgments over similar collections of facts or even in the same case.
The most dramatic of what appears to be a judicial placebo is the Supreme Court’s decision to award the governorship of Rivers State to Rotimi Amaechi, a man who did not contest the governorship election in the state and whose name did not appear on the ballot paper for that very election.
No matter the legal technicalities and semantics cited by the court for its decision, and considering the conflicting judgments we highlighted earlier, we believe it is time for law teachers and jurists to quickly commence a thorough assessment of the court decisions and recommend ways of ensuring that there is greater coherence in legal precedents arising from decided cases on elections.
On a more general note, although the desire to seek justice through legal means is the constitutional right of every Nigerian, the avalanche (some would say tsunami) of litigations which have trailed elections since 1999 has created expectations that after 2011 elections, there will be more litigations about the results than the case right now, especially within the background of suspicion among Nigerians that in some instances judgment is done on cash-and-carry basis.
Increasingly, professional litigants and judicial carpetbaggers will exploit corruption in the judiciary and loopholes in the Electoral Act to abuse court processes by hanging on legal minutiae and technicalities to prolong trials unnecessarily. And speaking of corruption, there is an undue tendency to believe that whenever the judiciary decides against a PDP governor or legislator etc., ipso facto justice has been done. But is that really the case? We don’t think so at all.
Now, it is possible that in the Oni versus Fayemi matter justice has prevailed at last, especially considering the tardy and unprofessional manner Mrs. Ayoka Adebayo handled the rerun elections in 10 local government areas of Ekiti State. But we should not uncritically accept, as some people are wont to do, that once a PDP governor has lost his position through a court decision then justice has been done, or assume that only the ruling party can bribe judges.
Of course, we are not alleging that Fayemi bribed anybody to secure victory: our point is that rigging, bribery and corruption, sadly, has become a way of life for the ruling class and politicians; it is not restricted to PDP members alone. Politicians are very good at finger-pointing whenever they are out-rigged by opponents.
Hence, there is no guarantee that all the judgments in which incumbent political office holders have either retained their posts or were removed are totally free from extra-judicial influences. Evidently, Fayemi and his supporters are in a celebratory mood. Yet, we should remind the governor that winning the legal battle is far easier than providing good governance for the people of Ekiti State. To be concluded.