By Josef Omorotionmwan
QUITE often, we lampoon judges, particularly when they deliver judgements that are distasteful to us. These judges come in various forms – good, bad; corrupt and incorruptible.
Still, by Divine arrangement, they come to the rescue in situations that seem helpless. As far back as 1596, William Shakespeare, in one of his profound comedies, The Merchant of Venice, depicted a situation in which the judge came to the rescue of Antonio who guaranteed a loan for his good friend, Bassanio, from Shylock the Jew.
Bassanio had technically defaulted on the loan repayment and Shylock insisted on a pound of flesh from nearest Antonio’s heart, which was the condition in the loan agreement. Nothing else, even a promise to refund three times the original loan, was acceptable to Shylock.
He wanted a pound of flesh. Portia, who, by today’s standard, would have been a fake judge, came to the rescue. How many people would recognise a fake judge after he has put on those intimidating robes? To many of us, the end justifies the means. And in The Merchant of Venice, the end was more than justified.
When all entreaties to Shylock failed, then, came the point of law. “The law allows it and the court awards it,” that was Portia’s summation. “Shylock, you must take your pound of flesh from the breast area, nearest to Antonio’s heart but it must be exactly one pound, no more no less; and not a single drop of Antonio’s blood shall come out in the process!” Shylock was further told. By now, the scale had shifted to the side of Antonio and his friends because a Daniel had come to judgement.
Today, the Shylocks are still around and lucky enough, some Portias, some incorruptible judges are also very much around.
There are people in high places who would insist on the pound of flesh of the citizenry, provided it meets their own self-seeking interest. Each time our National Assembly members are asked to write a law, they end up invariably writing themselves into the law. All the hue and cry about constitutional amendment or for that matter, amendments to other laws are merely attempts to provide for themselves. Incidentally, though, the iniquities of the legislative chambers cannot always escape the watchful eyes of the judiciary.
That was how, like the Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, the PDP-dominated sixth National Assembly sat down and calculated how to oust the jurisdiction of the Elections Petitions Tribunals and the Appeal Courts on election cases. By the time the Appeal Courts restored the stolen mandates in Edo, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun states to their rightful owners, it was clear that the largest (and perhaps most dubious!) political party in Africa was in deep trouble. Their rigging apparatus had gone burst.
The National Assembly reached for its bag of tricks and the Electoral Act 2010 came handy. They took Section 140 (2) of the Act to shreds. By the time they were through, candidates whose mandates were blatantly stolen could, of course, seek redress at the Tribunal and Court of Appeal but no matter how hard they tried and even where they were able to convince the court beyond ALL reasonable doubts, the best they could get would be a re-run.
This was a big victory for the PDP, knowing too well that its rigging machine was so strong that if re-runs were ordered 10 times, PDP would win 12 times! The few democrats still standing cried hoarse, that rigging had just been legalised. Our President went ahead and signed the obnoxious amendment into law. The PDP celebrated their success in tying the hands of the judges.
Even where the opposition already had a bucketful of cold tears back home, the judiciary needed to see a bit of the tears before it could intervene. This was when the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, cried to the Federal High Court in Lagos and drew their attention to the fact that by all constitutional standards, the amendment to Section 140 (2) of the Electoral Act 2010 was ultra vires the powers of the National Assembly. Among other things, the amendment was in direct collision with the provisions of Sections 1 (3), 4 (8), 6 (1) (2) (6), 239 (1), 246 and 285 of our 1999 Constitution, as amended.
The PDP and its National Assembly pleaded everything, from the absurd to the illogical, including the ludicrous claim that ACN lacked locus standi in the matter. Can you imagine telling a man that he has no locus standi in a matter that is fundamental to his very existence?
Wherever there is a Shylock, there must be a Portia. The Portia in this case came in Honourable Justice Okechukwu Okeke, sitting in the Federal High Court in Lagos, who on June 30, 2011, restored the powers of the Tribunal and Appeal Courts to declare an outright winner once the candidate has proved his case beyond doubt. We salute the judiciary. We salute Justice Okechukwu Okeke.
Normally, after elections, it becomes the business of the elected to go about seeking the greatest good for the greatest number of the electorate. In the Second Republic where the National Assembly was PDP-dominated (oops, NPN-dominated), the democrats within the NPN fold still voted on the side of civilization on issues of national importance.
How could the PDP democrats look the other way when the sixth National Assembly was writing them out of existence? PDP has since lost itself. In the face of anti-people laws, where are the people? Where is democracy? Is this still a party? Lucky enough, there is always an opportunity for a fresh beginning.
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