By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Some Nigerians who stayed up early on Thursday morning to watch the feisty debate between Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton would have been amazed at the fury the two presidential candidates engaged themselves over nominations to the Supreme Court.
Both candidates painted drastically opposite pictures of the kind of court they would project in the event of victory in the forthcoming presidential election.
This contest of wits over the ideological slant of the Supreme Court in America is presently seen in the refusal of the Republican-controlled Senate to consider President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to replace Justice Antonin Scalia who died last February.
That nomination has been stood down by the Senate on the premise that President Obama should not alter the ideological balance of the court in an election year.
But the Democrats who are eager to rush through liberal policies can hardly wait. Indeed, for some of them, the death of Justice Scalia was an opportunity to erode that branch of jurisprudence inclined to textualism and originality of the Constitution that Scalia stood for.
The dithering procrastination by the Republican Senate in considering Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia underlines the degree of ideological conflict between the dominant political parties in that country.
It is, however, noteworthy that such ideological conflicts are totally absent in Nigeria. It is as such not surprising that President Muhammadu Buhari’s two nominations to the Supreme Court on October 11 were cleared within ten days.
In making the approval, it is noteworthy that no public hearings were conducted to appraise public perception of the two new justices. Indeed, it is shocking that Supreme Court justices who give pronouncements that in effect could upturn the interpretation of the constitution are in these shores easily passed through with little scrutiny.
Such cavalier appraisal of the nominees into the Supreme Court may have partly contributed to what is now generally regarded as the greatest attack on the judiciary in the nation’s history.
The raid on the houses of Supreme Court justices and judges of lower courts is in the view of some, a great desecration of the judiciary and a violation of the hallowed principle of separation of powers.
While the process employed by the security operatives in raiding the houses of the judges remains debatable, only a few have argued against the propriety of bringing the much-needed cleansing to the temple of justice.
Judges who call black white and call white black are the greatest threat to the nation’s democracy. They should be brought to account, not just by dismissal as the National Judicial Council, NJC, is wont to, but by punitive actions that should show deterrence.
However, the unfolding inquisition in the temple of justice has also thrown up issues of bias. In nearly all cases, the justices that have been “indicted” were those who allegedly gave judgments that did not favour the ruling party. Two Supreme Court justices have now come out to openly accuse two serving ministers of trying to influence them to twist justice to favour the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, accusations that have been strongly denied by the two men.
Rotimi Amaechi, one of the two ministers so named was himself a beneficiary of a judicial uprising against what was alleged an attempt by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration to intimidate the Supreme Court.
When in 2007, Senator Ifeanyi Ararume emerged as its governorship candidate for Imo State and the powers in the party resisted him, he went to court which upheld his claim forcing an angry President Obasanjo to openly declare that instead of presenting Ararume that the PDP would back Ikedi Ohakim of the Progressive Peoples Alliance, PPA. Obasanjo’s effort was in effect to frustrate the judgment of the court.
Given that Amaechi’s governorship bid faced a similar K-leg problem, as Obasanjo called it, the justices of the Supreme Court it was claimed at that time waited for Obasanjo to take his exit from office. Two weeks after he left, they shoved his Man-Friday, Andy Uba out of the Anambra Government House and four months later, affirmed Amaechi as governor. That for the justices was their retribution.
After two bloody civilian Commanders-in-Chief, the justices of the Supreme Court now have an even more unorthodox soldier president to tackle with.