Vanguard News Nigeria

Knowing when to approach the Courts

Judicial symbol

By Josef Omorotionmwan

TOO much of democracy destroys democracy.  So soon, we have reached a point where this democracy, so-called, is driving some people coo-coo. A man wakes up in the morning and he rushes to court to ask the court to stop his neighbour from waking up. And the court must entertain the suit because we are said to be in a democracy – pseudo democracy, that is.

But the world out there is watching us. They are unable to know when we are serious and when we are not. They get confused as to whether this is still the same nation they used to know – a nation abundantly endowed with men and women of intelligence.

We saw it coming, and we asked, what is the business of government in the registration of political parties? Periodically, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, would reel out hundreds of political parties as having been registered in Nigeria, without anyone demanding how much verifications have been carried out on INEC’s imposed conditions for the so-called registrations.

It is possible for some money-bags who are specialists in chartering political parties to charter five political parties in a single swoop! One of these formations would be real while the other four would be shadow-boxers, just set up to cause confusion and engage in other simple permutations.

How else does anyone explain a situation where one registered political party is currently asking the court to stop the National Assembly, NASS, from overriding the proposed presidential veto of the Bill passed by the NASS aimed at amending the Electoral Act? Essentially, this party is applying to the court to prevent the NASS from performing its constitutionally-assigned duties.

It may not matter much at this point that this Party could be doing the bidding of some invisible hands; but a political party, or branch thereof, that allows itself to be used for such devious purposes certainly betrays its ignorance of the process of law-making. Such should not stand as a political party because even within the political parties, there are Rules and Regulations governing the action of men.

From our study of elementary Civics, it has been clear from very early in life that the Legislature makes laws; the laws are implemented by the Executive branch; while any matter of interpretation arising from the laws are resolved by the Judiciary.

In furtherance of the foregoing, Sections 4, 5 and 6 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) are devoted to spelling out the assignment of these powers to the three branches of government. In the process of carrying out these functions under the Constitution, there is no room for interference between other branches. No one can go to court to stop the NASS from passing a Bill into law. After the Bill has been passed by the two Houses of the NASS, it is transmitted to the President for his assent. If the President has reason to withhold his assent on the Bill, he returns it to the NASS, stating the grounds for the objection. Where the President withholds assent but does not return the Bill stating the grounds for his refusal to assent after the period allowed for that, he is said to have pocket-vetoed the Bill. Presidents are known to employ the pocket-veto method close to the Legislators’ proceeding on vacation or any long recess as a way of reducing the chances of overriding his veto.

Notwithstanding the mode of veto adopted, where each House of the NASS musters an extra-ordinary majority of its members (at least two-thirds) to override the President’s veto the Bill becomes Law without the President’s assent. In all this, there is no provision for the Court to stop the NASS passage of the Bill; presidential assent; or the NASS override of the President’s veto. It is in this light that the action of the litigating Party must be seen as ludicrous and a most hopeless attempt to embarrass itself.

You can only go to court to challenge the content  of an Act after it has been duly enacted, not when it is still a Bill and only as good as any other piece of paper.

Even where it is possible to see through the smoke-screen that the measure has some invisible hands of the Executive behind it, it must still be accorded some semblance of fake neutrality. That explains why the principal law giver of the Federation, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, is named as a defendant in the obnoxious suit. It gets more intriguing; and still more laughable. Changes come in various shapes and colours. This is yet an innovation – that the Attorney-General is a defendant in a suit that is designed to advance the course of the presidency!

Staring us in the face is a clear case of abuse of process. Given a free reign, the likes of the present litigants will soon find themselves challenging in court, perceived wrong answers on an examination script.

Some may suggest that NASS should go to court to demand that the suit be thrown out. We think otherwise. Let NASS stoically ignore them while going about its normal duties and awaiting this vibrant born-again Judiciary to slap heavy costs on the Party – if only as a way of cleansing the public space. Where they are unable to pay such costs, they should stand liquidated.

INEC is not yet alive to the enormity of the task ahead. For instance, we have not been told how they intend to manage the sheer size of the ballot papers containing the candidates of close to a hundred political parties. Yet, the issue of Independent Candidature is lurking around. INEC must try to do well, what it ought to do and leave the issues of the sequence of election and Election Cycle to the NASS where they squarely belong.

If we must return to Shakespeare, “Honour and shame on no part arise; act well your part and there the honour lies”.

 

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