By Tonnie Iredia
Democracy presupposes the rule of law where everything is done according to law; hence in all democratic societies, the law itself must not be indeterminable. Everyone, citizens and authorities alike, are expected to be equal before the law. But this can hardly happen in Nigeria especially in matters concerning politics and elections. Two points made by retired Justice Oyegoke Babalakin of the Supreme Court remain instructive.
First, in 1986, he led a Judicial Commission of Enquiry which found our politicians to be the “chief perpetrators” of election malpractices in the country. Second, at the launching of the Mustapha Akanbi Foundation in 2010, he reminded the nation that the method of selection of those who govern and/or engage in the act of governance have been so disoriented that it has become “difficult if not impossible for a person with honest intention to enter the arena of governance without succumbing to their ‘modus operandi’ in the act.” Many will agree that Nigeria is yet to depart from this ugly revelation by the jurist.
The recent rancorous primaries of our political parties particularly that of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) cannot be described as new but it is worrisome that a malaise discovered many decades ago is unabatedly being entrenched by our politicians in the polity. The statement credited to President Muhammadu Buhari the other week that APC members who are aggrieved about their party primaries should feel free to seek judicial redress is not only comforting but also suggests that Buhari is not on the same page as his political party leadership which earlier threatened to deal with aggrieved members who seek to ventilate their grievances through the due process of law. This position is patently deplorable.
First, it exposes the APC leaders to the unacceptable usurpation of the constitutionally backed mandate of the judiciary. While a political party can encourage its aggrieved members to exhaust internal avenues for redress, it cannot go to the absurdity of making rules which oust judicial review of the activities of a political party which is purely an administrative body.
Like what the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) always did when it was in power, the APC has also shown ample disdain for the rule of law. In several matters, the present APC operates like the old PDP thereby validating the description by some analysts that both parties are two sides of a coin. In 2007, the PDP created tension by picking as its flag bearers, aspirants who did not win the party’s governorship primaries in some states.
Rotimi Amaechi and Ifeanyi Araruamen who were aggrieved aspirants of the process in Rivers and Imo states respectively successfully defeated their party in court. Some analysts at that time argued erroneously as the APC has sought to do now that party primaries are internal activities of a political party which ought not to concern the courts. Luckily, the Judiciary had correctly established that party supremacy does not justify lawless acts adding that to substitute a candidate who won a primary election, a party must show cogent and verifiable reasons for its decision. Is the APC unaware or unwilling to recognise the long-time decision of the Judiciary that it has jurisdiction over the subject?
The repercussions of APC’s circumvention of its own rules are mounting not-withstanding the party’s assurances of being intact. Indeed, due to what Governor Amosun described as ‘Off-shore’ rigging, the party has lost many Ogun legislators and Adekunle Akinlade, one of its governorship aspirants. In Imo state, Governor Rochas Okorocha is convinced that the issues of the party primaries which had gone beyond the stage of reconciliation are irredeemable.
This is why President Buhari cannot stop at merely canvassing the freedom of aggrieved party members to seek redress in court; he needs to specially counsel the leadership of his party on the expedience of adhering to the rule of law. He must in earnest put his foot firmly on it bearing in mind that earlier in the year, it took his timely intervention to halt his party’s plan to illegally prolong the tenure of its immediate past executive. It is thus not irrational to suggest that APC leaders are uncomfortable with the tenets of the rule of law which abhor impunity and arbitrariness in which existing rules are changed without recourse to the due process of law.
The party made a mockery of its so-called innovation of involving all party members in a primary election first by its inability to evolve uniformity of process. It was obvious that the party made rules targeted at individuals by approving different modes of primaries for the same type of election. Nothing stopped direct primaries in every state considering that the presidential involving every sate was direct. All that the party needed to do was to encourage every state and the FCT to hold one over thirty-seven of the presidential process. Instead, where it suited the officials, the direct method was used while it was indirect in others and yet, by consensus in some places.
Although President Buhari was the APC’s consensus Presidential candidate, he still faced direct primaries. The worst of it all was an introduction of a fourth undemocratic method known as ‘automatic ticket’ given to some people who allegedly stood by the party at a critical time.
Interestingly, those who fell within this privileged group were not uniformly handled meaning that in APC, everyone is not equal before the law as some aspirants were placed above the law. At the end, those who were placed below the law are being told to iron out their grievances before a reconciliation committee that was set up only to white-wash premeditated arbitrariness and injustice. That is obviously bad for a ruling party that many thought would embrace leadership by example which as the saying goes, is always better than precepts.
President Buhari needs to stretch his guidance beyond party officials to his party members in government. He must stop forthwith those in government from disobeying court orders. While it is in order to aggressively prosecute suspected offenders in cases including those on corruption, no one should be held where the courts have granted him bail.
Releasing a suspect from bail does not hinder his eventual conviction. Government should therefore never place itself above the law in a case between it and a citizen because the rule of law is applicable to both individuals and government. Besides, all citizens must be treated as equals. But whereas to skip the NYSC attracts 12months imprisonment former Finance Minister Adeosun who did was instead eased out of office while Communications Minister Adebayo Shittu was untouched. Nigeria can do better in adhering to the rule of law.