By Muyiwa Adetiba
The Supreme Court has been in the news lately; and for the wrong reasons. While we were still gabbling with the case of Imo State where a gold medal was given to a man who should not even be on the medal table according to INEC’s result of the State’s gubernatorial race that of Bayelsa State reared its head where a silver medallist was awarded a gold medal.
Both by legal sleight of hands. I have listened to eminent lawyers who felt the two judgements were technically sound. I have also listened to senior lawyers who felt the jurists tried to hide behind a finger. There are also lawyers who applauded one and disdained the other. There are many politicians who also queued up behind one while unabashedly vilifying the other, depending possibly, on their interests.
I am not a lawyer, but it seems curious that the votes cast in Imo State were allegedly more than registered voters in the disputed units. That is even assuming every vote in those units went to one man. In the case of Bayelsa State, the judgment pronounces that you are inexorably yoked to your chosen running mate in your gubernatorial race for good or ill. It is now a four-legged race where you are only as strong as your weakest leg.
To us laymen, this seems contrary to other Supreme Court pronouncements on similar issues in the past. Whatever the merits of these judgements, what seems clear is that the rulings have usurped the wishes of the people since the more popular candidates in both instances, have been denied their exalted seats.
Can we then say justice has been served to the people of Imo and Bayelsa States if their choice candidates are denied the crown because of technicalities? Lord Denning, the celebrated British jurist believed until his death, that law must serve the cause of justice. Our judicial system seems to place more premium on technical justice than moral justice. A man would literally get away with murder in Nigeria, if he had a good legal team that is versed in technicalities, even if he shot his victim in the public square.
Unfortunately, when a judgement hinges more on technicalities than the pursuit of truth or the sacredness of facts, it lends itself to different interpretations. Part of the interpretations might be along the line of political pressure; of compromise; of vested interests. All these and more, have been alleged in these instances. Some even questioned the competence of our current eminent jurists by comparing them with some past Supreme Court justices.
Whatever we insinuate or do however, we must be careful not to denigrate the highest court of the land. The present occupiers will come and go—it will be their loss if their judgements do not stand the test of time; but the revered institution will remain. It must continue to be the bastion of our being as a country. We have rubbished many of our hitherto cherished institutions since independence. We are the poorer for it. The Supreme Court must not lose its hallowed reverence.
I believe that certain things need to be done in order to keep the Supreme Court, not only as the bastion of our democracy, but also as the cornerstone of our aspirations as a country. The first, is the mode of appointment or selection into the apex court. Since it is the crowing jewel of any brilliant legal mind,whoever is appointed to the apex court should be an embodiment of brilliance, integrity and experience.
The jury is out on whether current members of the apex court embody these three qualities today. Diversity is to be embraced only if it adds knowledge and empathy to the sacred duty of the court. Secondly, the apex court must be insulated as much as possible from politicians. To do this effectively, INEC must be strengthened statutorily and with personnel of impeccable standing. The loopholes that lead to frequent recourse to law courts must be eliminated as much as possible. The political parties must tick the boxes and vet the applications of their candidates to avert these embarrassing lapses. We are tired of having frauds in public places.
The appeal courts must also be strengthened with men of brilliance and integrity whose judgements can stand the test of time. The country must find the ways and means to reduce political stakes for public offices. The stakes are too high and this leads to do-or-die politics. Then politicians must learn to accept the verdict of the polls and not the verdict of the courts.
Speaking of politicians, the jesters who went to the UK and US embassies to protest the Supreme Court judgements must be ashamed of themselves. To think these people who were so flippant with our sovereignty are supposed to be our leaders! What was US supposed to do; reverse the judgement? To even imply that the US has the right to call our justices to order is in itself insulting.
Recent history is replete with what happened to countries where the US has interfered in their affairs politically. We have the stories in Egypt, Libya, and Iraq to tell as examples. Many of their people who called them in will be regretting their actions today. The Middle East is probably what it is today because the US has never stopped interfering politically.
Is that what these so called leaders want? For the US to interfere in our political affairs? And which country have the US Democrats called upon to call Trump and his Attorney General to order since his alleged political interference with their court in defence of his friend? We have become so used to people fighting our battles for us that we seem unable to confront issues frontally within the legal avenues open to us.
We expect the government to pander to our needs and if it doesn’t, we expect colonial master UK or Superpower US to straighten the government out. And if that is too slow, we run to the Army to plan a coup which will get the ‘unwanted’ government out. The Democrats in the US are handling the Trump/Barr case and other excesses of Trump in-house and within the confines of their laws. So should we.
There are many legally allowed avenues we can use to register our discontent with a policy we are uncomfortable with. Peer pressure, professional pressure, peaceful protests, courts are but a few. We have to fight for a better society ourselves. No foreign power is going to do it for us.
When Bob Marley sang: ‘Get up, Stand up. Stand up for your rights. Don’t give up the fight,’ he didn’t say or imply that you should turn them over to someone else.