By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
With few days remaining for the curtain to fall on the administration of the 45th President of the United States of America, Donald Trump, it appeared the domino effect of his lost re-election bid, has placed the oldest democracy on trial.
The US presidential election which held on November 3, 2020, saw the opposition Democratic Party, wrestling power away from its historic rival, the Republic Party.
The Republic candidate, Trump, despite his power of incumbency, became the first US president since George H. W. Bush in 1992, and the eleventh incumbent President, to lose a bid for a second term.
Candidate of the Democratic Party and former Vice President, Joe Biden, garnered more than 81 million votes, which represented the largest percentage of the popular vote won by any challenger to an incumbent since 1932, to defeat him. Biden equally won Trump by a margin of 306 to 232 votes in the US electoral college.
Expectedly, Trump was dissatisfied with the outcome of the election which he insisted was rigged against him through ‘illegal votes’. In a turn of events akin to the ‘Nigerian style’, Trump and his supporters launched dozens of lawsuits to overturn Biden’s victory.
One of such lawsuits that got to the US Supreme Court, sought to invalidate election results in four states – Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The suit was filed by the Republican Attorney-General of Texas, Ken Paxton, who is Trump’s ally.
Texas specifically alleged that results in those four states were unlawful owing to changes introduced to the voting procedures to allow Americans to cast their ballots during the coronavirus pandemic.
The plaintiffs wanted the court to stop the use of “unlawful election results without review and ratification by the defendant states’ legislatures”. To show his full support, Trump swiftly filed a motion to intervene and become a plaintiff in the case.
However, in a prompt ruling on December 11, the US Supreme Court dismissed the suit after it held that Texas lacked the legal standing to file the case. The apex court, in its judicial intervention, stressed that Texas failed to demonstrate a legally cognisable interest in the manner in which another state conducted its elections.
In an earlier ruling it delivered on December 8, 2020, the US Supreme Court also dismissed a similar legal action that sought to halt the certification of Biden’s election victory in Pennsylvania.
Remarkably, Trump had prior and during the election, suggested that the election result would eventually be decided in the Supreme Court. He had within his fading four-year tenure, appointed three of the Justices that are currently on the Supreme Court bench.
The most controversial of the appointments came few weeks before the election, as he appointed conservative Judge, Amy Coney Barrett as a replacement for late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was regarded as the most liberal justice on the apex court bench.
There is no doubt that the US remains the oldest surviving federation in the world. Following the failure of its Confederal form of government in 1781, the USA adopted the Federal form of government in 1789, the same year its Constitution became effective.
Since its ratification, the US Constitution has been amended 27 times, in a process that retained its status as the supreme law of the States.
Anchored on firm doctrine of separation of powers, the Constitution separated the US government into three branches, with potent processes of checks and balances that ensure that no branch of the government gained supremacy. There are obvious similarities between the system of government in the USA and the present model of government in Nigeria.
Does Nigeria have any lesson to learn from the torrent of events trailing the just-concluded US presidential election?
To signpost such lesson(s) must be the acknowledgement of the operational force of the Rule of law and the principle of separation of powers. One would argue that the US judiciary not only cautiously and promptly resolved all the legal issues that arose from the election, it equally insulated itself from the political arena.
Analyzing the development with Vanguard law page, an Abuja based constitutional lawyer, Mr Egbune George, insisted there were many lessons for Nigeria to learn from the unfolding events in the US.
Egbune said it was unfortunate that Nigeria continued to practice what he termed as “democracy by court order”.
He noted that courts in the country had on many occasions, turned itself into an electoral body, tabulating election results within its revered hallowed temples, and declaring winners to the consternation of even the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, itself.
“It is quite unfortunate that election litigation has become an inevitable part of the electoral process in Nigeria.
“While the INEC has the responsibility to conduct and manage elections, the judiciary on its part is charged with the responsibility of resolving disputes arising from the process”, Egbune noted.
He decried that the rating of the Nigerian judiciary drops with every election circle, “owing mainly to a barrage of ex-parte orders and contradictory injunctions that sometimes emanate from courts of the same coordinate jurisdiction”.
He said: “Look at the recent governorship election in Edo State for instance. Since that election held on September 19, 2020, there have been over seven judgements from different courts.
“In a particular instance, while the Federal High Court in Abuja affirmed the eligibility of the opposition candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Osagie Ize-Iyamu and his Deputy, Gani Audu, another court in Edo State disqualified them.
“Likewise, the court delivered judgement in the certificate forgery case that was filed against the Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki by the APC, on Saturday, January 9, 2021, about 12 hours to the expiration of the 180 days constitutional lifespan of the suit that was filed since July 2020.
“Sometimes these judgements come a day apart or even on the same day.
“But to also be fair to the judiciary, the bulk of the blame must go to lawyers and litigants who most of the time flood the court with so many frivolous applications and preliminary objections in a bid to frustrate the expeditious determination of time-bound election cases”, Mr Egbune added.
Another constitutional lawyer, Mr Sani Abdul, further argued that the ongoing moves by the US House of Representatives to impeach President Trump holds enough lessons for Nigeria.
House Democrats had on Monday introduced a four-page impeachment article against President Trump for allegedly inciting a mob that attacked the Capitol last week, a day the US Congress met to rectify Biden’s election victory. The House, led by its Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, passed a resolution asking the Vice President, Mike Pence to activate the 25th Amendment and strip President Trump of his power.
However, with the obvious rejection of the resolution by Pence, the House, on Wednesday, swung into full action to ensure that President Trump was impeached before the expiration of his tenure.
Speaking to the issue, Mr Abdul, in his interview with Vanguard, wondered if such action would have ever occurred in Nigeria.
“If it were to be in Nigeria where the power of incumbency is everything, the story would have been different by now. You would have either seen a heavy deployment of hooded armed security personnel that would bar the lawmakers from conducting any proceeding.
“Or a situation where various courts would have dished out restraining orders stopping the House from taking further steps on the impeachment process, pending the determination of cases before it.
“By the time such cases are eventually decided, the country would have moved on to other issues.
“We should really learn from what is happening in America today. The elementary lesson here is that the Rule of law must be allowed to flourish at every turn.
“Each organ of the government must operate within its bound, ably guided by the doctrine of separation of powers,” Abdul posited.