By Ikechukwu Amaechi
THE beauty of democracy is the fact that it gives the people the right to decide who governs them. Widely accepted to have originated from Athens in the fifth century BC, the concept comes from the Greek words “demos,” meaning people, and “kratos” meaning power.
So, simply put, democracy means power of the people: a way of governing that depends on the will of the people. In a democracy, the supreme power is invested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through representation: a point which Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, made most eloquently in his “Gettysburg Address” on November 19, 1863, when he said, “That these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Unfortunately that idea of government of the people, by the people, for the people is slowly but inexorably perishing in Nigeria. Rather than supremacy of the people, the judiciary has brazenly become the sole determinant of not only who governs but also who gets the chance to even contest elections, a phenomenon which led The Economist magazine, in its January 24, 2008 edition, to describe Nigeria as a “democracy by court order.”
Things have gotten worse since then. Alarmed, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, on October 12, appealed to politicians to allow the judiciary function. “We shall continue to do justice, if only Nigerians will allow us to perform and function without any pressure,” he declared.
But while it is true that Nigerian politicians are increasing becoming implacable enemies of democracy, the judiciary does not come up smelling of roses as Nigerian judges enable their vile conducts when they impudently usurp the right of the people to choose who governs them.
Take for instance the case of Chief Ikechi Emenike, the Abia State All Progressives Congress, APC, governorship candidate, who Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court, Abuja annulled his candidacy on Friday, and awarded same to Dr. Uchechukwu Sampson Ogah, former Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, on a platter political chicanery. What are the facts of the matter?
Ikechi Emenike won the APC governorship ticket on May 26, 2022, in a primary election which was duly monitored by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, as required by law. Not only that, the country’s electoral law gives the political parties the responsibility of producing their candidates and the party leaders have since clarified that the APC conducted only one gubernatorial primary election in Abia, from which Ikechi Emenike emerged as the flag bearer. All the primary election committee members sent from Abuja to conduct the primaries confirmed this through affidavits and counter affidavits without any dissension.
But Ogah who organised a parallel primaries – outside the mandate of the party – became a contrarian and headed for the Federal High Court in Umuahia presided over by Hon. Justice E.A. Anyadike, on June 7, where he prayed the court to declare him the gubernatorial candidate of the APC in Abia State.
Yet, in a dramatic twist, when the case came up for hearing on July 6, Justice Anyadike announced to the consternation of all that the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho, had directed that the case be transferred to the Abuja division of the Federal High Court, where it was handed over to Justice Binta Nyako for trial.
The application for transfer, the Abia APC alleged, was at the behest of Ogah, who not only claimed that he was shot at in Abia after he instituted the suit, but also insisted that the State faces security challenges that will make it impossible for the case to be heard and determined by the Federal High Court in Umuahia.
Sensing judicial underhand, the APC, Chief Emenike and the National Chairman, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, who were the first, second and third defendants respectively, insisted that the case be brought back to Umuahia as they were neither served any application for the transfer nor informed of the reason(s) for the decision.
On August 5, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, Ikechi Emenike’s lead counsel, wrote to Justice Tsoho demanding that the case be brought back to Umuahia. The Chief Judge demurred. Then, Chief Daniel Eke, who was joined in the case as the 5th Defendant, equally filed a motion praying Justice Nyako to recuse herself from hearing the case because he no longer had confidence in her to deliver justice.
Justice Nyako dismissed the applications on October 12, and proceeded to hear the case on originating summons and thereafter adjourned to November 11, 2022, for judgment. Both the APC and Eke filed a motion for leave to appeal against the dismissal of their respective applications. On October 25, Justice Nyako granted them leave to appeal but refused to release the casefile to the Registrar of the Appeal Section for onward transmission to the registry of the Court of Appeal for expeditious hearing.
On Thursday, November 4, the APC raised alarm through its Secretary in Abia State, Hon. Chidi Avaja, accusing Justice Nyako of plot to foist Ogah as the governorship candidate. “Hon. Justice Binta Nyako is determined to miscarry justice on November 11. And she is going about it with no qualms. Against the decision of the Party, against the provisions of the electoral laws, she wants to anoint a governorship candidate for APC in Abia State,” Avaja alleged.
So, Justice Nyako’s verdict on November 11, 2022, awarding the governorship ticket of the party to Ogah, was a fait accompli – a legal hanky-panky foretold. But Justice Nyako’s audacious move is curious given the fact that Justice Benson Anya of the Abia State High Court had on June 24, affirmed the candidature of Ikechi Emenike, a judgment which was further affirmed by the Court of Appeal in Abuja and Owerri.
Harping on this, the Abia APC legal adviser, Barrister V.C. Nwankwo, said: “The law is trite that judgments of the appellate courts are binding on the lower courts and parties. Again the judgment of the Federal High Court cannot override and is not superior to the three judgments of the Court of Appeal that affirmed Ikechi Emenike as the candidate of the APC in Abia State.”
The APC would, therefore, have none of the travesty. A statement by the state chairman, Dr. Kingsley Ononogbu, Secretary, Hon Chidi Avajah, and Publicity Secretary, Deacon Obinna Atuonwu, immediately after Justice Nyako’s verdict described it as “a miscarriage of justice to the effect that a meddlesome interloper should be candidate of a party, mainly based on INEC report.”
“The judge forgot to consider that the same INEC report stated that they (electoral body) also monitored the primary election that produced High Chief Ikechi Emenike as the governorship candidate of the party. More worrisome is that the trial judge was blind to the fact that Uche Ogah’s so-called primary was not conducted by the party – indeed, no primary election produced him,” the statement said.
It is the responsibility of the political parties to produce candidates for elections, not INEC and definitely not the courts. That is the law. If the APC says Ikechi Emenike is their governorship candidate in Abia State, then Emenike it is. The earlier the CJN reins in judicial officers, the better for the country’s democracy which is still fledgling after 23 years of interrupted practice mainly because Nigerian judges have decided to usurp the supreme power of the people to decide who governs them.