November 16, 2022

Judges as partisan usurpers

By Ochereome Nnanna

IN our democracy, the three arms of government – the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary – have their respective roles as clearly spelt out in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended. The concept of Separation of Powers is the foundation of the Presidential System. Though cooperation is called for, every branch should stay within its turf to ensure checks and balances and limit impunity.

But, in our corrupt system, you often see the Executive wanting to make laws (through the Executive Orders). The National Assembly and State Assemblies try their hands on executive functions (the constituency projects), while the Judiciary often changes or imposes leaders through the impeachment process and the Election Petition Tribunal verdicts.

Indeed, the constitution has wittingly or unwittingly, given the Judiciary a role that encourages judges to arrogate to themselves the power to manipulate the supreme wishes of the electorate and impose leaders other than the ones chosen on primary or open election days. Many governors who lost elections or did not go through the entire constitutionally-prescribed processes have governed, or are governing states through judicial largesse.

The names that easily come to mind are: former Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State, Yahaya Bello of Kogi State, Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State, Douye Diri of Bayelsa State, Hope Uzodimma of Imo State, and others. Perhaps, many of these cases were or are understandable because the politicians themselves brought them to the Judiciary. Many judges seize this opportunity to feather their nests at the people’s expense.

When some supposed officers in the temple of justice flagrantly go out of their ways to impose themselves on cases in a manner that suggests special interests, they abuse their offices and foster loss of faith in the system. The issue that catches my attention today is the case between two contenders for the Abia State governorship election on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, APC: Chief Ikechi Emenike and Dr. Uchechukwu Sampson Ogah.

Emenike won the governorship ticket of the party at the indirect primaries held on May 22, 2022. The primary was duly monitored by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, as prescribed by law, and the Commission has Emenike’s name on its website as the party’s candidate for Abia State. Ogah had organised a parallel primary and also started parading himself as the party’s candidate, a claim which the party at state and national level has severally debunked, even in court.

In an apparently well-choreographed gambit, Ogah approached the Federal High Court in Umuahia presided over by Hon. Justice E.A. Anyadike, to declare him the gubernatorial candidate of the APC in the state. Just as Emenike and his cohorts were getting ready for the legal fireworks, they heard that Ogah had applied for and succeeded in getting the case transferred to the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court. 

The Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, John Tsoho, had assigned the case to Hon. Justice Binta Murtala Nyako. Emenike and his cohorts were caught by surprise because they were not given a chance to contest the application for case transfer, which they were entitled to.

It breached Section 36(1) of the Constitution which guarantees the right to fair hearing. So, they applied before Justice Tsoho for the return of the case to its original jurisdiction at Umuahia, in line with Rule 8(1) of the Federal High Court (Pre-election) Practice Direction, 2022, which provides as follows: “All suits wherein the cause of action arose in a judicial division and the relief seeks a declaration or to compel or retain person(s) natural or legal within that judicial division, with no consequence outside it, shall be filed, received or heard only within that judicial division”.

This provision makes sense, even to a lay person. What is the idea of transferring a case arising in Abia State where all the parties to it live, to a branch of the court in Abuja if not for sinister, mischievous or possibly corrupt motives? More importantly, why did Federal High Court Chief Judge, John Tsoho, and Justice Nyako, insist on ruling on the case despite strident calls for Nyako to recuse herself, having shown undue personal interest in it, in violation of the law?

Emenike and his group rightly felt that Justice Nyako was determined to foist a governorship candidate on the Abia chapter of the APC when the judge 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. 

So, the verdict of Justice Nyako awarding the governorship ticket of the party to Ogah on November 11,2022, was an already predicted charade. The constitutional intendment is for the political parties to pick candidates of their choice to represent them at the polls. Emenike has strong, deep roots in the APC, unlike Ogah who jumps from one party to the other in the desperate quest to be governor.

Emenike has a party pedigree that earned his wife, Uzoma Emenike, a prestigious presidential posting as Nigeria’s Ambassador to the United States of America. Political parties should be allowed to choose their candidates because only they know those who are capable of winning elections for them. I

t is an act of impunity and a denigration of the rights of political parties for the courts to deign to impose candidates on them, for whatever reason. The court should only ensure that the laws of the country and the rules of the parties are complied with. They should restrict themselves to ensuring that justice is done in all cases referred to them, rather than play the role of partisan usurpers. Judges who go beyond the red line should be reported to the National Judicial Commission, NJC, for appropriate sanctions.