By Tonnie Iredia
Those who grew up in the old Midwest Region which became Bendel State and now Edo and Delta States, must have heard the story of a particular ethnic group that reportedly loved court cases. The story was that the importance of a person in that ethnic group was usually determined by the number of cases such a person had in court. In later years, increased litigations in the entire country was attributed to people who were bad losers in an event especially politics and elections.
They were described as litigants who never dropped a case until the last court spoke. Unfortunately, no one has put forward the factor of how our justice system oils the trend. If a citizen is unable to attain what he believes is the justice of his case until he gets to the Supreme Court, why should his neighbour not emulate such perseverance?
The greatest achievement that stakeholders in Nigeria’s justice system ought to be proud of is the extent to which they have solved societal problems that usually provoked litigations. Although, it is only a few people that take up the issue of defections from one party to the other after election, many people are aggrieved over the trend.
When a governor for personal reasons defects to another party and our judiciary says, defection is not one of the reasons constitutionally provided for removing a governor, the decision does not solve the real problem. Instead, it paves the way for many more governors to defect in future thereby forcefully altering the decision of voters. Defections would have ended long ago in Nigeria if the Supreme Court as a court of policy had nullified any defection and ordered the ‘irremovable’ governor back to the party whose votes he was hijacking; after all, votes in Nigeria legally belong to political parties.
The major factor which accounts for the greatest number of political cases in our courts, is rancorous party primaries. It has been so over the years because among other things, our judiciary prefers to hide under the argument that party matters are internal to the parties as if there are no laws guiding party conduct. During the Babangida years, government decided to build party offices throughout the country to avoid the practice of the rich diverting party matters to their houses where they held sway.
Many years later, when the dictatorial powers of party caucuses remained a problem, the judiciary made a persuasive ruling which set guidelines for party behaviour during primaries. One of the guidelines was that for a political party to replace the victorious aspirant in its primary election, the party must provide cogent and verifiable reasons.This helped only for a while.
Today, the Electoral Act 2022 provides that INEC must monitor party primaries; yet in any dispute over party primaries, the judiciary merely upholds the position of the party. This was what happened in Yobe state during the last senatorial primaries of the ruling All Progressives Congress when Ahmad Lawan, the senate president who never featured as an aspirant was affirmed by the judiciary as the candidate of his party. If political parties are to handpick their flagbearers, why do we need party primaries to which we expend ample tax payers’ resources, such as the deployment of thousands of law enforcement agents? What was the intention and purpose of legally requiring INEC to monitor party primaries? That cases concerning this subject were reportedly lost and won because either the wrong person sued or deployed the wrong procedure may have satisfied the judiciary but it has not brought out the truth and more importantly, it has not helped society.
Political cases in court have continued to increase because it is only litigants and their lawyers that are reprimanded or fined. The cases will reduce when INEC officials who collude with politicians to rig elections are jailed. For instance, the victory of the APC in the 2018 governorship election in Osun state was donated by the judiciary because rather than tell us who won the election, the judiciary ended up identifying a tribunal member who was allegedly absent on a few occasions when the relevant tribunal sat.
The higher level judiciary discountenanced the finding of facts by the tribunal that “a substantial number of the Certified True Copies of the Forms EC8A were altered and that the alteration in figures and fresh filling of the columns were not on the pink copies of the forms EC8A distributed to the parties polling agents on the day of the election. This shows clearly that the forms which were in INEC’s custody were altered after the election ended.” Has the trend ended?
Leaving the facts of a case or not investigating it at all cannot resolve a case, it neither brings out the truth nor does it help the larger society. Upcoming judges who followed the judgments of the legendary Chukwudifu Oputa of the Supreme Court must have learned several lessons. One of them was that truth must prevail in order to ensure that justice is done because “justice is more than a game of hide and seek; it is an attempt to discover the truth on human imperfections.”
For this to happen, Oputa insisted that “the courts and all ministers of the temple, that is, all lawyers and all other stake holders must strive at discovering the truth regardless of legal technicalities.” All those who have refused to listen to Oputa by holding rigidly to the letter and not the spirit of the law are responsible for the tension in our polity today.
Technical justice brings forth several evils. One of such transparent evils in today’s Nigeria, is the abundance of crooked leaders. Too many Nigerian leaders have immense sleazy past which the system continuously helps them to hide. Many of us unfortunately hardly remember that old habits die hard. A fraudster early in life is more likely to use state power to meet his old habits. It is therefore pertinent for us all to stop oiling the safety valves which our system provides to persons with bad traits of character. When a would-be governor is accused of having forged certificates or other documents, it does not help society for the whistle-blower to be shut out with the argument of whether he came with or without originating summons or that indeed he should have waited for the appropriate time for raising his alarm. Getting to the bottom of the case to find the truth is best for society because a certificate forger is more likely to forge bigger matters.
Nothing stops us from getting a statement from the issuing authorities of a suspected forged certificate. The other day, the University of Ibadan did not only write, she came forward to testify that Edo Governor, Godwin Obaseki’s certificates were genuine. Similarly, it was good to hear that an American University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has confirmed that the certificates presented by the last Labour Party governorship candidate in Lagos state, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour are genuine. The approach is more capable of resting cases beyond legal arguments. It is hoped that the running battle over the authenticity of the NYSC certificate presented by the last PDP governorship candidate in Enugu state, Peter Mbah would be similarly handled. Otherwise, predictability which a good legal system bestows on society, will be lost.
Nigerians expect the same results when similar cases are handled. Two days ago, the case of double nomination brought by the PDP against the then vice presidential candidate of the APC, Senator Kashim Shettima was dismissed. The court described the PDP as a meddlesome interloper because it raised a matter about another party. However, not many know why the same PDP was not similarly described when it raised a case of impropriety against the then APC Deputy governorship candidate during the last governorship election in Bayelsa state.
Could it be that in Nigeria, meddlesome interlopers get different judgments? We need not be impatient with those who are confused because the complainant in both cases was the PDP, the party complained against was the APC, the court in both cases was Nigeria’s apex court. Should we just take it that both parties won one and lost one case each?