Before the February 25, 2023 presidential election, there was a somewhat ‘hope rising’ feeling in the air, as many Nigerians planned to use their votes to reclaim the country from the selfish and non-performing politicians, who have held the country hostage and its development dwarfed since the return to democratic rule in 1999.
Today, that feeling seems to be replaced with anger and frustration as many believe that the result as announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) did not reflect what they voted for.
As expected, the parties and their presidential candidates that believe their mandates were stolen have since gone to court to challenge the results.
All eyes are now on the judiciary.
The Nigerian judiciary is struggling to gain people’s confidence due to so many opportunities it has had in the recent past to save democracy or set sound precedence, but disappointed with its publicly criticised rulings.
That fear that the judiciary cannot be trusted is also a reason to ask if the judiciary can save the country as both presidential candidates of the Labour Party and Peoples Democratic Party are currently in court to challenge the declaration of the All Progressives Congress presidential candidate as the winner of the February 25th poll.
Chijioke Umelahi, former Abia lawmaker and legal practitioner, thinks that the judiciary has never been independent as appointment of the judges is heavily influenced by the President.
Considering that lack of independence, Umelahi argued that the judiciary cannot be trusted to save the country in the legal battles following any unpopular declaration by the INEC.
“I don’t see the judiciary that lacked power to challenge the executive or to checkmate the excesses of the legislature doing something to rewrite its name in gold. The calibre of judges there seems compromised,” Umelahi said.
Considering the above argument, many decry that it is still the same judiciary that made the very unpopular and undemocratic judgment in the last Imo State gubernatorial election, with the negative fallout still trailing the state.
Till date, many mock Hope Uzodinma, the governor of Imo State, as the ‘Supreme Court Governor’. Imo people see his government as illegitimate, which reportedly accounted for the high level of insecurity in the state.
Recently, the Supreme Court’s declaration of Ahmad Lawan as APC’s Yobe North senatorial candidate and Godswill Akpabio as the validly nominated APC candidate for Akwa-Ibom North-West senatorial seat based on technicalities, did not go down well with the generality of Nigerians.
Both participated as aspirants at the APC presidential primaries, and by law, forfeiting other political offices. But the Supreme Court ruled in their favour after losing at the presidential primaries of their party.
These are some of the worrisome cases that make many Nigerians to further lose confidence in the judiciary, and also do not see it salvaging the country’s democracy.
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“If the Supreme Court can rule that a candidate who came third in an election can become the governor and today he is, it means it can do more at the presidential level because of the benefit that can come to the judges afterwards,” Peter Oseni, a serving senior public servant, said.
According to him, the judiciary is heavily compromised and the system of appointing the judges is no longer on merit as Mr. President can pick undeserving judges and make them his puppet at the upper echelon court.
“If you have followed the kind of judges we have had at the Supreme Court especially since Buhari came to power, you will notice that most of them are not the most senior, most qualified and are considered based on Mr. President’s criteria. So, they will be answerable to the President and not to Nigerians. Those Mr. President appointed judges are still at the Appeal and Supreme courts, Abubakar Malami is still there too, so how do you expect good judgment for the people,” Oseni argued.
Toeing a different line, Samuel Onikoyi, a Nigerian academia in Belgium, noted that the Supreme Court may likely save its name and regain people’s confidence with a surprise ruling in the presidential election debacle.
“We know the court has failed, but not all of them are compromised. Remember that the ruling on Ahmad Lawan’s senatorial candidacy for Yobe North was a three-against-two split judgment of the Supreme Court’s five-member panel.
“So, there are still some upright judges out there at the Supreme Court, Justice Mary Odili proved herself while there, there are others and aggrieved masses can get judgment at the Supreme Court this time,” Onikoyi said.
Saying that the current cases before the judiciary may be a make or mar for the arm of government, Onikoyi said: Well, Nigerians await the Supreme Court to prove them wrong, regain its lost confidence or allow illegitimacy to thrive.”
Onyeka Ikwunze, a Political Science lecturer at Abia State University, Uturu, said that there was hope this time at the Supreme Court because the new Electoral Act has been contravened, and that there is much evidence that cannot be thwarted and the lawyers know all these.
“I see the Supreme Court standing with the people because of the clear evidence and the fact that INEC violated the provisions of the new Electoral Act. Again, the fact that the results were written manually rather than using the new machines, which Nigeria spent billions of Naira to acquire, are enough to cancel the result. The fear now will be money to hold another election if the Supreme Court rules for rerun of the election,” Ikwunze said.
Some optimistic minds also think that while Abubakar Malami, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice of Nigeria, is known to support the government of the day, Olukayode Ariwoola, the new Chief Justice of Nigeria, who emerged on merit, may likely set things right.
“I think a lot of people are not happy with the judgments coming out of our courts in recent time, look at the Imo State case where a sitting governor was removed by questionable judgment. The judiciary is at its lowest ebb now.
“But we are hoping they can redeem themselves with this presidential election matter and let the will of Nigerians prevail,” Tope Musowo, a public affairs analyst, said.
Musowo noted that a reform of the judiciary in Nigeria was overdue.
“There are so many things wrong with our judiciary there is no doubt the system needs reform, even from the appointment of judges to infrastructures at the courts,” he added.
Eddy Olafeso, a politician, said that the judiciary has opportunity to redeem itself in view of recent criticism, stressing that the international community and everyone would be watching with keen interest.
“I think the judiciary is aware of the public confidence in them is now very low, you can see the criticism that trailed the Lawan judgement, but I think they can redeem themselves with the presidential election case.
“It is an opportunity for them, all eyes are on them, let’s wait and see what would happen this time around. The parties would be presenting their case and I can tell you that unlike in the past, justice can’t be stolen this time around,” he said.