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Is Nigeria’s Supreme Court on trial?

... There’s no loss of confidence in judiciary - Ajulo …Huge economic losses over court-ordered changes

Increasingly, the Supreme Court appears to be losing its respect. Until now, any judgment by the highest law in the land was regarded as sacrosanct and swallowed like a sermon from a church pulpit; no questions! Reviewing cases already being adjudicated over was unheard of. But it appears that such era is gone.

Pundits say that the various calls for review of cases adjudicated by the Supreme Court, in recent times, appear to convey a no confidence vote in the apex court and by extension, the Judiciary.

In recent times, some of the Supreme Court’s judgments that have become controversial include the Emeka Ihedioha Vs Hope Uzodinma (Imo); David Lyon Vs Duoye Diri (Bayelsa) and the Muhammadu Buhari Vs Atiku Abubakar. Today, there are calls for a revisit or review of these cases because some people believe that there was a miscarriage of justice in such judgments.

The decision of Ihedioha and his party, People’s Democratic Party (PDP), to apply for a review of the judgment, appeared to have opened the floodgate of doubts and loss of confidence in the Supreme Court.

The Apex Court had, on Tuesday, January 14, 2020 sacked former Governor Emeka Ihedioha and declared Hope Uzodinma of the APC, who had come a distant fourth the winner. The Supreme court relied on some cancelled votes in about 388 polling units, which it claimed were valid, to rule in favour of Uzodinma. This judgment, perhaps presented the apex court with a dilemma, as the judges appeared to have failed to explain how the number of votes cast came to be more than accredited voters.

The case of Bayelsa was also unbelievable to many members of the party. David Lyon of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who had been declared winner of the November 16, 2019 gubernatorial election, was stopped by the apex court just 24 hours to his inauguration. He was sacked because his running mate, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremieoyo, was said to have presented forged documents to aid his election.  Duoye Diri of the PDP became the beneficiary and has since been sworn in. Irked by the turn of events, the leadership of the APC went back to the Supreme Court for a review of the ruling.

Apparently basking in the euphoria of the realisation that the Apex Court can indeed review a judgment, and having seen the APC approach the court to press for the sack of Diri and return victory back to Lyon, the national leadership of the PDP also decided to go back to the same court to demand a review of a ruling on the Presidential election that had favoured the APC and its candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari against the PDP and its candidate.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday October 3, 2019 had dismissed the appeal by the Presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar and his party, against President Buhari.

The seven-member panel led by the Chief  Justice  of Nigeria (CJN) Tanko Mohammed held that having gone through all the documents and exhibits two weeks earlier, the panel discovered that the appeal lacked merit.

“We have examined the submissions of parties in this matter and the exhibit adduced and we have come to a conclusion that this appeal lacks merit, appeal is hereby dismissed,” the panel said.

Mohammed ruling affirmed the earlier stand by the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal which had ruled in favour of President Buhari.

Allegations were rife at that time that the Supreme Court ruling on the presidential election dispute perhaps, did not come as a surprise based the issues that led to the unceremonious sack of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, shortly before the 2019 general election.

Speaking to BDSUNDAY on Friday, a legal practitioner based in Abuja, Kayode Ajulo (PhD) said he did not believe that the Nigerian people have lost faith in the Supreme Court and to a large extent the Judiciary. He cautioned those with such impression to be very careful, stressing that the politicians are the only ones losing faith in the judiciary.

“I don’t want to believe that people have lost hope in the judiciary. We need to be careful on what we say. I am saying this as a legal practitioner and a politician because when it comes to the issue of politics, people tend to be biased. We always want to believe that people seem to lose confidence in the judiciary.

“When it comes to judgment, it must be for some groups it must be against some groups or some persons; that is why any case will have two parties and sometimes any party on the losing side believe that something bad has happened,” he said.

He disclosed that both the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court since the beginning of this year have dispensed over 50 landmark cases from January to February but nobody will raise any issue about that because they are not political cases.

“The truth of the matter is that you cannot use one or two political cases to judge how well your judiciary fared in a given context,” he said.

On the specific case of the disputed governorship election in Imo State between ousted Governor Ihedioha and the current Governor Uzodinma, Ajulo said: “The truth in Imo is so clear that at the polling units some votes were declared only at the ward level and INEC cancelled such votes. So, if after looking at the case the court in its wisdom believed that such votes ought not to have been cancelled, then that decision is right.”

“And it is an age-long procedure and law that once INEC made a declaration it should not be the same INEC that will still cancel votes, they cannot be appropriating and reprobating .Once they have made declaration so be it. It is only the court that can change it.

“So in Imo case, INEC initially gave a declaration and gave form EC8A and they now canceled the results. And if today all the votes are counted and it is now believed that it is Hope Uzodinma of the APC that won, then that is the position of the law,” he said.

He pointed out that there is a perception that by the time one looks at the election, there might be an impression of over-voting based on technicalities. He however, said that the PDP did not raise the issue of over voting in court, saying that the Supreme Court gave a sound judgment in Imo even as he contended that the PDP lawyers did a bad job.

He also emphasized that the Bayelsa case is well known, stressing that it is a joint ticket. He said that what the Supreme Court did in the case of Bayelsa was just to affirm what the High Court has done even as he commended the judges for the verdict they gave.

“So, party faithful may have lost hope in the Court verdicts, it is expected of them. But the generality of Nigerians have not lost confidence in the judiciary,” he said.

On the issue of the reviews sought in court by aggrieved parties, Ajulo noted that the Supreme Court cannot change its position even if it discovers that it made mistakes in a particular case, saying the Supreme Court can only use another case to correct a mistake.

He advised those seeking review of the cases delivered by the Supreme Court to save their time and resources.

Also speaking on the issue of the economic cost involved in successive litigations and the implications, another legal practitioner, who did not want his name on print, said that first of all the individual litigants and their parties, that might have lost the elections would have to count their losses.

“Pursuing a case up to the Supreme Court is very expensive as the cost of protracted litigations runs into hundreds of millions. It might turn out well for those who win at the end of the day especially in political cases as they will occupy offices and try to use state resources to recoup whatever financial losses they might have incurred. This might eventually to corruption in the system,” he said.

…Huge economic losses over court-ordered changes

In recent times, the most populous country in Africa is ranked top among countries that conduct the most expensive elections in the world.

With cost growing since 1999 when the country returned to civil rule after military interruption from 1979-1983, Nigeria’s election is nearing trillion of Naira, going by the 2019 general election, adjudged the most expensive election ever in Nigeria and even in Africa.

The cost excluded those of Ekiti, Edo, Anambra, Ondo, Kogi and Bayelsa states, which are conducted at different times due to court rulings that nullified the legitimacy of sitting governors, swearing in new ones and changing the timetable from the general one.

Again, the 2019 election is still throwing up many intrigues that are further reordering the election timetable, especially in the case of Imo State, which has joined states that do not conduct elections same day with the rest of the country.

It is sad that it took over six months to review election petitions filed by all parties involved in the Imo State gubernatorial election case.

With the ruling of the Supreme court which sacked Ihedioha and enthroned Uzodinma, the election timetable is changed in the state, but most importantly, dreams of people and hopes are dashed, enormous funds wasted, and more to be wasted as new set of leaders are in place to empower themselves.

Imagine all the political appointees of the ex-governor, who resigned their previous appointments, abandoned or left flourishing businesses in the hands of incapable people, imagine contracts or good initiatives initiated by the sacked government, all these may not be quantified in money as lives are involved.

Looking at the cost, Uzor Amajor, an economist, noted that probably the APC, the incoming governor, in the case of Bayelsa, his family and friends may have spent over N100 million in preparations for the inauguration that never held. “The funds are from government coffers and private pockets hoping for appointments and contracts, but how would they recover the money?” Amajor asked.

Preye Wilberforce, a media personality, who worked for the disqualified governor in Bayelsa, was among the unlucky ones. The middle-aged man resigned his appointment at a thriving television station because of the strong assurance of an appointment in the cabinet of the incoming governor. There are some who left prominent positions in oil companies, banks and other companies because of the assurance from ‘power from above’ that the state is already taken.

Yet, dreams and many have even developed serious health conditions since the Supreme Court ruling in favour of the PDP in Bayelsa State.

Of course, those who see politics are business invested huge sum from both political parties in the state. It is truly a gamble, but some are already paying for losing out as the Supreme Court sealed their hope with its final ruling on the case recently.

Imagine a situation where the Supreme Court reviews the Imo State case and recalls Emeka Ihedioha. It means another round of looting has happened without the state having a taste of the dividend of democracy. It also means the present governor will vacate with all his appointees, looting alongside and drawing the state backwards as the new governor will start afresh and his tenure starts counting when he is sworn-in.  The trend is sad for the people, bad for democracy and drawback for development.

Again, no one can imagine how much the parties paid their lawyers for the several appearances in the court for the case. Well, election tribunal is also rumored to have collected huge sum of money to influence cases in favour of some people.

All the money may have come from government coffers.     

It is also difficult to imagine how much must have been expended by both PDP and APC during the Presidential Election Tribunal hearing. The judges, senior advocates of Nigeria and other lawyers involved, the INEC and other stakeholders must all be smiling to the banks afterwards because money (huge sum) really exchanged hands.

For those still in doubt of the sources of the funds for the execution of the expensive court cases, Bidemi Okenla, a political economist, explained that politicians have their way, especially budget padding, which is often smoothened by the civil servants.

“Budget padding has always been there, it is just that the money was so much that was why we heard of it in recent time. Politicians pad budgets with funds they want to use for electioneering campaigns, court cases and for lootings too”, he said.

However, Okenla does not wish the review of the President Election Tribunal ruling. He imagined the events across the country if the Supreme Court reverses itself and rules in favour of Atiku Abubakar.

“The violence, especially by supporters of the incumbent would be unheard of. If the court rules on rerun, the cost would be more than the expenditure for the main election because the ruling party would empty the coffers to retain power. But the money can also start the foundation of a new modern city like Abuja somewhere in Niger Delta or South East,” he said.

 

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