Nigerians caution judiciary, INEC over Supreme Court’s verdict on Lawan, Akpabio

Nigerians have cautioned the judiciary against allowing itself to be used by politicians to scuttle the 2023 general election or destroy the nation’s democracy in its entirety.

They have also urged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to begin to exercise its powers conferred on it by the new Electoral Act.

The pieces of advice were given following the recent verdicts by the Supreme Court on the senatorial ambitions of Senate President, Lawan and a former minister of the Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio.

Lawan and Akpabio had purchased the All Progressives Congress (APC) nomination and expression of interest forms to contest for their party’s presidential ticket.

It was also noted that screening and clearance for both presidential and senatorial candidacy were done at the same period.

Neither Lawan nor Akpabio at that time purchased forms for the senatorial race. That was the plank of the legal battle in the first place.

However, some Nigerians have expressed disappointment with the judgment and ability of the judiciary to maintain its independence.

They said the recent trends and judgment were not healthy for democracy in Nigeria and the rule of law.

Victor Giwa, Abuja-based legal practitioner, faulted the judgment of the Supreme Court on the matter, saying that the judges deviated from the real issue, which was the eligibility of Lawan having not emerged in a properly organised primary by the APC.

Giwa said that the 2022 amended Electoral Act had empowered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to nullify a candidate if the primary was not duly conducted with existing law, unlike in the past where political parties had that exclusive prerogative.

“But the 2022 Electoral Act has changed that narrative; gone are those days when people come up and argue that the issue of the candidate of a party is the sole internal affairs of the party.

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“The new Electoral Act empowers INEC to reject a candidate if they felt such a person did not emerge through a proper organised primary that was monitored by them.

“Two primaries were conducted; one was conducted 28th of May and the other one on the 6th of June; the federal high court said the only valid primary is the one conducted on the 28th of May.

“The judges did not look at the process of how Lawan emerged in the ruling”.

Martins Onovo, a former presidential candidate, equally disagreed with the Supreme Court ruling, saying that having studied the ruling, he felt that the minority judgment of Justice Emmanuel Agim seems right based on the facts that the first primary was valid and was never cancelled.

According to Onovo, “The Supreme Court is the final authority but the Supreme Court is not infallible. Thank God there were two dissenting judgments. We agree with those.

“The Lawan primary was a ruse as Lawan was not qualified and INEC did not accept it.

Lawan was not qualified because he withdrew and participated in the presidential primaries.

“Finally, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Lawan on legal technicalities against the facts.”

Onovo added that recent rulings from the nation’s apex court and the judiciary as a whole was worrisome.

“It is clear that Lawan is not the candidate of the APC, because we all know he did not participate in the primary of the APC.

“If the Imo State gubernatorial primary judgment has become the standard now, it means the executive has taken over the judiciary.

“We said it then when the homes of some judges were invaded. Unfortunately everyone is silent now on the matter, even the media that has also a constitutional role to play.

“The media must take its role seriously, and not allow itself to be used. It is our fault whatever has befallen us,” he said.

Idowu Omolegan, lawyer and activist, however, said that Nigerians may be raising false alarms about the Supreme Court ruling, but that Machina may have lost the case based on technicality.

According to Omolegan, “When you take your matter to the court, if you are not satisfied you can go to another and appeal; that is the reason why we have different layers of the courts in the country to give you fair hearing.

“If he wins we are still talking about fair hearing, it is the same fair hearing if Lawan won at the Supreme Court.

“There is credibility in our judiciary system, let not begin to think that something unethical happened or money exchanged hands.

“The Supreme Court had seen certain things before they gave the judgment and it can be technical”.

In July last year, Olisa Agbakoba in an exclusive interview with BusinessDay, said that neither Lawan nor Akpabio had the right to be on the ballot.

“I think this new Electoral Act has given INEC some more powers. Some people are saying ‘O, INEC cannot do this and that’, but the new Electoral Act has empowered it to do certain things. The Senate President (Lawan) is saying he will be on the ballot; Godswill Akpabio is also saying the same thing, but INEC is saying no, because they did not take part in the primaries in their states. The party is saying it is our responsibility but INEC is saying no. There is a new provision in the Act that says if you did not take part in the process INEC won’t recognise you. So, from what I can see INEC is asserting itself based on the powers given to it in the new Act; but I want it to play a stronger role, particularly, I do not know if INEC understands that it is a constitutional regulator for the election process; if I were the INEC chair and my commissioners, we would have fully exercised our constitutional powers,” Agbakoba said.

The Senior advocate of Nigeria, who also said that it was wrong for elected politician to decamp to another party why exercising the mandate given to him or her in another party, said if he were the INEC chairman, some decampees would have lost their seats.

“For instance, Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State was elected on the platform of the PDP and given a certificate of return that carried PDP; he now defects to APC. With that defection, INEC in my view is entitled to withdraw the certificate; it does not require a court judgment. If Umahi feels that INEC should not do so, let him contest it. INEC is not pushing itself to the limit of its power. All these people that are defecting from one party to another, INEC is given power to regulate the political and electoral process; that power must be exercised to the hilt, and that is why you find the impunity of these politicians jumping from one party to the other because INEC is not asserting itself. I would have done that if I were the INEC chairman so that the temperature can be good. You can’t be in one party and in the course of an election you jump out and go to another. We must punish bad behavior,” he said.

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