By: Michael Ndubuisi Odumefune
The court of law has been posited over time to be the last hope of the common man,but today in Nigeria recent rulings at all levels of the judiciary has proven that the court and its principal actors have reduced the or elevated the status of the court to last hope of the rich and powerful man.
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The latest in the series of this debasement is the rulling of the Supreme Court on the appeal filed by Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Mr Peter Obi as it pertains to the outcome of the Presidential election .
While many political and legal observers had advised both Obi and Atiku not to appeal the verdict in favour of President Ahmed Tinubu from the PEPT,on the grounds that the Supreme Court, just like the ineptly biased and influenced lower Courts in the land appeared to have toed the path of technicalities in resolving issues brought before it as was evident in the Imo Governorship appeal which sacked an incumbent Governor, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha and returned APC’s Hope Uzodinma who was placed a distant fourth in the 2019 Imo Governorship election.
A decision which was seen as at that time as a n expensive joke with grave implications and subsequently gave birth to a new lingo Supreme Court Governor and it’s attendant insecurity in Imo state and by extension the South east
Apart from the Imo scenario, the Apex Court has largely been inconsistent in interpreting some of the provisions of the Electoral Act vis-a-vis the Constitution of the land.
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The cases of both former and serving Senate Presidents; Ahmed Lawan and Godswill Akpabio and even David Umahi all of the ruling All Progressives Congress during the last general election speaks volumes of the fears that our Lordships may no longer be valuable instruments of social justice but now appears to be consistently in pursuit of the interest of the ruling class and their personal stomachs.
If not how do you explain the return of Send Umahi Akpabio and Lawan to the ballot by the apex Court in contrast to the the clear and extant provisions of Section 84(8) of the Electoral Act (as amended) on the issue of a candidate contesting for another position after vying for the ticket of the same Party in another primary election.
Even at the lower elections Petitions tribunals, the verdicts have been rather conflicting! In one instance, a candidate is sacked for proven case of forgery. In another fell swoop, another elected candidate’s election is upheld for committing the same offense. A candidate of a ruling Party has his election upheld despite allegations of non-compliance with the electoral law and another candidate has his own election invalidated either or being in opposition or falling out of faour with the cabals of the government in power. How then, can one expect a nation where justice is for the highest bidders to make progress?
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For these reasons and many more many political watchers honestly never expected much from the Supreme Court on it’s expected rulling on the appeal filed by Obi and Atiku but I was even more bemused before its rulling when some sane minds and lawyers obviously hired by their paymasters appeared on Live on National Televisions to dare the apex Court not to admit the said depositions made under oath by the Registrar of Chicago State University, Caleb Westberg to the effect that the Diploma certificate presented to INEC by APC’s Presidential candidate in the 2023 election, Bola Ahmed Tinubu was not issued by the institution as presented by Atiku as fresh evidence before it.
While the deebate raged on and attempts to create chaos and confusion on the deposition .Atiku and Obi exuded confidence that the law was non negotiable sacrosant and fair in it’s wise counsel and for some inexplicable reasons couldn’t read the handwritings on the wall.
However The Supreme Court Judges led by Justice Haruna Tsammani were too quick to dismiss all the objections raised and emanating from the appeal court and also refused to entertain fresh evidence in the wake of the Tinubu certificate scandal
One would have thought that being unbiased referees as learned and wise in counsel the Judiciary would have shown keen interest in determining the authenticity of the certificate presented by President Tinubu considering the gravity of the allegations if it were true.
But the Supreme Court simply chose to turn a blind eye to the facts ,evidence and and arguments brought before it on the ground of technicality.
For some sane Nigerians and the rest of the world, it is a huge shame the apex Court succumbed to pressure not to accept as evidence before it, pre-qualification documents that INEC as an institution bound by the Nigerian law deliberately ignored or failed to check and act. In saner climes, this ordinarily ought not to have been debatable in the first instance.
Now the argument among lawyers and Judges and even the common man is where is the place of technicality in administering equity and Justice
Does technicality take precedence over the law , fact, and evidence ,if so then where is place of truth, fairness and Justice in our legal space.
Truth be told,truth, fairness and Justice has long been buried somewhere in the Abyss of the insatiable belly of the corruptible judges as we have witnessed today.
Ironically recall that just three decades ago and in this same country, and notably, under military rule, this was the same Court on which Bench sat legends of the law like Kayode Eso, Chukwudifu Oputa, Andrews Otutu Obaseki, Ayo Irikefe, Chukwuenike Idigbe, Augustine Nnamani, Mohammed Bello, Adolphus Karibi-Whyte, Ephraim Akpata, Bola Babalakin, Anthony Aniagolu and others. On both the Supreme and Appellate Courts, these justices gave Nigeria an image of the role of the law as an instrument for nation-building.
For more than a decade they spoke the law to power. They were fearless, independent, firm and robustly intelligent. They were leaders of an incorruptible court, dramatized for posterity in D. Olu Adegoke’s play, The Incorruptible Judge.
But sadly today, the hopes of the common man in the Nigerian Judicial system has not only waned but it is also almost completely lost!
The ordinarily needless debates renting the air at the moment only goes to prove how powerful certain individuals- not institutions have become in today’s Nigeria.
This is the more reason the apex Court must distinguish itself. Already, the feelers that some of the Jurists have recused themselves from the matter following the admission of a retiring justice of the Apex court Musa Dattijo Muhammad, who reportedly pulled out from the seven-man panel that dismissed all the appeals that sought to remove President Tinubu from office, has accused the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, of abusing the powers of his office
In his valedictory speech in honor of his service to the judiciary his lordship was quoted to have said “In my considered opinion, the oversight functions of these bodies should not rest on an individual alone. A person with absolute powers, it is said, corrupts easily and absolutely. “As Chair of NJC, FJSC, NJI and LPPC, appointments as council, board and commitment members are at his pleasure. He neither confers with fellow justices nor seeks their counsel or input on any matter related to these bodies. He has both the final and the only say. “The CJN has power to appoint 80 percent of members of the council and 60 percent of members of FJSC. The same applies to NJI and LPPC.
“Such enormous powers are effortlessly abused. This needs to change. Continued denial of the existence of this threatening anomaly weakens effective judicial oversight in the country,” he added
On the current composition of the bench of the apex court, Justice Muhammad alleged that the refusal to fill the vacant slot of South East on the apex court bench, was deliberate, blaming it on “absolute powers vested in the office of the CJN.”
He further stressed that with his retirement, the North Central zone which he represented, would no longer have a Justice on the Supreme Court bench.
“Appropriate steps could have been taken since to fill outstanding vacancies in the apex court. Why have these steps not been timeously taken? “It is evident that the decision not to fill the vacancies in the court is deliberate. It is all about the absolute powers vested in the office of the CJN and the responsible exercise of same,” the retiring jurist added.
On the issue of membership of the panel that heard the presidential election appeals by candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and the Labour Party, LP, Mr Peter Obi, Justice Muhammad, said: “To ensure justice and transparency in presidential appeals from the lower court, all geo-political zones are required to participate in the hearing.
“It is therefore dangerous for democracy and equity for two entire regions to be left out in the decisions that will affect the generality of Nigerians. “This is not what our laws envisage.
As they commonly say, a good name, remains better and more valuable than gold and for the Retired Jurist his admission of the rot in the judiciary clearly buttresses the old cliche.
As the nation’s fate hangs on the balance , it remains to be seen if their Lordships be supreme in remedy and live above what Aquinas called a ‘Corruption of law’?
The die is cast and the stage is all set from now on to either continue in a show of shame and infamy or to rise above the tides and restore the dignity and pride of the hallowed court to it’s sacred stays of being the last hope for the common man.