Zamfara: Are the courts being mischievous?

Beginning from 2003 when Dr. Chris Ngige was sacked as governor of Anambra state and Peter Obi was declared the validly elected governor by the Supreme Court, Nigeria’s jurisprudence has witnessed an upsurge in the number of cases brought before the temple of justice after every round of elections.

Omehia, Andy Uba, Oserheimen Osunbor, Olusegun Oni, Olagunsoye Oyinlola and more recently, Muktar Idris, Emeka Ihedioha and David Lyons all lost their mandate in the hall of the Supreme Court. After every pronouncement, Nigerians in their offices, in beer parlours and in TV studios offer analyses of the situation surrounding the sacking and come up with different views on the grounds upon which the wise body of Benchers based their decisions.

This rash of opinions is escalated by so called lawyers whose dizzying interpretations of the statutes leave Nigerians even more confused. However, from every conversation in the street, you get the feeling that the people are more comfortable with some sackings than others. Now, this may not mean much, considering how deeply opinions are rooted on our national fault lines. However, you can still find two or three grounds of consensus that appear neutral and dispassionate. 

For instance, whereas Nigerians generally accepted the sacking of APC’s Muktar Idris as the correct call, many disagreed with the sacking of Emeka Ihedioha. Yet, even this example may be a demonstration of another kind of public sentiment inspired by what I refer to as the “Ruling party’s apathy” – the desire to accept whatever negative thing that befalls a ruling party that’s sweeping through the land

All that notwithstanding, there appears to be a sense now that with every new court’s enthroned politician, the vast majority of Nigerians are becoming more and more disillusioned at the role of the judiciary in our democratic process. So, if Zamfara state in 2019 was widely accepted as a deterrent for the poverty of internal party democracy, the egregious concoctions that formed the basis for the recent ruling sacking Governor Dauda Lawal Dare, Governor Abba Kabir Yusuf of Kano and the expectations that Plateau may soon follow becomes a damning reflection of the growing audacity of the Nigerian courts.

Whereas I can’t go on a limb to infer as is becoming widespread, that the Nigerian courts are allegedly becoming a cash and carry platform for the transaction of judgements rather than justice, I align with the call by learned silks who insist that authorities must make sure judges on election duty have been given proper refreshers on, and have a clear grasp of the provisions of new electoral laws. This is the least they can do.

For the sake of perspective, it is pertinent to state the facts of the case in Zamfara. For starters, the affected local government areas where the court directed INEC to conduct a rerun are Maradun, Birnin-Magaji and Bukkuyum. Already, the INEC iREV has recorded votes for both parties. In Maradun, APC scored 24,855 compared to PDP’s 12, 661. 

Clearly, the APC clinched the local government area with a margin of 12,184. In the same vein, APC won Birnin Magaji with a margin of 755 votes after polling 9,646 to PDP’s 8,991. The voting pattern here showed APC’s Bello Matawalle is favoured but not exactly dominant.

Compare Maradun and Birnin Magaji votes to those of Bukkuyum where the APC scored 10,321 against PDP’s 24,341 the margin of which is 

14,020 in favour of PDP’s Dauda Lawal Dare and you can see clearly that the governor is clearly favoured by the people 

It is still left to be seen what the Appeal Court hopes to achieve by calling for an election where votes had been turned in and winners already declared. The entire judgement appears to leave wide gaps that need to be plugged by perhaps a superior and dispassionate re-interpretation of the electoral laws. 

Frankly, this judgement comes off as a crude joke and borders on the mischievous. I mean, at what point did the lord justices come to the realisation that INEC relied solely on iREV data to make collation? Does it mean polling agents or security agencies deployed for the election do not have polling unit results? 

If the entire gamut of evidence relied on is the iREV data for the affected local government areas, is it that INEC failed to provide forms EC4 for all the polling units in the disputed areas? If it did, what could be responsible for the knee jerk decision declaring that INEC relied on iREV? These are some of the issues begging for answers.

Granted that the grounds for the sacking of David Lyons and Muktar Idris, for instance, are ironclad and were vastly accepted by many Nigerians, questions have refused to dissipate in the face of pronouncements preferred against the governors of Kano and, especially, Zamfara states. 

While we concede that public opinion is not a basis for legal decisions, the legal principle that justice must be seen to have been done in every case must shine through in the pronouncement of our courts. In this case, the Supreme Court, being the last gatekeepers of injustice, must use every opportunity to rescue some confidence for the judiciary and repair its seemingly battered public image.

Joseph writes from Abuja

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