By Ike Abonyi
“A good lawyer knows the law; a clever one takes the judges to lunch” – Mark Twain
A onetime associate Justice in United States’ Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis once said that “If we desire respect for the law we must first make the law respectable”. Following from that saying I strongly believe that Nigeria’s Supreme Court will desire that all its judgments should enjoy some respect from the populace. To achieve that it’s natural that the court’s judgments must be respectable.
I am not a lawyer but I was taught in press law at mass communications class that while you cannot offer opinion in a matter before the court to avoid contempt, you are free after judgment has been delivered to do a critique of it especially if the case is of public interest like elections.
It’s against that backdrop that the recent ruling of the nation’s Supreme Court on Osun State gubernatorial election petition attracts my interest. In doing a review my interest really is not too much on the possible motive behind the ruling, not at all, my interest is on why persuasive logics were not offered as the cause of the action.
I believe very strongly that when implausible explanations are offered as a reason for court ruling in a case especially from apex court of the land, its consequences on the entire judicial system will be far reaching. Nothing can be as frustrating as when a commuter is unable to get a bus ride at the last bus stop, he would be deeply upset and frustrated with his last option not being available. That is always the case with Nigerians when Supreme Court delivers judgments that they find hard to add up.
Last week’s majority judgment of the Supreme Court on the last year’s Osun State gubernatorial election is one of such curious situations when so many questions stand seeking answers. By that judgment the will of the millions of Osun State people is being tied to a junior judge refusing or forgetting to sign his own ruling. Nothing can be more snooping. Even more fussing is the fact that those who relied on it are senior Justices. But as Africans when we do not like what we get from an elder we are not expected even in our distraught go attacking him publicly. Rather we turn to God who has a reason for everything and that is what the people of Osun State have done in this case. Who says that bad judgment has no consequences?
At the Appeal Court level, the world was told that the Judge who delivered the majority ruling at the election petitions tribunal level did not seat at all the proceedings and couldn’t have been privy to all the sides of the case. Is that the fault of the petitioner or his lawyers?
If his judgment had tallied with the others or gone the other way, it may not have been an issue at all. Judiciary watchers are very much aware of instances where cases are returned for retrial by another Judge by the Supreme Court when technical issues are trying to block the main justice of a case. Why was the Osun case different? We have also seen at appellant level how judges are discouraged from using technicalities to throw away cases. Why was Osun case different?
What if a Judge chose not to sign his judgement to deliver negative consequences, should a petitioner be the victim? Who can hear from the Judge in his secluded world to ascertain why he did not sign? And if it was a gross professional error should the petitioner suffer or the Judge?
It’s important that these questions are raised for the revered Justices to know how discerning minds view their cataclysmic ruling on Osun State gubernatorial election petition.
We are certainly not oblivious of the fact that the country’s apex court is manned by human beings not saints. We know as a fact that the Justices are not Pope, therefore they are fallible, but given the inviolability that surround their profession, in their tendency to make mistake as humans, they should strive not be too obvious as the Osun case tends to portray to rational minds.
Nigerians know as keen watchers of activities around and within the judiciary in the last four years that the harassment and intimidation from the Executive arm of government that started in the midnight arrest and detention of some Judges and Justices by state operatives in 2016 and climaxed with the unilateral removal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Nkanu Onnoghen early this year, that it would be difficult if not impossible to still get Justices who could stand without being nervous especially at the point of delivering Justice on political cases.
The implications of this development is that what either President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC), or Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) may need to do to turn the table in their favour if they lose their case at the ongoing Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal is to get one of the Justices to forget to sign his ruling.
When the 89-year-old erudite first academic Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Prof. Ben Nwabueze told the Justice Mohammad Garba-led Presidential election panel at the Court of Appeal last week that rulings from these election tribunals will go a long way in determining the future of elections and democracy in Nigeria, he was just underscoring an obvious point. The Ambassadors of United Kingdom and the United States of America who led other international election monitors to declare in a press conference that Osun rerun was a charade will just be imagining what we as a country do with the will of our people freely and voluntarily expressed via elections.
That perhaps explains why non-lawyers like me and other discerning minds are concerned because when the last man standing in a battle is showing signs of panic and absence of confidence, hope of victory is going to be distant in coming. Operating democracy in an atmosphere where Judiciary is timid and shell shocked from harassment is like getting involved in a sport manned by a referee that is panicky and lacking in self-confidence. The outcome of such game is going to be unbridled and uproarious.
Too young to run: Bello and Abbo as bad market
Nigerian youths worried about the continued dominance of old men in the political leadership position of this country and how the situation was keeping the country’s progress permanently at analogue, began a campaign about not too young to run.
The campaign was turned into a bill to the National Assembly who also quickly passed it into law.
In March last year President Muhammadu Buhari signed the bill into law meaning a reduction in the age limits of political positions across the country.
After President Buhari had abused Nigeria youths as lazy lots, he was quick in signing the bill as a way of cementing a frayed relationship.
But the success recorded in bringing up the bill is being imperiled by the manifest destitute performance and behaviour of the young who ran and are holding strong political positions.
At 44 the Governor of Kogi State Yahaya Bello is the youngest governor in the country. His performance in governance delivery and general attitude has been anything but good.
Ditto, Senator Elisha Abbo from Adamawa State who at 41 recently emerged as the youngest Senator in the 9th Assembly but his sex toy shop drama which landed him in Police net has portrayed his youthfulness in the negative.
The duo are clearly bad market for this laudable not too young to run idea making the old begin to feel vindicated.