The increasing meddlesome interventions of the judiciary in almost every stratum of the political turf is fast threatening Nigeria’s hard-earned democracy and becoming a source of concern to stakeholders, especially, as the country moves closer to the 2023 elections, a THISDAY says.
From Port Harcourt to Kebbi and then, Calabar as seen in the past few days in the Peoples Democratic (PDP) as well as events leading to the Anambra gubernatorial election, stakeholders are worried that the trend signposts possible dangers ahead, even as they rebuked members of the judiciary for making themselves readily available for the dirty biddings of politicians.
The courts, many well-meaning Nigerians are worried, might have become a marketplace for politicians to buy injunctions and exparte orders, and at the rate things are going, it may be difficult to draw the lines that Judges will not cross just to do the bidding of politicians.
The ease with which judges allow themselves to be manipulated by senior lawyers in pursuit of narrow self-interest is baffling to many, who now see the judiciary as a major threat to the nation’s democracy. Some of the actions of judges defy logic and reason causing the layman on the street to ask questions and raise suspicion of underhand dealings.
“The situation is now embarrassing. It is now so easy for any group to move into any court to get a judgment. All they need do is to get a pliant judge. It is unfortunate that the judges are the ones that determine, who holds political positions in Nigeria.
“There are so many interventions by the judiciary across the country. They make governors, senators; they issue injunctions and they now sell injunctions. You have a case in Akwa Ibom, you go to Sokoto to get a judgment and then INEC has to obey. So, it is an abuse. With the way they are going, you can even get an injunction for marriages in Jigawa,” a senior lawyer, who pleaded to remain anonymous, said.
For instance, in the PDP, early last week, a High Court in Rivers State, had issued an order of interim injunction, restraining Uche Secondus from carrying on as national chairman of the party, pending the hearing and determination of a suit challenging his continued stay in office.
Secondus, according to the ruling, had been ordered to stop parading himself as a member of the PDP on grounds of his suspension from the party.
Justice O. Gbasam of the Degema Division of a High Court of Rivers State, sitting in Port Harcourt, had issued the orders while delivering ruling in an exparte application by some chieftains of the PDP in Rivers State.
But two days after, Justice Nusirat. I. Umar, a vacation Judge of the Kebbi State High Court of coordinate jurisdiction with the one in Rivers State and who was clearly aware of the case already in Rivers State, not only entertained the case, she gave her own orders restoring the embattled National Chairman of the party to his position.
This was after the Deputy National Chairman (South) of the Party, Elder Yemi Akinwomi, had assumed leadership of the PDP in an acting capacity.
In a suit brought before her in Birinin Kebbi, the state capital in case KB/AC/M. 170/2021, Justice Umar said she was satisfied after reading the affidavit of the respondents that an interim order should be granted on the purported suspension of Secondus pending the determination of the case.
“An order of this Honourable court granting leave to the first respondent (Uche Secondus) to continue exercising all the constitutional powers of the office of Chairman of PDP (second defendant) as enshrined in both 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as amended and the Peoples Democratic Party’s constitution pending the hearing and final determination of applicant’s motion on notice,” the order stated.
Regrettably, 24-hours after the Kebbi State ruling, the crisis in the political party took a new twist as this time another court in Calabar, Cross River State, further restrained Secondus from parading himself as chairman as well as from presiding over the National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of the party held at the weekend.
Any right-thinking person will know that something was surely wrong with a system that tolerates such abuse and mockery of such a critical arm of the state. But Judges and many senior lawyers appear to care less about the consequential implications of their behaviour, which had brought disrepute and dishonour to the judiciary.
The interim order was issued by the court, presided over by Justice Edem Kufre, last Friday, upon an application brought by a member of the party, Enang Wani.
The situation is not different in the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), which had also been engulfed with leadership squabble between the Jude Okeke and Victor Oye factions. This has seen leaders of the same party move from one court to the other shopping for an injunction in their quest to control the party and ensure their candidates are recognised ahead of the November gubernatorial election, thus further polarizing the party.
In the case of the APGA, former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Chukwuma Soludo is having a running battle with Chukwuma Umeoji. The litigations are tied to who is the authentic Chairman of APGA in Anambra State amongst Chief Victor Oye, Chief Njoku and Jude Okeke.
Meanwhile, judges in Anambra, Jigawa, Imo and Abuja have intervened in the matter causing INEC to at various times list and delist both the names of Soludo and Umeoji as candidates of APGA.
The electoral umpire had on July 16 published the name of Umeoji as the APGA candidate following an order by the Jigawa State High Court on June 28.
On July 18 justice Charles Okaa of Anambra State High Court directed INEC to publish Soludo’s name as APGA’s candidate. Meanwhile, justice Iheka of the Imo State High Court again ordered INEC to publish Umeoji’s name.
Reacting to the confusion, Justice Nwosu-Iheme berated the judges for indulging politicians, who go round the country shopping for judgments to enable them to be on the ballot. According to her, the judges, who indulge these politicians are bringing the legal profession to public ridicule.
The PDP in Anambra State is in a terrible position as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) presently does not recognise either the Valentine Ozigbo or Senator Ugochukwu Uba factions, because of a plethora of court injunctions.
A former National Chairman of All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr Adams Oshiomhole, was also removed after legal fireworks that saw the former labour leader and his then rivals from the Federal High Court in Kano, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, among others, in the battle for the soul of the party.
Some three weeks ago, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) warned that except the leadership of both the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and the National Judicial Council (NJC) intervened, the seemingly endless and conflicting court orders over political parties’ affairs could jeopardise preparations for the 2023 general election.
INEC, which lamented the level of distraction the commission had begun to face as a result of litigations arising from the Anambra State governorship primary elections, however, restated its commitment to the use of technology in conducting elections, because it was the only way to credible and transparent polls.
While maintaining that new and conflicting court orders from all parts of the country kept flooding its headquarters on a daily basis, the commission said it was not only frustrating but also causing it to keep recognising one candidate over the other, and changing same again in the major political parties.
National Commissioner for Voter Education, Festus Okoye, who hinted at the concerns in Awka, Anambra State, said, “This (litigations) is frustrating. What the commission does in terms of obedience to court orders is that if a judgment comes today, the commission obeys the order, because it is the latest in time.
“If on the same issue, another court of coordinate jurisdiction, or from a court of another judicial division comes to us, because that one is the latest in time, the commission obeys that one.
“So, what the political parties have been doing, and what they are doing is that they anticipate the commission, and the moment you’re proceeding, they get court orders. This is impeding our performance and making things difficult.
“Elections require sanctity and adherence to guidelines, the leadership of the NBA and the NJC should look at this. This is urgent and imperative because if it persists, this can jeopardise the conduct of the 2023 general election. We are having court orders on a daily basis from courts in all parts of the country and that is not right.”
Although sections of the country’s constitution and the Electoral Act allow the judiciary, (courts and election tribunals) to intervene particularly, when issues of non-compliance, manipulation, violence etc are alleged to mar the process of electing a particular representative, however, recent developments seem to portray the fact that these days, the judges rather than the people choose the leaders.
A peculiar case in recent times is that of a South Eastern State where the governor was referred to as the “Supreme Court” governor, simply because he was declared winner of the 2019 governorship election, after coming a distant fourth in the poll.
The intervention of the courts whether at pre-election cases or election petitions are taking a worrisome dimension as their judgments to most aggrieved parties and even the people seem to be far from justice, particularly, when such courts or judges lacked the necessary jurisdiction in the first place to hear the case brought before them.
The situation was so bad that sometime last year, former Chief Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Justice Ishaq Bello had to issue a practice directive warning justice against delving into cases outside their jurisdiction as well as issuing all sorts of restraining orders in election matters.
But it seems the warning may have fallen on deaf ears as the situation rather than abating is getting worse. Only recently, a Justice of the Court of Appeal, Chioma Nwosu-Iheme, while delivering judgment called for the punishment of a Jigawa State High Court judge, Justice Ubale and his Imo State counterpart, Justice B. C. Iheka over what she described as professional misconduct by dabbling into the Anambra State gubernatorial election controversy and gave consequential judgments on it.
Obinna Chima in Lagos and Alex Enumah in Abuja