September 29, 2023

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OPINION: Somersaults at the temple of justice by Femi Oluwasanmi

The recent judgment of the appellate court on the Osun State gubernatorial election has further exposes the trends of somersaults at the temple of justice in Nigeria and buttresses the need for a reformed judiciary in order to accelerate the quest for sanity in the country’s democratisation.

In a unanimous decision of Justice Mohammed Lawal led panel, the Court of Appeal at the FCT, Abuja, on March 24, had validated the mandate of Governor Ademola Adeleke of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the winner of the gubernatorial election conducted on July 16, 2022, and awarded a fine of N500, 000 to the former governor of the state, Mr. Gboyega Oyetola and his party, APC.

Though this is not the final stage in seeking for justice in a legal battle based on the 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, the reversal of the earlier judgment delivered by the Osun State Election Petition Tribunal on the matter shows that “judicial somersault” had occurred at the tribunal. This became obvious with the “political tsunami” that swept the state few weeks after the judgement.

For instance, on March 18, it took APC, the party to which Governor Oyetola belongs, an extraordinary effort to secure a constituency out of the 26 State Constituencies at the State House of Assembly Election despite the fact that it currently occupying 23 seats at the assembly. The same thing occured on February 25 when the party lost all the three senatorial districts and the federal constituencies in the State to the PDP.

Although the introduction of BVAS machine to the 2023 general election seems to suggest that the voting pattern of the people is gradually shifting towards personality rather than party, a logical examination of the manifestation of the victory of the candidates that contested on the platform of the PDP shows that the people voted for them to preserve the mandate given to Governor Adeleke and send a clear message to the judiciary on the need to correct the judicial somersault made at the Tribunal.

Prior to this period, the judiciary had displayed similar somersault in the 2019 Imo State gubernatorial election when senator Hope Uzodima, who secured fourth position based on the results declared by the INEC, was elevated by the Supreme Court and declared the winner of the election in a manner that made many people to conclude that there seems to be a “special magic box” specially designed for the judiciary to assist candidates who failed to get the validation of the people at the polling units in the court of law.

Similar somersault seems to have happened on 6th February, 2023, when the supreme court declared the Senate president, Ahmed Lawal, as the winner of the primary election he never participated in. Though his party, APC, claimed that a primary election was conducted less than 48 hours after he lost at the presidential primary election to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, on June 6, the time the party sent the notice of the second primary election to the INEC without the official resignation of the winner of the first primary election, Bashir Machina, is still a question begging for answer.

However, this judicial somersault is not limited to President Mohammed Buhari’s administration.

In 2014, Nigerians at home and abroad were embarrassed when a former governor of Delta State between 1999 – 2007, was arrested by the Metropolitan Police and repatriated to the United Kingdom where he was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment by Judge Anthony Pitils of South Wart Crown Court in London on the same 170 charges for which he had been discharged and acquitted in Nigeria by Justice Marcel Awokulehin, at Asaba High Court on 17th December, 2009. The same was made manifested in the case of John Yakubu, a former assistant director in the federal civil service, when justice Talba Abubakar of the Federal High Court at Abuja, FCT, sentenced him to two years imprisonment with a fine of 750, 000 for his involvement in a N32.8 billion naira police pension scam in 2012.

More explicable is the election process that brought the late President Musa Yar’Adua to power in 2007. In fact, despite his acknowledgement of flaws in the election, the Supreme Court justices that were constituted to look into the matter, including the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, never saw any wrong in the result.

This culture of justice for sale seems to find its place in the Sokoto Governorship election petition that almost pitched the president of the court of appeal, (PCA), Justice Ayo Salami against the then CJN, Justice Kastina Ali, when the Appeal Court refused to handle the appeal filed by the opposition against the tribunal judgment delivered in favour of Nyako till the Chief Justice intervened and directed the Appeal Court to do its work four days to the deadline.

Though most of these somersaults seem to be largely made on election matters, their impact is well felt across all stratas of the country. This situation accounts for the acceleration in the report of cases of self-help, communal clashes, economic stagnancy, unprecedented swelling in the country’s debt profile, uncontrollable unemployment rate, infrastructure decadence, suspicious attitude towards the judiciary and enabling atmosphere for crisis/protest of different forms.

For instance, it took the help of different stakeholders in Osun State and beyond to quell the protest that erupted days after the majority judgment of the Osun State Election Petition Tribunal nullified the victory of Governor Adeleke and declared Governor Oyetola as the winner of the election.

Apart from those that lost their lives as a result of the intense atmosphere occasioned by the judgment, it also buttresses the claim that a corrupt judicial officer can pull back the wheel of the society and return it to Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature where life was brutish, nasty and short.

Therefore, with the introduction of BVAS machines to the electoral process, there is a need for urgent reform that will guarantee the independence of the judiciary, improve the welfare of judicial officers, create enabling environment for the training and retraining of judges/justices, fasttrack the renovation of court rooms across the country, and increase the penalty for judicial officers caught in unethical conduct, so that election fraud can be curtailed in Nigeria.

Oluwasanmi writes in from Ibafo, Ogun State.