By Olugboyega Isijola
The adoption of the British Westminster System of Government at Independence in 1960 with a Republican upgraded status in 1966 makes a mockery of democratic ethics and ethos, which the Britain had relished for centuries.
Nigeria’s democratic system of government as we knew and practiced it came crashing with the introduction of “Fellow Nigerians” in the early hours of January 15, 1966.
That was the day the military took over the nascent democratic government; dismissed the cabinet and suspended the constitution.
The military ruled by decree throughout, with a three-year civil war and other coups and attempted coups until they established, by decree, the 1979 Presidential Constitutional System of government as framework for governance.
The military returned Nigeria to civil rule using the 1979 constitution as a working tool.
This failed the tagged “Second Republic” with another military made constitution in 1999 called the “Third Republic.”
Unfortunately, there is nothing new in this new constitution authored by some serving Army Generals, doing what they were not trained for.
This same 1999 constitution, made by the military with all its inherent faults and woes, is what we the peoples of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, still expect to give us democratic governments, structures, institutions and functions.
Of the three arms of government, the executive is presumed the most powerful and important. But in reality, the Judiciary.
The executive implements the laws made by the legislature, while the Judiciary adjudicates matters between the two. It says what the law is and divides the powers of the executive.
For any democracy to survive and succeed, the legislature must be free, especially from the yoke of corrupt democrats, fake progressives, and all-for-sale judiciary, through open, free and fair processes.
The constitution specifically states that elective officers must only emerge through democratic processes.
This is where democracy is elementarily defined as the “government of the people by the people and for the people” in the belief that all elective political office holders at all levels must be elected by their constituents.
The other constitutional institutions of government that are relevant in the electoral process are INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) and political parties, while the Judiciary, which is conceived as independent, is to ensure compliance with the regulations and guidelines related to the conduct of elections and governance.
To insulate the judiciary from partisan politics, the constitution also spells out the processes for the appointment of judges and justices of the different courts and the Supreme Court.
Given the corrupt nature of most Nigerian politicians especially during the formative and experimental democratic elections in 1954, 1964 and 1965, democracy was an experiment in futility. Most of the extant rules, regulations and guidelines were broken in the conduct of elections by candidates of the existing political parties.
With the new constitutional democracy, it was generally expected that the Judiciary, in spirits and letters, would moderate the anti democratic tendencies of Nigerian politicians before, during and after elections to ensure justice for all. But these were not to be until the entire new British experiment collapsed in that military coup of 1966.
Fast forward, the military government of General Olusegun Obasanjo handed over to a new civilian government under a new democratic constitutional government in 1979 but wearing a borrowed cloak called Presidential System, copied from America.
The elections in this Second Republic were the first test of the new democratic dispensation. They actually provided an acid test for the whole democratic apparatus, namely the new Constitution, the institutions established by the Constitution, especially the Judiciary, as the third Arm of Government, the Political parties, and the Federal Electoral Commission charged with the conduct of elections. And all the institutions failed the nation. The greatest culprit was the Judiciary as led by the Supreme Court, which could not decide the Presidential Election case, without fear or favour. Very unfortunately, that laid the foundation for the current injustice in our courts today without exception.
Incidentally, this is the kernel of this piece. One major problem of the democratic government in Nigeria today is the inability of the Judiciary, “from top to bottom” to accommodate the foremost principle of FREE AND FAIR JUDGEMENT in their chambers. This directly translates to bad government, lack of growth and development as well as disruption and destruction of democracy, as epitomised by the killing of the First and Second Republics.
Moving fast, the Third Republic came into being through the same undemocratic route as the previous ones. The Constitution was produced, not by the people, but by the military whose culture is “Command and Obey” and “Obey the last Order”. How far can the rudiments of democracy be sustained in a military-inspired national Constitution?
Miraculously, the 1999 Constitution has survived till now after two decades but thanks to so many panel-beatings by Nigerians.
Thanks also to some Nigerian scholars, new breed politicians, academia and jurists, who, through different fora, have been contributing their quota to future of the Nigerian Presidential constitution. One of such, led to the production of the book titled “ The Judiciary and Democracy in Nigeria, 1998” edited by Professor Elo Amuchiazi and Justice Olajide Olatawura.
The major inference from the various contributors is that the Judicial involvement in electoral cases is to provide justice to all parties in any and all election matters if they are to, without favour, perform their constitutional roles.
They are statutorilly expected to apply the rule of law and not the rule of man or inducements and justice in its pure form, must be fair and equitable for all that seek redress.
We believe that the Judiciary must abhor financial and material incentives from interested parties or their patrons, adjudicate cases freely and honestly in accordance with their oath of office such that members of the public and litigants can accept the outcome of their decisions.
We cannot but agree with this summarised position by one of the most respected jurists in Nigeria, Justice Olu Ayoola when he recommended that “A judge should decide cases neither to please nor to offend but with only one aim namely, to decide as the law enjoins and in faithfulness to the law and to his oath of office without fear or favour. Impartial and evenhanded dispensation of justice creates respect for law, judicial institutions and the judicial process”. And let us add “and judicial officers.”
Apart from the respect which application of legal justice will confer on the judges and the Judiciary at home, it has implications for the image of the Judiciary on the international stage. The outside world is aware and abreast of what goes on in Nigeria, especially given the conception of the country as the most populous democratic experiment in black Africa.
With the benefit of hindsight, the performance of the Nigerian Judiciary has been a mixed bag of few approbations and many reservations in their handling of election cases since the adoption of presidential constitutional Democracy in 1979.
Since elections are considered as the main bedrock of democracy in a constitutional democratic system that Nigeria is trying to be, it will be the duty of political historians to give a comprehensive balance sheet of their performances.
It is a general beer parlor’s knowledge that many of our judges are not delivering justice but rule of fidelity and material/financial considerations. Otherwise, how can we justify the declaration of a candidate who came fourth in an election as the victor using a magical mathematical formula?
How can the Judiciary justify the case of judges who decided to deduct votes from a candidate’s total votes, simply based on the colour of ink used by INEC officials to accredit voters in his voting centres? Definitely it was a hatchet job between the judges and INEC.
It was a classic case of working to the answer by a procured Judge that was supposed to administer justice to all.
Many such ridiculous cases abound in our recent legal history since 1999, which have damaged the integrity of the entire judicial architecture.
Nigeria is again on another election circle when the performance of the judiciary will as usual be under domestic and international scrutiny.
It is generally said that a problem well diagnosed is half solved and it is hoped that those saddled with the leadership of the Nigerian Judiciary should and must work to return the old glory of the Nigerian Judiciary when judges were not mere appendages of the personnel of the other two branches of government.
More importantly, the Judiciary must extricate itself from the self-imposed servants of anti-democratic political merchants whose stock in trade is the commercialisation of politics and the politicisation of the Judiciary.
It is hoped that the new leadership of the Judiciary in the person of the newest substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola will return the Judiciary to the path of legal justice as he recently promised Nigerians and his global audience.
From his first public pronouncements since his inauguration, he seems aware of the unholy alliance between some members of the Judiciary and some politicians in the desecration of the judicial hallow chambers, where the basic principles of judicial independence and impartiality have been thrown out of the windows.
Hear him: “I want to admonish the politicians to leave the Judiciary alone for us to function. Let them do their own thing while we do ours too. Law is not static. What we apply is law as it is made.”
These statements coming from him show that he is aware of what the ordinary Nigerian knows about the expected role of the Judiciary in the administration of justice.
But talk is cheap, as they say. He must therefore, talk the talk and walk the walk. He must now ensure that indeed, politicians do not put pressure on the judges to decide cases according to their whims and caprices but according to the rule of law.
The new corruptive weapon of some judges today is to decide election cases highlighting technicalities without any atom of consideration for the cogent legal matters of the case. Some judges do this with their closets filled with dollars from the rotten hands of corrupt politicians without conscience and morals. What a shame of a nation.
And one of the politicians recently spoke from the two ends of his mouth saying that he has the judiciary in his pockets, while other litigants in courts are mere entertainers.
This confirms that the two-term governorship seats of this now ex-governor must have been procured by or for him from the judiciary.
But the greatest tragedy of the matter is that his lackey and stooge are still in courts today expecting procured judgments on governorship cases. This group of politicians doesn’t have any respect for party constitutions, INEC guidelines, or the laws of the land before, during, and after elections.
This type of corrupt politicians are so entrenched in the judiciary that they are always sure that certain corrupt members of the Judiciary are there to ensure their victories through the election tribunals and the appellate courts.
They are aided by some senior members of the bar, who play the middlemen’s role. They now influence the judges that are allocated the cases they are interested in at all levels.
This is nothing other than the bastardization of the confidence of the voting public in the Judiciary as they benefited from the miscarriage of justice that followed.
The new CJN should endeavor to be bold enough to liberate the judiciary from the pressures of money bags that have rendered the principles of democracy inchoate since independence.
He must walk the walk and not merely talking the talk because as the saying goes, “talk is cheap “.
The argument of the egalitarian school of thought in social contract studies that justice can only exist or flourish where there is equality in dispensation of distributive justice by the Judiciary should be the guiding principle of the Judiciary moving forward.
Legal justice assumes that in constitutional democracies,all parties to any and all electoral litigations are supposed to be equal before the law and that any applicable laws of the land either as provided in the constitution, electoral laws and party constitutions and guidelines as applied for the conduct of elections either for primaries/elections and the qualifications of candidates are applied equally in all circumstances. This is to safeguard the sanctity of the electoral process (democracy) and people’s confidence in the judiciary. It is an irony that for most of the years that Nigeria has introduced constitutional Democracy, many Nigerians who despite many odds participated in many of the election rituals later found out that their votes don’t count from the manipulation of politicians and when such cases are brought before the Judiciary, some of the corrupt judges using the advantage of their positions use the law as a weapon dishonestly in return for money or other favors from politicians. They stand the truth and the law on the head by denying legal justice to those who deserve it despite overwhelming facts and evidence.
All hopes may not be lost in the undertaking by the new leadership of the judiciary that he will ensure that the constitutional and democratic rights of Nigerians are safeguarded by his men. It is his avowed responsibility to lead by example and ensure that the Judiciary under him must embody the virtues of legal justice to assure all Nigerians that most of them will be guided by their oath of office to protect the institutions of government, the people of Nigeria when they swear by the Bible or Koran so that democracy will be sustained in the country for the benefit of all and not the few.
Democracy cannot survive in Nigeria if judicial involvement in election cases is known to or perceived to be for the highest bidder. But the biggest challenge today is that the new CJN has himself lighted a new beacon of hope for a new Nigeria ruled by the Rule of Law and not of Judges and help them, God.