Okpani Omeroko submits that justice must be seen to have been served as Ebonyi Election Petition Tribunal considers myriad of electoral petitions before it.
That Nigeria’s democracy is currently under threat is an understatement. It is apparent from the excessive machinations of some political actors who have exhibited the penchant for greed and avarice, particularly in the way and manner they appropriate every available gains and dividends of democracy to themselves.
These persons who desire exclusivity do not bother about the well-being of other citizens within the political space. And, in spite of efforts by many patriotic Nigerians to encourage those who felt cheated at the recent controversial 2023 general elections to seek redress in the tribunals and law courts, some mischief makers have resorted to all kinds of manoeuvers to undermine the legal process. They have invaded various Tribunals set up for the judicial interrogation and resolution of the disputed polls.
This piece is therefore intended to draw attention of Nigerians to some recent ugly developments in Ebonyi State.
It should be noted that former Ebonyi state governor DaveUmahi has been making statements concerning the conduct of the Ebonyi State Governorship and National/State Assembly Tribunal currently sitting in Abuja. Ebonyi State was no exception to the electoral fiasco, which characterized the last general elections.
In the run-up to the elections, Umahi issued an “Executive Order,” which barred opposition political parties from the use of public schools for their campaigns in the state.
The parties were compelled to resort to the use of make-shift open spaces for their campaigns in order to escape Umahi’s policy.
Several people were killed during the elections, just as the electoral umpire, INEC, allegedly facilitated the manipulation of the elections, ranging from the National Assembly to the Governorship and the State Assembly elections.
Piqued by the ugly development, candidates who were robbed of deserving victory decided to approach the Tribunals in search of justice and rederess while expecting fair-hearing.
That the Ebonyi State Election Petition Tribunal were re-located from Abakaliki to Abuja, was ostensibly to guarantee the safety of the Jurists based on reports that there were open threats to put the lives of the judges and witnesses in danger.
Recall that on 14th February, 2023, after the Federal High Court sitting in Abakaliki disbanded the Ebubeagu Militia following a case of abduction and torture brought against the Ebonyi State Government and Ebubeagu by a former Commissioner for Information in the state, Mr. AbiaOnyike.
Umahi had boasted almost one month ago that he would use his contacts in high places to ensure that the Ebonyi State Tribunal is relocated back to Abakaliki, the state capital.
Umahi had every reason to be agitated about the on-going trials at the Elections Petitions Tribunal. The results of the two federal constituencies making up the Ebonyi South Senatorial zone serve as a ready clue to the political realities on ground. Umahi and his APC lost the two federal constituencies to the Labour Party and the PDP.
Rumours were rife some weeks ago that many of the cases at the Ebonyi Tribunal would soon be struck out based on technicalities.
True to predication, on Friday, 9th June, 2023, the Ebonyi State National and State House of Assembly Petition Tribunal went ahead to dismiss the petition filed by Dr. Ezeh Emmanuel Ezeh, the Labour Party (LP) candidate for Abakaliki/Izzi Federal Constituency against the election of Emmanuel Uguru of the All Progressives Congress(APC). The Tribunal Justices, A.D.Odokwu and S.S. Ogunsanya, decided to strike out the very meritorious petition by relying on “time of filing as against time of service” as reason for their verdict.
However, some legal experts have argued that even the consideration by the Tribunal was out of tune with Paragraph 18(1) of the First Schedule to the 2022 Electoral Act.
Already, many civil society organizations have raised alarm over the activities of the Ebonyi State Elections Petition Tribunal.
The groups include OganihuEbonyi Movement, Ebonyi Peoples Vanguard, Eastern Renaissance Movement and Worried Nigerians Citizens.
The groups have jointly and severally urged the Tribunals in Ebonyi State to uphold the Rule of Law. While restating the legal maxim that, “justice should not only be done but should be seen to be done”, the groups also appealed to the Tribunals to, “keep to the facts and law without recourse to vague technicalities so as not to set wrong precedent that justice is up for sale to the highest bidders in the eyes of the people.”
Let me end this opinion article by calling on the National Judicial Council (NJC) to monitor the conduct of its Judicial Officers in the field, especially those currently handling the on-going Electoral Petitions meant to resolve the controversies arising from the 2023 general elections.
Judges who work to undermine the objectives for setting up the Tribunals should be sanctioned, while reckless political actors should be subjected to legal censorship to curtail their capacity for orchestrating acts capable of lowering the lofty image of our sacred temples of justice.
-Omeroko writes from Abakaliki.