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TNG SPECIAL REPORT: 21 Years After, How The Judiciary Fared Under A Sustained Constitutional Democracy In Nigeria

…how elections were won in courts since 1999 till date
By Emmanuel Bagudu

On May 29, 1999, Nigeria established a new constitutional democracy with a democratically elected president,Olusegun Obasanjo ushering in the fourth republic and Nigeria’s highest legal document; the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).

This singular development unchained the judiciary from the bondage of military decrees. Hope was restored once again as Nigerians “kissed good-bye” to Military dictatorship.

More important for the citizenry was the fact that they had a place to seek redress. The Judiciary. It was the last bastion of succour since its major role as the third arm of government is to interprete the law and administer Justice without fear or favour.

It is 21 years now without a single interruption to the established constitutional democracy. This became possible due to the consistency in the practice of democratic tenets by the Nigerian judiciary in its contributions in the adminitration of Justice. Administration of Justice which is an integral part of democratic tenets revolves the the ideals of economic Justice, political justice and social Justice. “… the Nigerian Judiciary has helped in the observance of democracy by guiding the citizenry on ways to abide by the rules of engagement in the democratic process….” Constitutional Lawyer John-mary Jideobi told TNG in an interview. This piece explores the various roles and contributions of the Nigerian Judiciary in the sustenance of the 21-year old constitutional democracy in Nigeria.

Pre- and Post election legal tussle served as the main issue that called the Nigerian Judiciary to duty. Civil Society organisations, politics parties, Human right communities and individuals throng the law cuts almost on daily basis seeking redress in their perceived breach of the democratic process.

From the request of the ban of the military in elections, request for disqualication of candidates, to the request for authentication of election results or termination as the case may be. Nigeria’s current president Muhammadu Buhari was one of the notable Nigerians that had hope in the democratic tenets being practice by the Judiciary. Mr Buhari went to court thrice to challenge the victory of his opponents in three different presidential elections which he participated as a candidate.

As a candidate of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) Buhari sued the federal government to court over abuse of security forces, lapses in voting procedures and other elements which he claimed were severely flawed in 2003 elections that saw General Olusegun Obasanjo secured a second term in office.

President Buhari also challenged the victory of former President Umaru Musa Yar’adua in 2007 as well as the victory of immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011. Other agrieved persons in the polity also reached out to the judiciary and secured Victory. Very popular in 2003 was the governorship tussle in Rivers State. The then governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi won his election in the Court. He was installed by the Judiciary. Ameachi won the legal tussle in an unprecedented manner. The Supreme Court sacked then governor-elect, Celestine Omehia and held that Amaechi was the lawfully nominated candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The action of the Apex court helped restore hope to those who felt that they were robbed off their “democratic mandates”.

In another related case; an Imo state Senator, Ifeanyi Ararume secured his democratic mandate through the Judiciary. He won the PDP primaries in 2007 to become governorship candidate in Imo State. The party then denied him the ticket and chose to run Charles Ugwu in his place. Ararume protested this decision and approached the courts and won.

The party (PDP) then expelled him and chose not to field a candidate, leaving the field open for Ikedi Ohakim of the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) to emerge as governor.

The case of Amaechi and Ararume made the independence of the judiciary more conspicuous. The people believe in the judiciary and are often consoled by the fact that elections are not over until the court says so.

Other remarkable pronouncements by the Judiciary against the declaration by the election umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) includes the emergence of Adams Oshiomhole as Governor of Edo State.

The Edo State Governorship Election Tribunal in 2008 upturned the election of Professor Oserheimen Osunbor as winner of the April gubernatorial election in the state and directed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to “withdraw the Certificate of Return issued to Osunbor and be issued to Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as Governor of Edo State, having scored a quarter of total votes cast in 12 of the 18 local governmet areas of the state.

Dissatisfied but hopefull Osunbor appealed the decision. But the Court of Appeal sitting in Benin, endorsed the decision of the Tribunal by declaring Oshiomhole duly elected governor of Edo State.

In the judgment, Justice Umaru Farouk Abdullahi president of then Appeal Court held that the Action Congress (AC) candidate scored highest vote, in the April 14, 2007 governorship poll in Edo State. The court, as a result, dismissed the appeal filed by Osunbor. Prior to that, the election of two PDP governors in Anambra state had been upturned and Peter Obi sworn in. The elections were that of Dr. Chris Uba and Senator Andy Uba.

Other anullment of gubernatorial elections in Ekiti and Osun States as well as ‘arrest of judgment’in Sokoto State followed later. Interstingly, those decisions, which were mainly against the ruling PDP, were enforced as soon as the courts declared. There were also anullment of election into the parliament at either the federal or state levels.

The political parties also enjoyed more life span through the judiciary. Factional leaders of the opposition PDP Ali Modu Sheriff and Ahmed Makarfi slogged it in court on whose faction is the authentic party. The legal tussle which ended at the Supreme Court saw the Makarfi led faction taking the glory.

Reading the lead judgment of the Apex Court, Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, held that contrary to the majority judgment of the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal, the suit filed by Makarfi faction before the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt was not an abuse of court.

The apex court also held that the National Convention of the PDP held on May 21, 2016, rightly and constitutionally removed Sheriff. It held that the convention acted rightly and not in breach of any aspect of the PDP’s constitution by setting up the Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee.

Most recently is the just concluded 2019 polls, the Imo and Bayelsa governorship polls were all decided by the judiciary.

In Imo, Emeka Ihedeoha of the PDP was sacked by the Supreme Court and was replaced by Senator Hope Uzodimma of the All Progressive Congress (APC). While in Bayelsa, the Apex Court sacked David Lyon of the APC and installed Douye Diri of the PDP.

At the moment, the 21 years old democracy has given the Nigerian Democratic Process more maturity. Its power to determine who wins elections has come to stay. It is no doubt the last resort. It is indeed an integral part of the electoral process and a determinant of an existing Democracy.

Emmanuel Bagudu is an investigative journalist, judiciary correspondent and rights activist.

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