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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Judges Replacing Politicians and the Electorates – By Sanusi Muhammad



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It was the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu who on November 8, 2022 announced that the Commission was joined as defendant in over 600 pre-election suits. Those suits mostly arose from political party primary elections conducted between May and June, 2022 by over 20 registered political parties.
Mahmoud stated thus: “Only two weeks ago, one political party served about 70 court processes on the Commission in one day seeking to compel us to accept the nomination or substitution of its candidates long after the deadline provided in the timetable and schedule of activities for the 2023 general election had elapsed. Some of the cases will go to the Supreme Court”.
Once a pre-election matter has been instituted to determine the proper flag bearer of a political party, the burden of determining the candidate of the party, shifts from the party delegates to the court. It is rather unfortunate that candidates to represent political parties are no longer decided in the field of play by the voice of the delegates but are decided by what the court says so is the case with election results. It is really going to be a pitiable sight at the Supreme Court when these cases move all the way to the single Supreme Court of the land. All the 600 cases might not get to the Supreme Court, but at least, not less than 300 of the cases will flood their ways to the Supreme Court and the court will be forced to determine the appeals within 60 days of the filing.
Whatever the Supreme Court says becomes law. Whomever the Supreme Court recognizes as the party candidate becomes the flag bearer of the party or winner of an election irrespective of what had transpired at the party primary or general elections. The courts rely more on technicalities to hammer their target than reality and other wishy-washy crafted reasons.
Gradually, the burden of determining party flag bearers and winners of elections is shifting from those either elected, selected delegates or the electorates to Judges and Justices of the various courts. This trend is becoming extremely dangerous to the survival of democracy and party politics and ought not to be allowed to stay for what it may breed. The electorates exercise their franchise but the courts nullify choice of the electorates and impose whosoever they wish hiding under cover of flaws.
With this rather unfortunate trend, winning a party primary election or an election to become a flag bearer of a political party for an election is just the beginning of another round of battle to retain the ticket on behalf of the party and the subsequent victory. The final conferment now lies in the court once any party primary is challenged or the proper election. That was never the case in those old good days where there was internal party discipline. Political party leaders were real leaders that commanded respect and displayed honesty and sincerity in their day-day affairs.
But leaders of today, majority of who were imposed on the parties, are more of parasites on the system than those needed to pilot party affairs.
Beginning from July 2023 to date, we have witnessed several judgments from the various courts, either giving full recognition to the party’s chosen candidate, nullifying an election adjudged as credible, disqualifying a candidate that was said to have won the primary election, recognizing a runner-up, or recognizing a parallel election conducted by the same party on a different date or location. This is why the burden of determining political party flag bearer and winners of elections has shifted from party delegates and the electorates to Judges and Justices including other activities of political parties.
From the various pre-election and post-election judgments so far delivered, some of the strong indications from some party primaries are as follows:
Political parties in Nigeria have woefully failed to conduct credible party primaries that were free and fair in many of the primary elections conducted around the country and the general elections conducted by the umpire due to corruption, greed, sentiments and fear.
Issues of over voting, selection of delegates not through a free and fair contest, abuse of party guidelines, bias, and non-compliance with the Electoral Act 2022 have been prevalent leading to cancellation of many parties primaries and the general elections results.
In some cases, political parties conducted parallel congresses and primary elections in many states and left with the task of forcing the authenticity of such acts through the court.
Political parties willfully substituted candidates who were duly elected at the primaries without their consent and in favor of other preferred candidates that in most cases were mere stooges prepared to run errands for the imposing godfathers.
Some of the political parties did not even conduct congresses as stipulated or primaries but submitted names of preferred party loyalists that are mere robots. Party tickets and clean bill of health were just handed over to preferred candidates as flag bearers of the parties by murderers of the democracy masquerading as party leaders or whatever.
Political parties were desperately looking for a gateway into power using every available dubious mean, so were deploying everything within their arsenal by the hook or by the crook to ensure that preferred lousy candidates were foisted on the party and extended to the electorates even if he/she could not make it at the poll.
Political party chieftains have personal selfish interests that always manifest at primary election in support of a favored aspirant where it exists, more than the one against the wish of delegates. In some cases, even those to serve as party delegates are selected based on loyalty to the whims and caprices of the party apparatchik and foisted on other party members for compulsory endorsement without a complaint or else, it is mischievously transformed to a case of anti-party that attracts punishment.
Some political parties due to failure to do an in depth and proper screening of prospective candidates hurriedly nominated candidates with questionable antecedents but with the required fund and influence to finance the campaign and settle party leaders. Issues with falsification of credentials, age, results etc, and once these defects are noticed by opponents and allowed by the court, the party either loses the opportunity to present a candidate or is forced to conduct a fresh primary election or forced by the judgment to recognize the runner up in the primary as the right candidate irrespective of what might have transpired at the primary or election. While in some cases, the judges find a leeway to announce a compromised judgment through technicality as justifiable reason.
This trend is very unfortunate for the survival of true democracy, and it is seriously destroying the already choked and frightened political space in Nigeria. It is making a serious caricature of the activities of the political parties and the democracy. However, on a broader view of this, the actions of the political parties shows the level of decadence and desperation in our political system and it would be difficult, if not impossible to purge the political space of this pollution and abracadabra. A candidate might have won the party primary election but by virtue of disqualification or failure to carry out a certain function as required by the applicable rules, the victory of the candidate is either nullified and the ticket given to the runner up or the party is completely barred from contesting in the election.
This situation has rendered the court as the party delegate/electorate and not the elected or selected delegate and the conventional electorate.
To curb this trend, the duty is 100 percent on the shoulders of the leadership of the political parties and no one else.
The ultimate requirement of impartiality, level playing ground, integrity, sincerity, honesty of purpose, and fairness should be the bane of political parties in Nigeria. Until party officials deploy this to the conduct of their primary elections, congress and run away from greed and other corrupt practices, Judges and Justices would continue to remain the ultimate party delegates and the electorates. The most common suit in various courts is the substitution of candidates without their knowledge and consent. This shows the insincerity and bias for a preferred aspirant by party leadership that creates litigation. This undemocratic and ungodly practice should either stop or the democracy may continue to suffer and create unpleasant situations including security challenges by the shortchanged.
Screening of nominees by political parties should be taken seriously and must exclude bribery and corruption. Every lacuna should be covered to ensure that rivals do not take advantage of the unidentified small loopholes to destroy the survival of the parties as played in Plateau State where opposition APC harped on PDP’s non-compliance with a court for its repeat congress in 2020. Any candidate with strong defects to his qualification should not be allowed to participate or even near party primary.
On the side of the courts and the pressure that comes with political cases, the relevant laws should be amended to allow the commencement and determination of primary elections cases in State and Federal High Courts to reduce the burden placed on the Federal High Courts or a Special Court should be established to attend to all political cases at all times.
In 2022, all pre-election matters were instituted at the Federal High Courts to the exclusion of the State High Courts that showed elements of mistrust of the State High Courts to handle such cases and deliver neutral judgments. I was of recent privileged to be in one of the Federal High Courts and one of the judges that I met, was complaining bitterly on how he had to write not less than 20 judgments and all must be delivered within the specified timeframe of two weeks as the required 180 days was set to elapse within those two weeks. The burden can be shared across the various States and the Federal High Courts for quick disposal of such periodic cases.
Furthermore, there is an urgent need to further amend the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act 2022 in respect of political party congresses, primaries elections and assumption of office of election winners beginning right from the composition of delegates, purchase of nomination forms etc.
Appeals arising from party primary election cases should not enjoy a right of appeal all the way to the Supreme Court just as it is applicable for post-election cases. In post-election cases for example, appeals from all election tribunals terminate at the Court of Appeal, except for the governorship elections that start at the tribunal through to the Court of Appeal and to the Supreme Court. The Presidential Election Tribunal starts from the Court of Appeal and ends at the Supreme Court. So as it stands, it is only governorship and presidential elections that enjoy the privilege of being heard at three different stages of the courts. This same rule should also apply to pre-election suits to reduce the burden on the Supreme Court.
Our Judges and Justices are neither politicians nor political party delegates and should therefore, strive to be apolitical. Judges and Justices should not be the determining factor in political party internal affairs if the right thing is always done. Conventionally, victory at any party primary election should be determined by consensus, delegates elected through due process and backed by party rules. The issue of technicality by judges and justices to settle election matters should be stopped or else……….
Lest I forget, the recent Kano, Plateau and Zamfara states judgments delivered by the Court of Appeal has already generation apprehension and tension within the polity with the judges accused of bribe taking for compromised judgments. The reputation of the judiciary is at stake. The integrity of judges is in tatters. We are forced to start thinking of the application of jungle justice where and when there is need! A Stitch in Time Saves Nine!
Muhammad is a commentator on national issues

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