The judiciary is an arm of government saddled with the lofty responsibility of interpreting and applying laws to all cases and settling disputes. The Nigerian judiciary protects the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the fundamental rights of the citizenry. The judiciary guides the operations of the other arms of government – the executive and legislature. This is to ensure that they are in strict adherence to the rule of law as expected in a democratic society. The judiciary addresses issues regarding civil rights and obligations of the citizens, declaring and enforcing rights, awarding penalties, prohibiting, annulling or validating acts, compelling private and public actions, custodial punishments, generally giving remedies for actionable private and public wrongs. The last hope of the common man in any given society is the judiciary. The judiciary is, therefore, the most revered arm of government.
The image of the judiciary in Nigeria, however, today, is that of an institution where, in many disputes, especially in the political arena, there are many more questions than answers in a seemingly unending spiral of confusion. Prior, during and after the 2019 general elections, political disputes have dominated the proceedings in courts across the country. Following seemingly contradictory judgements which different courts delivered on the same issue, a wave of confusion enveloped the polity. The judiciary appears to, rather than conclusively resolve political disputes, prolong and complicate them, except in cases where the Supreme Court, the final arbiter, decides. But interestingly enough, some litigants even challenge the decision of the Supreme Court or re-approach lower courts for the same case, thereby creating an atmosphere of apparent perpetuity of political disputes.
Here is a look at the series of confusing court rulings – in settlement of political disputes – wrapped around Senator Ademola Adeleke – the recently declared winner of the September 22, 2018 governorship election in Osun State and similar cases.
Adeleke’s Twisted Web of Court Cases and Rulings
Senator Ademola Adeleke – representing Osun West senatorial district at the National Assembly – has been battling a lot of court cases surrounding alleged certificate forgery, governorship election and other civil cases. Prior to the Osun State governorship election in which he contested under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a case was filed against him. In August 2018, Osun State High Court in Osogbo, presided over by Justice David Oladimeji, ruled that Senator Adeleke is eligible to contest the 2018 governorship election as a candidate of the PDP following a suit filed against him on alleged West African Examination Council (WAEC) certificate forgery. The plaintiffs, Raheed Olabayo and Oluwasen Idowu, who are members of the PDP in the state, had alleged that Adeleke did not possess Secondary School Certificate and prayed the court to restrain PDP from presenting him to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as a candidate of the party. They asked the court to disqualify him on the based on Section 177 (D) of the 1999 Constitution. The court noted that the claims of the plaintiffs that Adeleke does not possess school certificate cannot disqualify him from contesting the election because the constitution does not state that a candidate for the office of the governor must have a certificate. Justice Oladimeji asserted that the constitution only stipulated that the candidate must be educated up to secondary school level and based on the premise that the plaintiffs, affirmed that the Senator attended Ede Muslim High School, the Senator is, therefore, deemed to be educated up to the specified level.
Just when it was thought that this issue was dead and buried, on September 3, 2018 – barely a few days to the governorship election – two Chieftains of the All Progressives Congress (APC) – Wahab Adekunle Rheem and Adam Omosallewa – dragged Adeleke to a Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court sitting in Bwari, Abuja, on the same accusation of not possessing the requisite educational qualification – secondary school certificate – to contest for the office of governor. Justice O. A. Musa, who presided over the case, while ruling a motion ex-parte, dated September 3, 2018, with Motion Number FCT/HC/BW/CV/122/2018, directed Senator Adeleke to appear and show cause why the court should not disqualify him from contesting the Osun State governorship election slated for September 22. Justice Musa ordered WAEC, produce the Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination result of all candidates who sat for the May/June 1981 at Ede Muslim High School in Osun State, within five working days. He also ordered the Director General of WAEC or any other designated officer of the council to depose to an affidavit confirming or denying that Adeleke, with candidate number 19645/149, sat for the examination and serve the court – also within five working days.
However, while delivering the judgment in the suit, on April 2, 2019, Justice Musa ruled that Senator Adeleke offended Section 177 of the 1999 constitution – the section stipulated that candidates for the position of governor must be educated up to secondary school level – as amended. The court’s findings, according to Justice Musa, showed that Adeleke entered secondary school in 1976 and there was no record to show that he actually graduated because his name was no longer seen in the school’s register in 1980. He stressed that the result Adeleke attached to his form CF001 which he submitted to the INEC was fake, pointing out that it was found to be different from the one presented to the court by the principal of Ede Muslim High School, Ede, Osun State. Justice Musa, therefore, nullified the nomination of Senator Adeleke as a candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the September 22, 2018 governorship election in Osun State. It is pertinent to note that during the court’s proceedings, WAEC confirmed that Adeleke sat for the May/June examination of the council in 1981.
In a rather sharp twist in the judicial drama, on Saturday, April 6, 2019 an Akure Division of the Court of Appeal, presided by Justice M. A. Danjuma, put to rest the controversies over the eligibility of Senator Adeleke to contest the Osun governorship election. The court also dismissed an appeal against the judgment of the Osogbo High Court which had confirmed the eligibility of Senator Adeleke to contest for the election. The Osogbo High Court had earlier ruled that he is qualified to contest having been educated up to secondary school level. The petitioners proceeded to appeal against the ruling insisting that the Senator is not qualified and therefore, Dr. Akin Ogunbiyi, who is the second runner up at the governorship primary election of the PDP should be declared the winner of the primary. He proceeded to the appellate court to challenge it. The Akure Appeal Court dismissed the appeal on three grounds, affirming the judgment of the lower court that confirmed the eligibility of Senator Adeleke. The first ground was that the court has no jurisdiction to hear the case, the second was that the petitioner has no locus standi to file the case and third was that the matter was brought to court outside the stipulated 14 days after the conduct of the primary. The court had Justices R. A. Abdullahi and P. A. Mahmoud as members of the panel.
It would definitely take an in-depth and critical study for one to comprehend the court cases and the varied rulings around Senator Adeleke.
The Zamfara APC Court Drama
Just like there were rulings and counter-rulings relating to Senator Adeleke, the court drama that enveloped the Zamfara APC prior to the 2019 general elections tell how the Nigerian judiciary creates confusion while attempting to resolve political disputes. The legal tussle of the Zamfara APC can be traced to the aborted congress of 2018. Governor Abdul’Aziz Yari wanted affirmation during the congress but a faction led by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Petroleum – Downstream – Kabiru Marafa said the condition for adopting affirmation did not arise. Thus, the congress did not hold because the governor would not allow congress to take place. Marafa cried foul and appealed to the leadership of the party to intervene – the appeal went unattended.
The warring factions maintained their respective positions and ensured that no valid primaries were conducted to elect the party’s standard bearer for governorship election including the National Assembly and State House of Assembly elections. Clashes between the supporters of the governor and Senator Marafa always stopped attempts to hold the primaries. However, Governor Yari was able to submit a list of candidates to the INEC but the commission refused to act on it – because the time stipulated for political parties to submit names of candidates have expired and they were of the view that no valid primary held in the state. When the leadership of the party failed them, they went to court.
Senator Marafa filed a suit before the Federal High Court in Abuja while those loyal to Governor Yari chose to file their case before a Zamfara State High Court. Both courts delivered judgment on the same day – January 25, 2019. Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, of the Federal High Court said it was not the fault of INEC that APC failed to conduct a valid primary within the scheduled period. According to Justice Ojukwu, INEC’s action was intended to curb impunity among political parties and politicians. She, thus, restrained INEC from accepting the list of candidates which Governor Yari claimed emerged from an alleged primary election held on October 7, 2018 while the court in Zamfara ordered INEC to accept the list. Afterwards, appeals and counter-appeals were filed by the parties before the Abuja and Sokoto divisions of the Court of Appeal.
How possible is it that the same case was filed in two different courts and different judgments delivered on it on the same day? Well, questions, questions, questions.
Sheriff, Makarfi PDP National Chairman Legal Battle Comes to Mind
The PDP were once a victim of the confusion emanating from the Nigerian judiciary in attempting to resolve political disputes. The PDP were once neck deep in an intra party crisis spurred by the leadership tussle between Ali Modu Sheriff and Ahmed Makarfi on the premise of who is the legitimate National Chairman of the party. The case saw both parties jumping from one court to another; seeking the kind of judgment that benefits them. In that episode, one would just wake up and hear that a court had declared Sheriff National Chairman of the PDP and in only within a short time, hear that another court had declared Makarfi the National Chairman of the PDP.
However, on July 12, 2017, the Supreme Court, led by the then Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, put to rest the dispute by removing Sheriff as the National Chairman of the PDP. A five-man panel of the apex court reinstated Makarfi, earlier sacked by the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal, as the National Caretaker Committee Chairman.
This complicated drama which dominated the political scene of 2016 and 2017, let many, including lawyers, confused and even frustrated. It seemed an unending crisis and many reckoned that the judiciary was unable to resolve the issue. To have even come to a point where many were convinced that the solution to a dispute resided outside the judiciary, for none other reason than the seeming lack of competence and integrity, remains a great source of concern.
We can do better
The Nigerian judiciary can do better. Lawyers and even judges believe this too and have been outspoken about it. The judiciary’s handling of political disputes has raised many critical questions that demand urgent response.
The former CJN, Justice Dalhiru Musdapher, at his inauguration and swearing-in by former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011, admitted that the Nigerian judiciary has failed in the democratic era. Such a frank admission calls not only for sober reflection, but also for swift internal reforms. The judiciary is too sacred and pivotal to be lost!
By John Chukwu…
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