Jonathan vs Amaechi: Judiciary in a show of shame
Nigeria's judiciary suffered a major setback in its determination at ensuring fair dispensation of justice on Monday April 15 in Abuja High Court. Justice Ishaq Bello in what is widely believed to be the most brazen judgement in recent times sacked the Rivers State executive of the People's Democratic Party, PDP and approved the election of a parallel executive and a faction of the party. Without doubt, Justice Bello's action is best fit for comic books.
The issues in Rivers State politics especially with regard to Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and the PDP is well known to many Nigerians. What is however strange and disturbing in this barefaced verdict is the consequences of this action on our judicial system and consolidation of democracy. The sacked executive, led by Chief Godspower Ake enjoyed the support of Governor Amaechi while the parallel faction that was recently imposed on the people of Rivers State is loyal to Nyesom Wike, Minister of State for Education who incidentally is alleged to have been drafted by the Presidency to spearhead this onslaught against the people of Rivers State and their outspoken governor.
Unknown to many Nigerians, what has turned out to be a judgement usurping the powers of a democratically elected executive is fraught with irregularities and absurdities. For instance, to all intents and purposes, the perceived crisis in Rivers State occasioned by the presidency's undue interference is serving nobody's interest. Aside that, this issue that resurfaced in an Abuja High Court is strictly an intra-party matter which presupposes that it would not have been taken to court for adjudication in the first place. More so, the party congress that happened took place in Port Harcourt, not in Abuja. It is therefore inconceivable for a supposedly “local” case to be heard in the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja and not even the Federal High Court. Lawyers will tell you this is absurdity of the first order.
Baffling too is the fact that the state congress that produced the Chief Ake led executive took place in March 2012 and it took almost a whole year for the petitioners to file their case. The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC was joined in the matter of Obuah and one other versus Chief Ake and others before an FCT high court. By my elementary knowledge of law, this case was clearly filed out of time coming almost a year after the completion of the congress, thus statue barred. The judge also ignored this well-known principle of law and fact and flagrantly abused the dignity of his office.
There is also the outstanding issue of gross criminal allegations and the manner the judge treated it leaves much to be desired. Whereas there was an allegation of fraud and forgery, yet no witness was called throughout this trial. The trial judge relied on affidavit evidence sworn to by one of the officials who conducted the congress. This is against the spirit and practice of the law.
The trial judge also put his integrity on the line when he deliberately ignored a report from INEC which monitored the state congress as enshrined in the Electoral Act. It is quite ironic that these characters who now brandish a spurious court victory did not even purchase nomination forms nor where they found anywhere near the venue of the PDP congress.
These developments are disquieting and posse a great danger to our democracy. There is no doubt that the judiciary and the work they do is a pillar in the consolidation of democracy. Daily, we drift steadily towards full blown dictatorship yet we all seem helpless. What is happening today in Nigeria is distressing and calls for urgent intervention from all men of goodwill.
Sadly, those entrusted with the onerous task of keeping Nigeria running are the same people undermining and desecrating our institutions. Even a blind man can see the unseen hands of the perpetrators of the crisis in the PDP across the country and this is traceable to the Presidency. There is nothing accidental about this latest onslaught in Rivers State PDP considering the running battle between the Presidency and Governor Amaechi. As a people, I think it is time we took the affairs of our country more seriously.
Fortunately, some Nigerians are already speaking out against this unjustified abuse that our country is subjected to almost on a daily basis. They are alarmed at the despoliation of the political space and the impending doom. Ake, the deposed chairman represents the progressive elements in Rivers State PDP and this situation is capable of reversing the fortunes of the party in the state.
For a judicial system that only recently embarked on measures to rid its rank and file of corrupt officials, this is a test case. The National Judicial Council, NJC must quickly act to restore confidence in the judiciary if the revered institution hopes to remain as generally perceived as the last hope of the common man. There is no doubt that the action of Justice Bello will impact negatively on the credibility of our courts. This is absolutely needless.
As election year approaches, it has become very imperative for Nigerians to be more vigilant and participatory in this arduous task of building a country we can proudly bequeath to the next generation. We must also show interest in the affairs of our nation, that is the only way to build a great country. To assume that we are still learning because our democracy is still relatively young and evolving presupposes that we may learn forever and this will do us more harm. Therefore when patriots like Governor Amaechi challenge any contradictory reality that is inconsistent with our federal structure, we must not stand aloof and watch.
I believe that every serious Nigerian must be gravely worried at the turn of events in our country today particularly with our parties and their promoters. Less than twenty-four hours after obtaining the controversial judgement, a kangaroo swearing-in ceremony was arranged by some members of the PDP National Working Committee in Abuja allegedly at the instance of a certain lady at the presidency. I watched this impunity with consternation and wondered why we are threading on this dangerous path. As a people, we must begin to take ourselves more seriously and the time to avoid taking actions that would haunt us in the future now.
Salami who wrote from Lagos is the Executive Director, Judiciary Watch Initiative