O JUSTICE, WHERE ARE YOU?
I have watched the judicial terrain as regards the electoral jurisprudence with trepidation and grave concern. This era is without doubt the worst for those seeking justice in the several electoral matters that have been brought to the tribunals and some of the superior courts.
I must make this clarification early. I am not a lawyer. I am just a right-thinking member of the Nigerian Community who has been dismayed by the happenings in the hitherto temple of justice. I further declare that the views here are my personal observations and conclusions, based on my interpretation of the ugly situation in the country.
Indeed, anyone who is a close observer of the nation's judicial system since May 29, would agree that the delivery of justice is facing un-mitigated challenge and interference from external quarters. The aim of the interferences are targeted at manipulating the justice system to favour the political party at the centre, the APC.
Therefore, we have a situation where different tribunals and appellate courts deliver judgments on the platforms of the political affiliation of the affected litigants. In other words, the relevant laws, especially the constitution and the Electoral Act count for nothing. The judgments being churned out are mere political essays, but backed by the force of law because those reading the essays wear judicial robes and are constituted by the relevant judicial authorities.
Otherwise, these judgments on electoral matters, so far, are merely akin to the permutations of the chairmen of town unions. You know town union chairmen pass their rulings under the guidance of the powerful members of the unions, who would have instructed them to do so. Though these town unions have by-laws, they are hardly referred to.
This is the reason why members of town unions quite easily resort to self help because they have no confidence in the rulings of their leaderships. To jettison the law, is to destroy the basics of justice.
Now, it is rather unfortunate that majority of the justices take directive from partisan interest groups to deliver judgments.
For Rivers State, the Court of Appeal, through Justice Ali Abubakar Babandi Gumel and his colleague panelists of the Appeal Court sitting in Abuja , set aside the law and sacked all three senators and 12 House of Representatives members. This they did without recourse to the Electoral Act and the Constitution.
These Appeal Court panelists in delivering their judgment also jettisoned precedence and the fact that the same court upheld the election of Prince Nnam Obi, House of Representatives member for ONELGA /Ahoada West Federal on the strength of non-qualification of the APC because his party failed to give the legal 21 days notice before their primary.
All Rivers State APC candidates, from their governorship candidate, the National Assembly candidates and the State Assembly Candidates contravened this aspect of the Electoral Act contained in Section 85 (1). The Court of Appeal cannot therefore blow hot and cold on this issue. In different states where PDP candidates contravened this section, they were punished as ordered by the law.
This same Appeal Court panelists failed to respect clear cut judgments by higher courts on matters brought before it. For instance, the issue of proving allegations of fraud on a polling station basis was discarded, while Justice Ali Abubakar Babandi Gumel and his colleagues also shifted the burden of proofs in flagrant disregard for the law.
The Rivers State PDP Legal Adviser, Benjamin Israel Eke captured this point succinctly in his petition to the President, Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, seeking the disbandment of the compromised panel.
He said : ‘We have no confidence in the ability of the present Panel to dispense justice; Our Lawyers prepared and argued our cases on the assumption that the decisions of the Supreme Court of Nigeria on any point or issue of law are binding on all Courts in Nigeria. We are aware of occasions when the Supreme Court has admonished all Courts in Nigeria to obey and follow the decisions of the Supreme Court on all points and issues which the final court has already pronounced on. At least we can remember that in the case of
DALHATU vs. TURAKI  15 NWLR (Pt. 845) 310 at 336, the Supreme Court warned that:-
“This Court is the highest and final Court of Appeal in Nigeria. By the doctrine of stare decisis, the Courts below are bound to follow the decisions of the Supreme Court. The doctrine is a sine qua non for certainty to the practice and application of the law. A refusal, therefore by a Judge of the Court below to be bound by this Court's decision, is gross insubordination (and I dare say such a judicial official is a misfit in the judiciary)”. ‘
The said Appeal Court Panel is further indicted on the fact that they met with Former Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi on two separate occasions. One of such meetings delayed the judgments delivery. The outcome was a mockery of the justice system.
Writing further, the Rivers State PDP Legal Adviser, Benjamin Israel Eke stated: “Two weeks ago, Hon. Justice Ali Abubakar Babandi Gumel was seen with the former Governor of Rivers State, now Minister of Transport and a strong member of the All Progressives Congress, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, at the later's Residence in Asokoro, Abuja. The former's visit to Amaechi a fortnight ago was however treated with levity by us. Only recently again, on 10/12/2015 at 10.00am Hon. Justice Ali Abubakar Babandi Gumel, this time was with his members; Hon. Justice Ridwan Maiwada Abdullahi and Hon. Justice Nonyerem Okoronkwo at same Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi's Residence at Asokoro. The purpose of the visit of course should rather be imagined than told: to procure victory for the All Progressives Congress at the Court of Appeal, which in fact they did. This accounted for the commencement of the sitting of the Court later than 4pm on 10/12/2015. The Senior Advocates after waiting endlessly had to go and meet the Justices in Chambers before they came out to sit.
“The result of the meeting between Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and the said Justices is now history: nullification of the election of all National Assembly members elected under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party on 10/12/2015 and 11/12/2015 by the panel: further instruction to rush all Rivers State House of Assembly Appeals and nullify same with the sole intention of creating crisis in the state.”
It is disheartening that some compromised members of the judiciary now put their interest and that of their paymasters above the tenets of the law. Everywhere under the present dispensation, accusing fingers are pointed at members of the judiciary. The scale only tilts in one direction as these guys have continued to embrace illegality.
On a holistic basis, the National Judicial Council should take the bold step of fishing out and punishing corrupt judges. The Council cannot afford to let the issues of judges playing to the political gallery slip by. The battered image of the judiciary has taken further assault.
There is no wisdom pretending because the judiciary is critical to political, social and economic stability. It is sad that some judges care less about perception.
That Rivers State has been the worst hit by this indiscretion by some judges is an understatement. The reason for the assault on Rivers State is known. But like I have said in the past, compromising the judiciary is the worst form of corruption.
No matter how much manipulation is done, the wish of the people always prevails. In this case, they have made their choice to support PDP all the way. That is why Rivers State is New.
Even at that, we continually search for the return of justice. O Justice, Where are you?
Written by Chibiko Nwakaudu.