Unchaining Nigeria’s Chained Democrac : Kudos To Supreme Court & Other Democratic
(Onitsha Nigeria, 9th February 2016)-It is no longer news that the Nigerian democracy, rule of law and constitutionalism are facing their gravest battle for survival in the hands of undemocratic forces under the present Buhari administration. What is good news worthy of celebration and sustenance is that the chained democracy is being unchained and deconstructed by a new set of democratic forces including hallowed justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. This is in spite of mounting State threats and intimidation. It is also worthy of recall that one of the worst mistakes of the angelic heroes and heroines of Nigeria’s military dictatorship that ended in 1999 was to allow the country’s political space to be filled by military apologists and members of Nigeria’s white collar criminal community; leading to corruption and bastardization of the country’s hard won democracy. By the time the suicidal mistake was realized, futile efforts were made by some elements of the social sainthood community to enter the already polluted political space and they got themselves consumed, corrupted and polluted.
Those who fought for the ousting of military dictatorship in Nigeria in the 90s were also not fully composed of social saints and other die-hards alone. There were also the bad and the ugly elements. Some of them later became public office holders in some States of Southwest zone; leading to an alliance with leading elements within the hitherto mainstream CSOs of the region, which used to be the pride of the country. Through the referenced CSO liaison, the independence, purity, impeccability and integrity of the hitherto internationally respected rights and pro democracy community were battered, corrupted and compromised. The independence of most of the rights activists and groups in the area was not only clipped, but it also led to odd change in the concept of activism; leading to it being remote controlled and dictated by table phones of the Government’s CSO liaison. Presently, rights and pro democracy activism in the area appears to begin the moment Aso Rock table phones ring!
A CSO relationship with any government in Nigeria must strictly be based on concept of public interest, input and output legitimacy. That is to say public interest in terms of good governance and governance accountability; input legitimacy in terms of integrity and character of the head of such government or tier of government; leading to his or her popular electoral choice and emergence; and output legitimacy in terms of great achievements in office following constructive, developmental and transformative advocacy roles of the concerned CSO. Such CSO must be a nimble and live above board. But a CSO that only cares about what gets into its purse from monthly CSO liaison disbursement ends up being leprous and launderer of irreparably tainted and battered image of liaising government or tier of government. Because four out of every five Nigerian politicians are dirty and crooked, partnering with them without caution amounts to partnership of the graveyard.
It may most likely be safe to submit that the recent (since 1999) disappointing, unpopular and pro establishment attitudes of the hitherto internationally respected CSOs of Southwest section are premised on the foregoing; leading to activism beginning only after Aso Rock table phones have rung. Same conducts complained above are repeating themselves under the present Buhari civilian dispensation; whereby democratic and rule of law forces of few months ago have suddenly changed to entrepreneurs of lawlessness and protagonists of chained democracy.
Once government blows its alarmist whistle, they will go on rampage and run riot on whoever or whatever policy; no matter how infamous and crushing it is that government wants to attack or role out. As ambush activists, they see nothing wrong and say nothing against the mass murder of hundreds of members of Shiite Muslim faithful; killing of over 50 and wounding of over 120 non violent members of Biafran agitators; 96 days pretrial detention of Citizen Nnamdi Kanu and vendetta long detention of Sambo Dasuki; introduction and application of retroactive or retrogressive criminal legislations; fragrant affront to rule of law and disobedience to judicial decisions; indiscriminate infringement on citizens liberties; rapacious entrenchment of culture of structural and physical violence, to mention but a few.
Just last week, Aso Rock table phones appeared rang and hell was let loose on hallowed justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria over their informed and grounded verdicts on governorship polls in some States including Rivers and Akwa Ibom. The hallowed justices were called all sorts of demeaning names and openly accused of corruption. We still remember vividly the question we put across to the Honourable President of the Court of Appeal (PCA), Justice Zainab Adamu Bulkachuwa in our letter to her office and that of the CJN, dated 10th of November 2015; following reports of some say, procured and influenced judgments in Rivers and Akwa Ibom States’ governorship, State and National Assembly petitions.
While the appellate governorship verdicts were reversed and corrected by the apex Court, others were not because of constitutional limitations that ousted the apex jurisdiction and empowered the appellate court as court of final jurisdiction. The referenced questions directed to the PCA and her public office, in accordance with Paragraph 1 (3) of the Sixth Schedule to the 1999 Constitution, pursuant to Section 285 of the same Constitution; in her capacity as the appointing authority of the chairmen and members of the Election Petitions Tribunals (Governorship, National and State Assemblies) in Nigeria; are as follows:
The referenced questions to the PCA are: Were there partiality, favoritism and nepotism involving President Muhammadu Buhari’s wife (Aisha) and Governor Rochas Okorocha in the appointments of Justice Mrs. Anwukah (of Imo State Customary Court of Appeal) and Justice Suleiman Ambrosa of the Kaduna State High Court, as heads of the Rivers State Governorship/Assembly Election Petitions Tribunals? Is it true that Justice Mrs. Anwukah was Gov Okorocha’s nominee for Election Petitions Tribunals for 2015? If it is true, is it part of judicia independence and integrity for a State Governor to nominate a judge to seat in post electoral judicial reviews in which he or his party is an interested party? Is it true that Justice Mrs. Anwukah is Governor Okorocha’s Mother-in-law to his daughter (Uju)? Is it true that she sat in the Lagos State Governorship Tribunal from where she was ferried to Rivers State Governorship/Assembly Tribunal to continue “her good job” leading to her recent incredible nullification of 20 State Assembly seats? Is it true that the same Justice Mrs. Anwukah’s husband (Prof Anwukah) is now a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? Is it also true that Justice Suleiman Ambrosa that chaired and controversially annulled the Rivers State Governorship poll is the husband of the younger sister of the wife (Aisha) of President Muhammadu Buhari? Till date, the Hon PCA has neither replied us nor answered the questions. The Hon Chief Justice of Nigeria had since replied us.
With the grounded judgments of the Supreme Court majorly premised on the legal status of the so called “card reader” versus the provisions of the Electoral Act of 2010 or “whether card reader as an INEC guideline can supersede or oust the provisions of Electoral Act of 2010”; it is now a settled opinion that the 2015 general elections in Nigeria were scientifically rigged using “card readers”, “manual and electronic mass disenfranchisement” of eligible and registered voters and “congested voting” using millions of under age children in the North. Further attestation to this was high number of nullifications (81 nullifications and 15 upturning) that trailed the post poll judicial reviews. As it stands now, as high as 78 re-runs are to be conducted across the country in coming weeks. This is the worst record since 1999.
Away from the poll related judicial decisions, the rule of law, constitutionalism and civil liberties are still being debased and deconstructed in Nigeria on daily basis under the present Buhari administration. Retroactive or retrogressive criminal legislations (ex post facto laws)and their practices have fully returned to Nigeria. Their three elements: declaring criminal an act that was not illegal when it was committed; increasing the punishment for a crime after it was committed; and altering the rules or pieces of evidence in a particular case after the crime is committed, are on rampage and in reckless use by DSS and EFCC. This is in grave violation of Section 36 (8) and (12) of the 1999 Constitution, under right to fair hearing.
One of the recent applications of the referenced ex post facto law is the so called “fresh charges” of DSS against Citizen Sambo Dasuki to the effect that “he left the army breaching its rules in 1994 (leaving the army without resignation)”; a period of 22 years; an allegation strongly denied by Citizen Dasuki. How DSS has suddenly become and assumed the roles of military court marshal or army council; is not only unheard of, but also part of the Buhari administration’s vow to deconstruct rule of law and constitutionalism in Nigeria. The recent unlawful arrest and two days detention of Mr. Ricky Tarfa, SAN, by the EFCC inside the court room alongside his two clients is another dimension to deconstructing rule of law and constitutionalism in Nigeria. It is shocking and alarming that a lawyer who dutifully came to court in company of his clients, in total submission to judicial proceedings concerning their case, could be accused of “obstructing justice”. This is another tragedy to the sanctity of the court and judiciary in Nigeria.
Finally, we commend the hallowed justices of the Supreme Court and other democratic forces for their courage and untiring efforts at saving the country’s hard won democracy, constitutionalism and rule of law. We urge them not to rest on their oars at all times. We are aware that some protagonists of dictatorship and lawlessness abound in the judiciary and they have already been fished out and positioned to handle government vendetta cases; but their antics should not discourage or dissuade the commendable efforts of the hallowed and fearless jurists in the country’s bench and the Nigerian Judiciary at large. Many of such dirty jurists have sunk and diminished in the country, following their ignoble roles to force darkness over light and lawlessness and governance rascality over rule of law and good and popular governance. Such legal villains did not exclude the likes of the Ikpemes, the Egbo Egbos, the Autas, the Ayos, to mention but few.
With the recent ordeal of Mr. Ricky Tarfa, SAN, nobody including the protagonists of chained democracy and deconstructed rule of law, is safe. It is therefore worthy to refresh the minds of all Nigerians and members of the international community of the immortal lamentation of Rev Martin Niemoller (1892-1984) during the Second World War.
He had lamented thus: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me”.
For: International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law
Obianuju Igboeli, Esq., Head, Civil Liberties & Rule of Law Program
Chinwe Umeche, Esq., Head, Democracy & Good Governance Program