Judges as final deciders: Democracy under Threat?

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The 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln best defined the true meaning of democracy when he described it as the ‘Government of the people, for the people and by the people.’ The electorate is an important stakeholder in the process whose wish must be respected at all times.

When democracy returned back to the country in 1999 after a sixteen year military hiatus, the politicians viewed the people as the final arbiter and did everything humanly possible to court their attention and gain their favour especially during the electioneering season. The masses whose lot hasn’t fared much since independence are treated like demi gods during the campaign season only to get dumped like used tissue paper after the elections which were usually flawed with riggings and voter intimidation.

All this changed in 2006 when the former governor of Anambra state, Peter Obi was declared the winner of the 2003 gubernatorial elections which sent Dr. Chris Ngige then of the PDP packing.

The Pandora’s Box was opened and the judiciary now became the most powerful decider of the electorate fate of the country. In 2007, the current Transport Minister, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi was declared the winner of the 2007 gubernatorial elections in Rivers state despite not having contested the elections. In 2008, the Supreme Court sacked the then Edo State Governor, Professor Oserinmhe Osunbor in favour of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, the erstwhile President of the Nigerian Labour Congress. The electoral timeline was changed in Kogi, Ondo and Bayelsa states due to litigations. In 2010, Dr.Kayode Fayemi and Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola were made the governors of Ekiti and Osun due to the judgement by the Supreme Court.

The gubernatorial elections weren’t the only ones altered by the courts. It permeated the legislature both at the state and federal level as well as the local government councils.

We recall the case of Ben Obi, a former presidential aide to Olusegun Obasanjo who became a senator after three years of a protracted court battle. Senator Uche Ekwunife became a member of the Federal House of Representatives some years ago after a court threw her opponent out of the green chamber. Shamsudeen Dambazau had his certificate of return withdrawn from him in favour of Surajo Kanawa. The controversial Senator Dino Melaye lost his seat to the former President of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Senator Smart Adeyemi due to a court order that compelled both men to slug it out at a re-run.

The only exception so far is that of the presidential which jinx in no distant time may be broken given the precedent that is being set now.

In the United States in 2000, it was the Supreme Court that decided the electoral victory between George Bush Jr of the Republican party and former Vice-President of the United States and the Democratic party candidate, Al Gore. The bone of contention was the votes in Florida where Bush’s younger brother held sway as its governor at the time. The Supreme Court by a vote of five to four ruled in favour of Bush with Gore being magnanimous in accepting the verdict. The controversial Supreme Court judgement was a huge source of mockery by satirical writer, Michael Moore in his best seller ‘Stupid White Men’ where he lampooned both Bush and the Supreme Court.

The current practice of less than fifty individuals being the final arbiters in the decision of electoral matters is setting a dangerous precedent as the legitimacy of these public office holders will be hugely questioned. What is the point of the masses queuing under the sun and rain for long hours, enduring the scorching heat and cold only for their wishes to be upturned by an unelected crop of Judges who are the so called learned gentlemen?

The actions by the Judges cast a huge slur on the authenticity of the democratic process especially when you critically consider some judgements which were up for review.

What was the justice in denying David Lyon his electoral victory when he suffered for the sin of his deputy? At the very worst, his deputy could have been disqualified with a re-run being ordered instead of sending him to political Siberia. Senator Hope Uzodinma who came fourth in the elections with not a single House of Assembly member being elected from the APC is now governor. One wonders if it is now necessary to get a permanent voters card (PVC) if a distant court can invalidate their votes using technicalities that are largely misunderstood by the hapless masses.

The National Assembly and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should strengthen the electoral laws so that going to the court becomes the last resort rather than the norm. The United States where we modeled our democracy from doesn’t see governors running endlessly to court which even encourages frivolous litigations.

It is high time we give true meaning to the word ‘democracy’ which is now under a vicious attack by the judiciary with the collusion of some members of the political class.

Tony Ademiluyi writes from Lagos and edits www.africanbard.com

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Articles by Anthony Ademiluyi