UNLESS JUDICIARY IS PURGED, WE WILL STILL HAVE PROLONGED ELECTORAL CASES IN 2011, SAYS OWURU
Ambrose Owuru, a legal practitioner and the presidential candidate of the Hope Democratic Party, talked with KELVIN EBIRI in Port Harcourt. excerpts:
WE are heading into another election and yet the outcome of the 2007 elections is yet to be settled in some states. Do you worry about the delay in the resolution of electoral petition cases?
We had thought that the frontloadin process as was initiated would have given rise to a quick dispensation of justice but it is unfortunate that we are still talking about electoral issues that arose in 2007 a few weeks from the 2011 elections. We are not unaware that the system has been corrupted. What is going on requires a judicial inquiry. My question is this: What has caused all the delay? Did some of the judges refuse to do what they were supposed to do? The electoral commission was also hand in glove with the ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to see that these electoral and judicial processes are compromised. A lot need to be brought to the fore. Our experience in the past three years at the tribunal and the Supreme Court has exposed a lot. We are happy that our resistance exposed some of the judges.
Recently, some of Justices in the Court of Appeal Abuja division were recently reposted based on our petition and agitations that they compromised the system. It is sad. We would have loved to see a situation where the administrators of justice would closely monitor events. The truth is that politicians will do what they know how to do. They will try to compromise the electoral process. What we fear today is a situation where they use the judiciary to hold on to power at all cost and keep the cases in court while their so-called mandate is questionable. And when they preside over affairs of the states and country, they use monies meant for development for their court cases and their fight to stay in power. This thing will required to be looked into to ensure that those who participated in such things to be punished. There is nothing stopping the judiciary from recommending so.
Why is it difficult for judges to punish electoral offenders?
I remember my early experience in politics in 1986 during the zero party system of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. Justice Fiberesima of the Port Harcourt then gave a judgment, which present judges should emulate. Then an electoral officer came to the court and admitted mutilating the results of the election. Even though we did not ask for it, at the time of giving judgment, Justice Fiberesima recommended for the sack and prosecution of the electoral officer. He recommended that the officer should be handed over to law enforcement agents right from the court. That is the kind of judgment we want to see. You don't need the law to tell you that the courts have power to punish.
Electoral issues are very fundamental. Who becomes our leader is key to the survival of any nation because if the wrong choice is made, we will all live with it. We cried against military rule and yet we have never had had the luxury of electing our leaders. We need to elect visionary leaders who have the idea of where Nigeria should be at a certain point; those who have ideas of how to transform their people and run a government, create wealth and make life good. It is unfortunate that we are saddled with people who have lack ideas and who are foisted on us by so-called godfathers. We have lived with this experience for almost 12 years now and the results are glaring.
We have fought for the strengthening of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the next step is to ensure that the judiciary is purged of bad eggs before the 2011 elections. There are judges who have risen to positions not based on their knowledge of law but on their intimacy and interaction with dubious politicians. They are there to protect certain interests; that is what we discovered in Court of Appeal, Abuja. We know them and so we petitioned that this is not the kind of court that will give justice to Nigerians. We need a court of seasoned jurists who are apolitical. I think Nigerians should know our position on this matter having been a victim of what is going on now. The judicial process has to be reviewed because the electoral process does not terminate after results are announced. The electoral process and electoral laws involve the judicial process, election petition tribunals proceeding and of judgment of tribunals over electoral matters.
Why is it so easy for the judiciary to compromise the system?
The answer can be seen when we find out why the cases in Ekiti and Osun state last this long. Or why the case in Delta State is still at this stage with four months to another election. We saw what happened in Ekiti. The tribunal chairman gave a bad judgment and what did the tribunal do? It did not see anything wrong with that so that the then governor could hold on to power for a while. Then matter went to appeal. It took a discerning mind to unravel some issues. Even in that court they brought an amputee as evidence, but the tribunal said there was no violence. We saw what happened in the Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari's case.
Two results were even brought to court, yet they were still looking for extra evidence. On our part, we brought the evidence yet they did not want to go into the matter. They have kept us busy with preliminary objections. Right now what we are discussing is different. We were not served with notice of hearing, yet the judges dismissed the appeal when the matter was not slated for hearing. When there is no hearing notice and the parties are not in court, how can the court assume jurisdiction. This is not justice. How can a judge dismiss the matter by saying President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua is dead. If Yar'Adua is dead, why is President Goodluck Jonathan sitting there. This is election matter. The laws do not state that a sitting governor for instance has immunity and that is why they are being removed. Judges sit there and create laws. Somebody is fighting for somebody by being in judiciary. They are not looking at the law. Why did the matter in Osun last this long? It was just because of the resilience of the Governor Rauf Aregbesola. In that matter, we heard of a judge exchanging text messages with a party in the case. We heard of other controversies. Somebody was busy manipulating the judiciary to hold on to power and scuttle the whole trial. It was the same with our case. The Supreme Court asked the Court of Appeal to hear the matter on its merit, but they refused to hear the matter and asked for a fresh preliminary objection just to muddle the case.
Are you satisfied that the National Judicial Council (NJC) has sanctioned some judges?
The NJC should do more; there should be a judicial inquiry. Some of these judgments that have brought the judiciary into this bad light need to be investigated. Those judicial officers whose judgments have been upturned and shown to have been a miscarriage of justice or shown to have given out perverse judgment should be questioned, if not sanctioned.
The complicity of the officials of the electoral commission has not really been brought to light except with what happened in Ekiti…
Any electoral officers, whose electoral result is adjudged to have been manipulated or compromised should be questioned, administratively disciplined and prosecuted as criminals. That is why we need a judiciary of Fibresima statue. We need a judiciary with integrity who can look the electoral officers in the eyes and say this is my judgment. We must purge the judicial system; cronies and agents of politicians have infiltrated it.
Those are the things that will bring sanity in the next round of elections. Let us believe that the next election will measure up a bit to our expectations and the electoral cases will not be so furiously pursued like in 2007. If there were no agitations and exposure, would anyone have known what we are seeing now? President Jonathan might not have appointed Prof. Attahiru Jega but for the resilience of those of us who went to court. He took advantage of the law that was not in place to appoint Jega by saying that he was acting on the existing law. We know they had no intention of changing that law. The civil society insisted that they are not going to accept people who are card-carrying members of any party.
Don't you think that lawyers have also played into the hands of politicians and become part of the delay at the tribunals?
The legal practice is in the centre of this confusion. The lawyers are in practice for business. It is painful that those who took oath as judicial officers would give justice to all manner of people. A lot of them have compromised the oaths. The senior advocates I met when I started practice were men of integrity; they helped the court. They don't go into practice and do things to compromise the system. They helped the court even in arguments that were against them. The practice has been compromised. I am a lawyer and a politician and I can see clearly. If I become president, as soon as I am sworn in, I will purge the police and the judiciary of bad eggs. The last Attorney General had to be sanctioned by the Legal Practitioners' Privileges Committee for misconduct. In fact, lawyers are advocating that the Senior Advocate of Nigeria should be abolished because it has become an avenue of compromise. The privilege they have now to open doors and see judges is an opportunity to corrupt the system People run to be SANs, not because they know the law. I defeated over seven them who were defending Yar'Adua at the Court of Appeal.