By NBF News

The former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Alfa Modibo Belgore GCON, recently granted an interview to The Sun Newspaper on Wednesday, 2nd March 2011 wherein he spoke extensively on several issues relating to corruption and the current upheavals in the Nigerian judiciary. In this interview, he aired his views on burning issues in the Nigerian judiciary from his perspective.

However, from his analysis of the critical issues at stake in the current judicial upheavals, several points have been noted which we believe requires further explanation from the former CJN especially in respect of the Supreme Court's controversial decision on the Sokoto Governorship Petition matter. The former CJN started by saying that the matter between the CJN, Hon. Justice Katsina- Alu and the President, Court of Appeal (PCA), Hon. Justice Salami is subjudice and would therefore refrain from commenting on the issues raised. Nevertheless, in another breath, he proceeded to analyze details of the facts involved and expound facts which would seem to indict the PCA in respect of the Sokoto matter.

In other words, while issues relating to the CJN could not be touched because they were subjudice, facts seeming to indict the PCA were not subjudice and could be openly broached with all essential details. This is evidence of comradeship in the interview of the learned jurist, who was interested in protecting a brother CJN, both of whom are widely perceived to be of the same character and moral values. One wonders, why the learned CJN avoided the issue of whether the Supreme Court has jurisdiction over election matters within the context of the clear provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. This is the basic question on the lips of all enlightened citizens both lawyers and laymen alike and the failure of the learned jurist to address this point left a sour taste in the mouth of all those who read the interview expecting the input of the former CJN on this point, but were left disappointed.

Also surprising, is the fact that the former CJN appears to know a whole lot of the details involved in the Sokoto matter and the intricacies of the steps taken by all the parties to the feud. We are compelled to ask how the learned jurist came about all these facts. It is obvious from the forgoing that someone was always briefing him on all the development and even what transpired at conferencing between the Justices. The reason for such briefing, I think the learned CJN will help Nigerians in shedding more light on same, as Nigerians wonder what the interest of the learned former CJN is, on the matter.

The learned jurist referred to a petition filed against the PCA and the panel of justices that sat on the Sokoto matter, yet, he did not mention if any committee was set up by the NJC to investigate the petition and, if yes, what was the finding or recommendation of the committee set up by the NJC. The learned former CJN should have also seized the opportunity of the interview, to tell Nigerians, whether the CJN can through administrative powers instruct a properly constituted Court of Appeal panel not to deliver judgment in an election case of which it has heard both parties and adjourned for judgment.

The learned jurist opined that the Court of Appeal judgment that declared Wammako disqualified in the governorship election held in 2007 and yet, declared him fit to run for the re-run in 2008 was in order because before the time for the conduct of the re-run, he (Wammako) would have met the qualification to contest the re-run election. This reasoning of the learned jurist with the greatest respect defies all forms of electoral logic and is incomprehensible. This is even more disheartening coming from a former CJN as it only gives effect to the saying that truly standards are falling.

A re-run election ought to and is meant to be between persons who were qualified to contest the previous annulled election. It is not meant to give a disqualified candidate a second opportunity to meet whatever qualifications that he failed to meet which led to the nullification of his election. For instance, if a person is held to be disqualified for an election on grounds of not meeting the minimum age required under the law, will the court then permit him to contest the re-run election on the ground that as at the time the re-run is to be held, he will now be above the age criteria which he fell short of at the time of the annulled election?

This is electoral fraud with a judicial insignia/stamp supported and espoused by a former CJN!!! The law cannot and should not be used as an engine of fraud. The learned jurist's view of this issue is perplexing and disappointing as it reveals the lapse on the part of the judiciary which has led to a whole lot of injustices being perpetrated in various forms with the judiciary turning a blind eye to them. Besides, the Court of Appeal had declared that Wammako's Deputy Governor, Alhaji Shagari, was also not qualified to contest the election since his nomination form was filed at a date after the election and backdated to a date in February before the election.

This shows dubious electoral malpractices by both Wammako (who had double nomination by two parties) and his Deputy, Shagari (who dubiously backdated his nomination form filed after the election itself to a prior date before the election and deposed to an affidavit to support this fraud). Yet, the learned jurist found it convenient to opine that both persons were nevertheless eligible to contest the re-run election brought about by the nullification of the previous election for brazen electoral fraud by both Wammako and his Deputy. Indeed, the standards of the judiciary have fallen below acceptable levels!!!! Coming from a former CJN, this is very sad.

The question to the former CJN is to tell Nigerians how Wamakko became qualified to contest an election in clear contravention of Section 34 of the Electoral Act 2006 which states that the substitution of a candidate for an election must be done not later than 60 days to the election. The substitution was in breach of this provision. It is also clear that the said nomination was in clear breach of Section 187 of 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as his supposed running mate Muhktar Shagari only filled and submitted his nomination form on 27th April, 2007 which was two weeks after the election. By the provisions of Section 187(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the FRN which provides as follows:

In any election to which the foregoing provisions of this part of this chapter relate, a candidate for the office of governor of a state shall not be deemed to have been validly nominated for such office unless he nominates another candidate as his associate for his running for the office of deputy governor, who is to occupy the office of deputy governor, and that candidate shall be deemed to have been duly elected to the office of Deputy Governor if the candidate who nominated him is duly elected as Governor in accordance with the provisions.

The above provision was relied upon by the younger brother to the former CJN, Hon. Justice Ahmad Belgore in the Court of Appeal, Kaduna Division on the same matter when he held that:

…..indicated that the 1st Respondent had nominated one Senator Bello J. Gada as his running mate to occupy the office of Deputy Governor, but one Mukhari Shehu Shagari was returned as deputy Governor… It is flagrant rape of democracy and an arrogant and irresponsible disregard for the constitution of this country.

Mr. former CJN, this is your brothers judgment and it obviously states the opposite of your position. Your statement no doubt is unfair, uncharitable, unjust and most especially unbecoming of the person of a judicial officer, not to talk of a former CJN. The interview is selfserving and politically motivated to pervert the cause of justice.

Finally, the learned jurist when confronted with the damming allegations made by the PCA against the CJN and the dust it has raised in judicial circles, referred to it as an 'internal matter' which will be dealt with or 'settled'. With due respect, this is to say the least that such comment coming from a former CJN clearly further displays the rot in our entire judicial process, how can an allegation of such magnitude relating to a brazen attempt to erode the bastion of the judiciary be an 'internal matter' which can be 'settled'? This remark of the learned jurist is reminiscent of the PDP's mentality of referring to burning national issues as a 'family affair'. For the avoidance of doubt, there is nothing 'internal' about an alleged attempt of a judicial officer to influence another judicial officer to pervert the cause of justice. It is a national disaster capable of eroding the fabric of the nation. Thus, it should not be swept under the carpet as an 'internal affair'.

Yusuf Abubakar Kofar Rini,Sokoto.