About two days after the Supreme Court judgement on tenure elongation which sacked five state governors including in Kogi State where elections had been conducted about eight weeks before the Apex Court ruling, a reporter from a major newspaper contacted the chief press secretary to the INEC chairman, Mr Kayode Idowu, on the next step the electoral body would take. The press secretary remarked that “INEC lawyers were studying the verdict and will advise the Nigerian public on the full ramifications of the judgement. He further stated that “INEC will take a position after receiving its lawyers’ analysis in the coming week.” While Nigerians were patiently awaiting INEC to do its investigation and consult the appropriate authorities in the said one week, surprisingly, the next day after the disclosure by Mr. Idowu of INEC, the electoral body announced its decision.
Many Nigerians were astonished for the simple reason that most governmental institutions in Nigeria are yet to attain ‘speed of light efficiency’ in reaching even simple decisions, yet INEC with a raft of tasks on its desk was able to deconstruct with ease a complex issue like the interpretation of the Apex Court judgement which seems to have yielded a plurality of meanings.
According to INEC, the decision it reached was derived from its interpretation of the Supreme Court judgement. An important aspect of INEC’s decision is that the December 3rd 2011 Kogi State gubernatorial elections in its thinking and wisdom remains valid.
As such, Captain Wada Idris, the purported governor-elect from the troubled PDP of Kogi State is right to have been sworn in as governor by the President of the Customary Court of Appeal against the directive of the Attorney General of the Federation which ordered that all Speakers of the affected State House of Assemblies, including Kogi State’s Hon Abdullahi Bello be sworn in as acting governors in line with the Apex court ruling which reversed the earlier decision of the Appellate Court on tenure elongation. There are however more far-reaching consequences of the current decision by INEC, especially on Kogi State which will impact negatively on the Supreme Court judgement and the Nigerian democracy.
First, is that INEC cannot determine for itself what the Supreme Court ruling will mean in a peculiar context like Kogi State where gubernatorial elections were conducted in December 2011, yet the Attorney General’s directive did not recognise the elections in Kogi State, perhaps because it rested on the reversed decision of the Appellate Court.
Given the growing controversy that has emerged with the recent INEC’s decision, many public analysts have posited that INEC should not have looked inward for meaning of the Supreme Court judgement, rather it should have waited to see how the Apex Court justices would interpret the judgement in line with the Constitution.
For emphasis, in most legal tussles, where a gap of understanding emerges in a judgement, thus creating a conflict, especially where there is not such common meaning for interpretation of the judgement, it is the court that passed the judgement that is best positioned to reconcile conflicts in interpretations of judgement.
Indeed, this is where Prof. Jega missed the point. His reliance on INEC’s in-house team to reach a decision on such a complex legal issue after only a day’s deliberation is highly suspicious. This is not only very worrisome but it poses a big question mark on INEC’s capacity to handle legal issues.
Second, INEC need not involve itself in deciding the interpretations of the Apex Court especially in determining whether a particular election after the Supreme Court ruling is valid or not especially as it will be recalled that over 200 armed policemen were directed by the Inspector General of Police to ensure that the controversial governor-elect, Captain Wada was installed as the new Kogi State governor against the earlier directive of the Attorney General of the Federation.
So what is this? It is politics, because it is only an ideal judge that could determine the right answer to such complex legal question by interpreting the law as a whole. Prof. Jega in reaching such a decision owes Nigerians an explanation on the modalities he used in interpreting the judgement of the Supreme Court or the constitution of Nigeria as it relates to the judgement.
In fact, undue influence cannot be far removed from Jega’s position when it has to do with Kogi State. You remember that,during the build up to the elections in Bayelsa State, INEC excluded PDP’s Dickson from Bayelsa gubernatorial election list for the reason: “subject to litigation,” whereas in Kogi State, actions of the court against Capt. Wada of PDP were demonstratively ignored. INEC did not recognise Dickson because of the pending court case but did on Kogi. INEC vacillated on Echocho. To send a clear message, this is double standard and INEC has evidently shown in its conduct the application of different sets of principles for similar situations. The question on the lips of all is: What is Prof. Jega’s interest in Kogi? Did anybody take his wife?His actions lately is a worrisome throwback to the days of the discredited Maurice Iwu, and a reminder to Nigerians that the hopes they have placed in Jega may have been misplaced after all.
Whether the next governor is Captain Idris Wada, the so-called elected governor from the very controversial December 3rd election and anointed successor of the former Kogi State governor, or Jibrin Isa Echocho, the man who won the mandate as the people’s choice in the January 9, 2011 valid primary election of the PDP, what matters most is that justice is done and seen to be done.
Indeed, this is not an easy legal question. The Apex Court judges must perceive the necessity of a prompt interpretation of their judgement. But beyond the slightest doubt is that the present occupation of the Lord Lugard House by Idris Wada as governor of Kogi State is illegitimate until the Supreme Court justices give appropriate interpretation of their judgement.
As for the name “Jega” ,it will go in history as another virus in national political software if he fails to change!
—Dr. Idris is a Canadian-based university lecturer