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How Judiciary Saved Democracy In 2015

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On June 23, 1993 when ex-President General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida announced the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election, highly believed to have been won by the late Alhaji Moshood K, Abiola, he blamed the judiciary for the crisis leading to his decision.

‘’It must be acknowledged that the performance of the judiciary on this occasion was less than satisfactory. The judiciary has been the bastion of the hopes and liberties of our citizens. Therefore, when it became clear that the courts had become intimidated and subjected to the manipulation of the political process, and vested interests, then the entire political system was in clear dangers. This administration could not continue to watch the various high courts carry on their long drawn out processes and contradictory decisions while the nation slides into chaos. It was under this circumstance that the National Defence and Security Council decided that it is in the supreme interest of law and order, political stability and peace that the presidential election be annulled’’, Babangida stated.

The drama began on June 11, 1993 when Justice Bassey Ikpeme, the “midnight judge” made a ruling a few hours to the casting of ballot to stop the conduct of the election. To the applause of the public, Professor Humphrey Nwosu and the electoral body disregarded the ruling and went ahead with the election because Section 19 of Decree No. 13 of 1993 ousted the jurisdiction of the court in the matter. While election results were been announced, the then Chief Judge FCT High Court, Justice Saleh granted an order stopping further announcement of the election results on June12; the same Justice Saleh followed with another declaring the election ‘null and void’.

The late General Sani Abacha equally cashed on court rulings declaring the short-lived transitional government of Chief Ernest Shonekan illegal to seize power on November 17, 1993. Perhaps that informed reasons in September 1994, when he issued a decree that placed his government above the jurisdiction of the courts, effectively giving him absolute power. Another decree gave him the right to detain anyone for up to three months without trial.

 

2015 ELECTION

However, similar June 12 scenario of destruction to our democracy would equally have played out penultimate 2015 general election, due to avalanche of suits filed in the courts advertently to disrupt or stop the elections from holding. The then head of judiciary in the country, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed deserve an award or uncommon national recognition for uncommon determination, courage and administrative cum leadership prowess he employed to prevent the repeat of June 12, 1993 experience. Not only our democracy that may have suffered collateral damage, but the ligament binding the nation would have been destroyed beyond recovery, save CJN Mohammed’s effort and the general cooperation and understanding of many judicial officers.

Lest we forget, spurious and numerous suits were filed challenging eligibility of the All Progressive Congress (APC) Presidential candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari  to contest the 2015 election on the grounds of his alleged failure to submit his certificate of academic qualifications along with his Form CF001 to the Independent National Electoral Commission ( INEC).

The plaintiffs claim that Buhari’s failure to submit his certificate of academic qualifications contravened provisions of sections 131 and 318 of the 1999 Constitution and section 31(3) of the Electoral Act, 2010.

While Chukwunweike Okafor filed the suit, FHC/ABJ/CS/01/15, Ayakeme Whiskey filed (FHC/ABJ/CS/68/15); and Friday Ojelaro (FHC/ABJ/CS/20/15 and FHC/ABJ/CS/3/2015), all before Justice Adeniyi Ademola (retired) of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja. Beside those ones, there were three others virtually with same claims and were accordingly struck out by Justice Ademola.

Applications of Chukwuma Ochu and Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa seeking to join in the suit filed by Chukwunweike Okafor were dismissed too.

Okafor was represented by his lead counsel, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), while Chief Akin Olujimi (SAN) represented Buhari, Mr. Sikiru Adewoye represented the APC and Mr. Hassan Liman represented the INEC.

This follows the decision of the court to adjourn till April 22 and 23, 2015 hearing in three suits, challenging Buhari’s eligibility to participate at the presidential race as a standard bearer.

This was just as Senator Alphonsus Igbeke filed the suit number FHC/AWKA/CS/117/2015 dated March 12 2015 before Justice M.I. Abubakar of the Federal High Court in Awka. The nine-paragraph originating summon and a 22-paragraph Affidavit in support suit sought also to stop Buhari from contesting in the March 23, 2015 presidential election.

Apart from the disqualification suit, there is a pending direct criminal complaint against Buhari before an Abuja Magistrate’s Court asking the court to direct that the former Head of State “be brought to book” for allegedly claiming on oath that he had a certificate he did not obtain.

Justice Ademola however adjourned on March 26, 2015 till April 22 and 23, 2015 hearing in three suits, challenging Buhari’s eligibility to participate at the presidential race as a standard bearer.

After been deced a winner and sworn-in, Buhari hired 13 Senior lawyers led by  Wole Olanipekun (SAN) to argue his cases. Others were Lateef O. Fagbemi (SAN), Akin Olujinmi (SAN), Oluwarotimi O. Akeredolu (SAN), Kola Awodein (SAN), Taiwo Osipitan (SAN), Charles Edosomwan (SAN), Emeka Ngige (SAN), Femi Atoyebi (SAN), Femi Falana (SAN), Funke Aboyade (SAN), H.O. Afolabi and 10 other counsels. Justice Ademola struck out the suits after the plaintiffs applied to discontinue their cases on June 30, 2015.

 

CARD READER SUITS

This is just as a Federal High Court in Abuja refused an application brought by four registered political parties, seeking to restrain the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from using Smart Card Readers in the conduct of the general elections.

The United Democratic Party, Action Alliance, Allied Congress Party of Nigeria and Alliance for Democracy filed the suit.

The parties, through their lawyer Alex Iziyon (SAN), told the court that the proposed use of the readers was contrary to the provisions of the constitution, as well as the amended 2010 Electoral Act.

In the suit, the political parties challenged the powers of INEC to introduce a process not specifically provided for in the constitution, as it prepares for the rescheduled polls.

Mr Iziyon told the court that the Electoral Act, in section 52(1), prohibited electronic voting, but that the electoral body had gone ahead to introduce electronic voter’s card reader.

In his ruling on the exparte motion, the trial judge, Justice Adeniyi Ademola, noted that the political parties had shown that they had legal rights, showing that the case is triable, but observed that the parties would not suffer any irreparable harm if the electoral body is given the opportunity to be heard before the interim orders being sought could be granted.

Consequently, the court declined to make any interim orders against INEC on the proposed use of the Smart Card Readers.

 

SUITS TO STOP EX-PRESIDENT GOODLUCK JONATHAN FROM CONTESTING IN 2015

Several suits were also filed to stop ex-President Goodluck Jonathan from contest 2015 presidential election in the country.

While duo of Richard Mneaga and Shuaibu Lilli, who are chieftains of the PDP.in their suit filed on October 7, 2014 sought an order of the court to disqualify Jonathan from presenting himself as the presidential candidate of the PDP in the 2015 election. According to them Jonathan had completed eight years in office as President, calculated from May 29, 2007 he was sworn in as Vice-President to President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2007. After Yar’Adua’s death in 2010, Jonathan was sworn in as President.

Before then Cyriachus Njoku had approached an Abuja High Court in 2012 to stop Jonathan from re-contesting in 2015, just as Dr Umar Ardo sought to be joined at a point in the Njoku’s suit as an interested party.

Some of these suits were contested up to appellate courts, but no conclusions were allowed in them till after the 2015 elections.

The then CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed monitored all suits challenging eligibility of the presidential candidates or the card reader very closely through the heads of courts to avoid court pronouncements that may set constitutional crisis on course, cause political conflagration or usher in upheavals. By such close tab and marking no judge, irrespective of temptation or persuasion gave rulings or judgements similar to the ones that aided June 12, 1993 crisis. He insisted every candidate be given “a level playing ground”.



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