BY OUR EDITORS
Former President Goodluck Jonathan recently re-echoed what has been in the mind of most Nigerians when he advocated that the nation’s electoral laws ought to be strengthened to ensure that only the ballot box determines who wins elections and not the courts. Before now, political observers considered it a travesty of due process and a bastardisation of the people’s will for a court to upturn the popular choice duly made through a democratic arrangement.
Jonathan’s statement could have come against the backdrop of the Supreme Court verdict that sent shock waves across the country when it sacked David Lyon of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as governor-elect of Bayelsa State and ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to issue certificate of return to the next candidate with the highest number of lawful votes and the requisite spread. Similar episode played out in Imo State when the apex court in a unanimous judgment sacked Emeka Ihedioha as governor of Imo State on grounds that he did not win majority of the votes cast in the March 9, 2019 governorship election. The court also ordered the immediate swearing in of the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Hope Uzodinma, who performed even more abysmally than Ihedioha in the election as lawful winner of the March 9, 2019 governorship election in the State. Such absurdity also happened in Zamfara State
Expectedly, robust arguments have arisen on whether the judiciary is gradually usurping the duty of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the electorate to midwife a crop of leaders through popular franchise. All the cases mentioned above reinforce this line of thought. INEC conducted the elections in which the electorate defied all odds to exercise their right of choice only for the courts to come up with different results and winners that make a nonsense of all known electoral logic.
This newspaper is not by any means suggesting that the courts cannot or should not adjudicate on election matters. On the contrary, the country’s extant laws envisioned that disputes could arise in the electoral process where only the courts would be in a position to resolve them and still deliver justice to all concerned. That explains the wisdom behind the setting up of election tribunals. It is in anticipation of such disputes. What we worry about, though, is the abuse that is often the outcome of the judicial process. The principles of equity and good conscience abhor judgments given on grounds of technicalities and which hardly serve the course of justice in any affirmative way.
However, the proposition by the former president, in our view, is based on personal experience because it presupposes that all politicians will be gentlemen like him who will be sportsmanlike enough to accept defeat regardless of the improprieties embedded in the system.
In our considered opinion, that proposition as idealistic and morally elevating as it is, will remain chimerical in a country like Nigeria with a band of incurably optimistic politicians who do not lose elections but are rigged out. From this perspective, therefore, it is pertinent to point out that even in advanced democracies, the courts still find a role to play in interpreting issues in dispute among politicians. The only difference is that in Nigeria’s situation, there is an unhealthy, disruptive and overarching dependence on the courts to undo what the ballot box had concluded with all the corruptive proclivities attendant to it.
That ideal as postulated by the former president is achievable. All that is required is commitment on the part of all the stakeholders in the democratic enterprise. The government must deliberately build strong institutions that can withstand the manipulative tendencies of the political class. This will also entail the putting in place of a legal framework that will take care of situations as they arise having regard to the public good and the advancement of good governance.
On their part, the politically exposed persons must learn to play by the rules and appreciate the fact that losing is also part of the electoral contest. They must also accept that elections come in cycles; if one loses this time, there will always be another cycle. To participate and avoid hiccups the type that happened in Bayelsa, political parties need to carry out due diligence and thoroughly screen their candidates. Lack of internal democracy in the political parties is the major reason why some of them are losing out at the apex court. When a candidate is fielded just to satisfy the idiosyncrasies of some political godfathers, then the courts will continue to be the lenders of last resort in the election process. And the nation, in our opinion, will be the worse for it as candidates with very little pedigree assume the mantle of leadership.