When we would have ruined the judiciary…, Bola Bolawole

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There appears to be a grand design to ruin the Judiciary and the protagonists are, in my opinion, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, candidate of the PDP in the Saturday, 25 February, 2023 presidential election, and his Labour Party counterpart, Mr. Peter Obi. Both men lost the election to the APC candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Tinubu has formed his government; he has been congratulated, recognized and accepted by world leaders. He has attended and addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations. He has visited and been welcomed by world leaders and important dignitaries. Those ones, too, have visited Tinubu and he has received them. With the Supreme Court ruling of Thursday, 26 October, 2023 signaling an end to all litigations on the matter, Tinubu has also begun to grapple with the gargantuan problems left behind by his I-don’t-care predecessor. Still, there has been no let off from Atiku and Obi who have addressed so-called world press conferences excoriating the Judiciary and pouring scorn on the President.

The least that any rational human being should expect is that Tinubu would now be left alone to face his “Emi lókan” wahala with equanimity. Afterall, he cannot deny that he had a hand in the coming of Muhammadu Buhari. He put together the APC that birthed Buhari. And for the eight years that Buhari rode roughshod over this country, pillaging and ravaging, destroying everything in sight and mortgaging our future, Tinubu maintained what some have described as criminal silence. Yes, he chastisized Buhari’s administration on a number of occasions; still, many are of the opinion he did not do enough. Now that “Emi l’okan” has become “Eni ba l’o mo”, I think it is poetic justice that Tinubu is the one that has to suffer for the pains Buhari inflicted on Nigerians!

I can therefore understand if some people do not see the need to help Tinubu carry his Cross. Do you think this his good grief; his cup of tea which he must drink? Very well! He himself has said he asked for it and should not be pitied! Good enough! But don’t pull down the roof over everyone’s head! Learn from Buhari, who boasted he would run to Niger Republic if Nigerians trouble him here after he has handed over power. Can he still run to Niger Republic now that the military have ousted his friend, the erstwhile president? Those who think they can always run to Dubai should learn. The other day, Peter Obi was arrested and detained in the UK! There is no place like home!

It would have been excusable if Atiku and Obi had genuine reasons for their mad-dog attack on the Judiciary; in this instance, they do not! Truth be told, I used to have reservations about the conduct of some of our judges and their so-called judgments, especially at the State high court and Federal high court levels. Forum shopping became the norm; one judge countered another and judgments clashed and somersaulted and you did not know what to make of it all. There was that low point for the Judiciary as an institution when judgments went to the highest bidder and judges became two for a penny. And men and women of goodwill cried out. I was one of them.

In the case of the last presidential election petitions, however, I saw a marked difference from that sordid past both at the tribunal and Supreme Court levels. Thank God, the courts allowed live broadcast of their rulings. All said and done, Law is common sense which ordinary and reasonable people can follow and understand. The Supreme Court justices made me proud; they were a delight to listen to. Their arguments and reasonings were sound and intelligent. They were profound as they interpreted the law. They reminded me of the days of judges and justices like Kayode Esho, Chukwudifu Oputa, Akinola Aguda and many others.

Every organization has rules and regulations, the courts no less so. There are processes and procedures that must be followed. Due diligence is the name of the game. But in the petitions filed by Atiku and Obi, the judges and justices clearly showed to even laymen like me how the litigants failed in many respects to abide by the rules and processes of the legal profession. The litigants’ lawyers, garbed like masquerades, donning big wigs and parading big titles, failed to display scholarship. There was scanty evidence of a display of the Law they went to school to learn and the experience their donkey years at the Bar should have availed them. One of the justices even marveled at the lack of due diligence and brilliance displayed by the lawyers of the litigants.

A few examples: Can evidence not pleaded at the lower court be brought in fresh, be admitted, and be adjudicated upon at a higher court? I am a lay man. I am the Area Pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God. Two of my ministers had an issue and they brought it before me. Each produced their evidence and I pronounced judgment. One of them was dissatisfied and appealed to my immediate boss, the Zonal Pastor. Getting there, he produced fresh evidence that was not brought before me. If the Zonal Pastor judges the case, taking into account the new evidence and the case now goes in favour of the complainant, will the Zonal Pastor not, in so doing, be indicting me? But will that be fair on me? Can I, in all, honesty, be accused of miscarriage of justice?

Two: How can anyone in his right senses argue that the FCT Abuja, which the Constitution treats as one-third of a State, is more important and has veto power over all the 36 States of the federation put together? Could that have been the spirit and letters of the relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)? Could that have been the intention of the drafters of the Constitution?

Three: Those who claimed that they won an election did not produce the figures to back up their claim! That was the most senseless thing the litigants’ lawyers did! Where are their own figures different from the ones produced by the INEC? In the absence of contrary figures, what did anyone reasonably expect the judges and justices to do?

I was the editor of THE PUNCH in 1993 when that year’s GENERAL ELECTIONS were held. When the presidential election was annulled, we went out to get the actual figures and published them and, with that evidence, insisted that MKO Abiola won the election and we proclaimed him the winner and began to address him as the president-elect or presumed winner of the election.

Ask Atiku and Obi who kept saying that they won the last presidential election to publish their own election results so we can put them side-by-side INEC’s and then judge. In instances where litigants have won election cases in the past, they published election results which the courts compared with those of the electoral umpire to arrive at a verdict. Atiku and Obi published nothing; instead, the former belatedly went on a fishing expedition to Chicago! Even at that, they amateurishly bungled the processes involved, as one of the justices brilliantly explained in his judgment.

After the Supreme Court’s judgment, I had expected both petitioners to be humbled; instead, they have gone after the Judiciary’s jugular! I expected them to have called in their lawyers, unbraid them for their lack of brilliance and seriousness and note where they failed for future reference. To scapegoat and lampoon the Judiciary for failures Atiku and Obi should have personally owned up to diminish whatever status, stature, reputation, and integrity they may legitimately lay claim to as senior citizens of this country. These are men to whom the country has given much and from whom much is expected but, regrettably, they fall our hand, as they say!

The Judiciary is often referred to as the third arm of government; it is not! That reference presupposes that it is inferior or comes after the other two arms of government – the Executive and the Legislature. The proper definition of the Judiciary is “one of the three arms of government”. Montesquieu’s theory of separation of powers, which democracies all over the world seems to have adopted, calls the Executive, Legislature, and Judiciary the three arms of government, equal and co-terminus, with each acting as checks and balances on the others.

No society can do without a judiciary; not even a dictatorship can do without a semblance of one. On the last presidential election petitions, the Judiciary’s performance was creditable. I doff my hat!

PDP lost five of its governors to the newly-cobbled opposition APC in 2015; PDP/President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan lost that year’s presidential election as a result. The rebel PDP governors were led by Atiku. In this year’s presidential election, Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, played the same Atiku card by leading five PDP governors to vote against Atiku. Atiku/PDP lost the election! What goes around comes around! Karma has a way of dealing with the smart!

Obi, on his own, rode on the crest of Igbo irredentism; but the Igbo are just 15.2% of Nigeria’s population. In addition, Obi ran a campaign of the “war” of Christians against Muslims in a country where Muslims are half the population.

Believe you me, Obi and Atiku must have won the last presidential election in their dream! Waking up from sweet dreams to confront stark reality can be very depressing, if you understand what I mean!

  • Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director/ Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspaper on Wednesdays. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.