Calling for the heads of the Justices of the Supreme Court by some disgruntled members of the All Progressives Congress, and the unfortunate reference to their judgments as “procured” by no less a person than Dakuku Peterside, the APC governorship flag bearer for Rivers State in the last election, and a member of the 7th National Assembly is, in my view, an act of indiscretion, the manifestation of intolerance and a pathetic myopia in the matter relating to the judgment reached in the election petition cases that were before the Supreme Court of Nigeria. More annoying is the fact that he did not evidentially say what our learned judicial lords did wrong. This also goes for all who have, in one way or the other, vilified our respectable Justices for not reaching out to fulfill their selfish expectations. This is indeed very sad. Until the explanation for reaching their decisions is made known, I believe they deserve the benefit of their reverences as Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
Although Mr Peterside’s pain, and those of others like him who feel pained by the decisions of the supreme court, is placeable, however, his (their) reasoning and reaction(s) in response to the upholding of the elections of the governors of Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Abia States by the supreme court was twisted, misplaced and insensitive. The outburst of Mr Peterside against our Lord Justices was, on the least, less than honourable and bears the mark of ignorance. It should have been clear to him that the instrument with which the learned Justices reached their decisions did not emanate from them, nor from the Supreme Court. Though the perception of a section of Nigerians was greatly influenced, somehow, by the decisions of the lower courts in the same cases, but with the kind of laws our National Assembly permit and churn out, as it is in this case with the 7th National Assembly, Nigerians should not expect our lord Justices to manufacture reasons for our laws other than what the laws portray to them. This is the reason why their explanation cannot pass the test of sound judicial decision in the face of such evidential non compliance with extant laws.
In a discussion with my friends on Facebook, covering the matter under reference. I suggested the likely positive input of Justice Mary Odili to the decision taken by her colleagues. One of my friends asked “could she have such influence over her colleagues?” Our discussion centred on why, for the first time in election petition matters, the Supreme court reached a strange unanimity in their judgments. Before now, there was always a minority decision on election matters treated by the Supreme Court. Following below was my response as to whether, or not, Justice Mary Odili could, in any way, influence the decisions of the panel of Supreme Court Justices that sat on the governorship election petition cases.
Mary Peter Otunaya Odili is a JSC (Justice of the Supreme Court). This means that those who reached the controversial decisions to uphold all the election victories that were set aside by the court of first instance (the election petition tribunals) and sustained by the court of legal review (the Court of Appeal), are all colleagues. She was a potential Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) if Goodluck Jonathan had won the 2015 presidential election. This reality was clear to her colleagues and factually so. She is fluid and respected among them.
Now, is it not curious that the laws the different Justices who heard these cases, although are the same, the decisions reached by their instruments were different? This means that something is either wrong with our laws, or with the competence of the Justices who sat and decided on the cases in their varied judgments? One fact about the laws used by our lord Justices is that they are laws framed for them by the National Assembly. In the case where we wish to tackle our confusion by examining the competence of our Justices, the thread of the cases pitch the Justices who heard and decided the cases at the level of the Election Petition Tribunals, in Siamese conjoining with the Justices of the Court of Appeal – call them “Group A”, – against the Justices of the Supreme Court, which we will label as “Group B”.
So if the competence of the Justices are placed in the crucible of in depth reasoning, would it be the “A” group or the “B” group that we would think are incompetent? I wish to believe that we cannot indict nor impeach the competence of our learned lords. I would rather see the problem with the instruments of the laws used by the Justices, at all the levels the cases passed, in reaching their decisions. This is where Mary Odili came in, in my permutation as to what could have led to the judgment of the Supreme Court been adverse to that of the Election Petition Tribunal and that of the Court of Appeal.
The legal vibrance of this woman, Mary Odili, birthed a nouveau diction in our legal lexicon – “perpetual injunction”. She manufactured this legal vocabulary and made it possible for only one man to enjoy it so far – her husband, Dr Peter Otunaya Odili, in the case of corrupt practices preferred against me during his terms as Governor of Rivers State. I have opined severally on how the legal practitioners in Nigeria are very dishonest people who can do anything, including sinking Nigeria and Nigerians just to get bank “alert”; but in their own case, “God” refuses his “win” in the alerts they get (apologies to: “Korede Bello and Don Jazzy again ooo”).
Coming back home, it is important to remind us that the 1999 Constitution, even “as amended” is a document nursed and raised by the military – laws bearing the marks of regimentation and therefore very porous. You can access judgment with this document from many windows: this was the reason why the Supreme Court decided differently from the other lower courts.
This means, and I see it so, that the Supreme Court had two windows in our laws with which to access the judgment they reached: they could choose to uphold the decisions of the other courts who sat to hear and decide on the matter or upturn them. It was strategic that the case of Rivers State had to set the precedence for the body of cases heard in this dispensation of justice, following the ruling which upheld the election of the Lagos State Governor.
I see a situation where madam Odili appealed to the sympathetic reasoning of her colleagues and by this influence limited the judicial windows available to them to one – setting aside the decisions of the lower courts. She could have said “my dear colleagues, Rivers is my State, and I am in the best position to impress you all with how volatile a rerun in that State would be – we can avoid bloodshed by choosing the most appropriate window from which the case of Rivers State should be viewed. She could also have pictured what the State suffered since 2013, which led to the locking down of two arms of the government of the State for 22 months.
In an illustration: take your bosom friend – who has two ways he can do a thing and you knows that if you allow him to freely make his choice, it could affect your interest adversely. Not intending to risk his freedom to decide which window he would choose, you approach him to ask that, for some reasons affecting your interest and the majority of your people, you impresses him to favour discarding the window that would affect you…would he not oblige you, knowing he can effectively and appropriately defend the decision he would take to support your interest as your colleague? As for money changing hands, I cannot say for sure if it did, but it is possible because this is Nigeria; and here, one is not guilty of a crime until proven so and thus is a goof caveat for our lord Justices to also share in election booties. They should not keep straight face; we are all Nigerians. This is why the abused among us have asked for change.
It is also possible that the cost of the rerun of the governorship election, the tension it would generate and the suspension of the good governance of the people of the State were also canvassed. However it happened, whatsoever the consequence and however we choose to see them, every effort to address the underlined controversy is now “academic exercise”. Except if it is possible for the matter to be appealed before God. Nevertheless, Dakuku Peterside, the APC candidate in the upheld election, before his recent verbal summersault, did exactly that when he said he leaves “Wike to God”.
The judgment of the Supreme Court may also have been reached as a way of deepening our jurisprudence. It was possible for the Supreme Court to see the election guidelines developed by INEC for those elections, which cases were before them, and considering the national broadcast by Attahiru Jega, insisting that only the card reader would be used in the April 11 elections, as the basis to uphold the decisions of the lower courts or like in the case of Lagos, apply the supremacy of the electoral act, as amended, and which enrobes the major laws guiding the operations of INEC as stipulated by the constitution, from where the electoral guidelines draw its authority.
The matter in the case of the Supreme Court dismissing the decisions of the lower courts and upholding the election of the governors is drawn from the fact that though the electoral act draws its authority from the constitution, which is the most supreme law book in the country, the election guidelines approved for Jega for the 2015 elections failed to draw its authority from the 2010 Electoral Act, as amended, which in itself is the supreme law book for election related rituals.
This was the loophole and the second window, which was available to our learned lords apart from the window of insisting on the authenticity of the election guidelines in its provision for the use of the card reading device as approved by the National Assembly for Jega’s use. Now another question is, who was responsible for ensuring that the election guidelines draws it authority from the electoral act for its provision for the use of the card reader? Of course the National Assembly.
So what if our learned Justices designed their judgment in a way to show Nigerians that those that claim to represent them in the National Assembly are men who see themselves as been on a political jamboree with one single interest at heart – to fleece Nigerians. Clearly, the Supreme Court, in their most recent decisions have told Nigerians that their lawmakers are on Disney Island, relishing kindergarten innuendos and filling their bellies sumptuously, with less than nothing to offer them but confusion and bloodshed.
Jega took his guidelines to the 7th National Assembly for approval. They asked him some questions and he answered. They all shook their heads in affirmation and approved the guidelines for Jega. The gentleman left and they went back to their vocation – checking when the next allowances will come, and to which MDA they would go for oversight and intimidate the executive arm. They completely forgot that the approval they gave Jega, providing for the use of card reading device in the elections under reference demanded an amendment in the electoral act in order to empower the approval they gave for the election guidelines. This is the problem our learned lords attempted to address in their decisions.
Why cast all aspersions on our respectable Justices, when in essence they were, unlike our greedy lawyers, paving the way for the deepening of our jurisprudence and in my opinion they deserve some awards like the ones with which Goodluck Jonathan is honoured internationally, if any of his has any institutional weight at all, or if they resemble his wife’s Honoraris Causa doctorate degree for no human developmental achievement but for sticky fingers.
We must push for the scrapping of the Nigerian Senate and streamline the effectiveness of the House of Reps. We must appreciate the fact the if members of the National Assembly oversights the executive arm, it translate that we also have the duty to oversight them. We have been nonchalant, insensitive, callous and an ignorant people. This is why the PDP took us for a 16-year scout camping in adverse weather. The learned men have done their part, they have exposed those who should work for the improvement of our livelihood but are unable to fix their focus on that goal. Let us lay the blame-mat for the abuse many suffered as a result of the decisions under reference at the appropriate door step – the legislature.
We must cease from vilifying the judiciary because, as an arm of government, the instrument of discharging their responsibility is deployed from another arm of government. Supposing there are defects in this instrument deployed to them for their duties, what should they do, other than finding a way around the defections? This is where the Supreme Court would draw its reasons for the decisions they took. I am not prejudicing nor subverting the Supreme Court by my position because I believe that with their judgment already declaref, the matters are now precedents and open for reference and review.