By a letter dated 7th May, 2018 and titled “NAJUC Lecture 2018: Request for Your Participation as Keynote Speaker”, the National Association of Judiciary Correspondents (NAJUC) invited me to participate in this most auspicious event as the Keynote Speaker. I mentally juxtaposed the eminence of the Association with the content of the letter, and immediately realised, to borrow the words of Don Corleone, in Mario Puzzo’s The Godfather, that an offer that could not be refused had been extended to me.
Howbeit, I am afraid I have to tinker with the title of the keynote address for several reasons, including but not limited to the rather restrictive ambit of the topic handed over to me, coupled with the fact that it would amount to self-deceit to restrict any discourse on our democratic journey, as it were, on the Judiciary and media, leaving out the major participants, who double as the major beneficiaries of our democracy, that is, the political class/elite, who cut across party barriers and delineations, and who also litter our political space, from Local Governments through to the State and Federal levels. To my mind, we cannot address or furrow into the success or otherwise of the 2019 general elections, as well as the sustenance of our democratic voyage, without this category of people. Otherwise, we would, deceptively, be acting Shakespeare’s Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. Let the reality be quickly recognised that in normal climes, where and when the political class plays and activates politics according to the rules of the game, not taking it as a do or die affair, or a means to an end, or an end in itself, or the core and crux of livelihood, or where politicians respect their respective national Constitutions, electoral laws, et al, the judiciary in particular has a lesser role to play at midwifing such democracies.
In modifying the topic, however, I kept on reminding myself that I must not lose sight of the very essence, meaning, intention and tenor of the original topic, hence the ‘amended’ topic, which is “The Role of the Judiciary, the Media and the Political Class in Midwifing the 2019 General Elections and Sustaining Nigeria’s Democratic Process”, which conveniently subsumes the original. In this presentation, permit me to do some random samplings or a sort of panorama, and in doing so, the first port of call will be the Judiciary, before moving to the media, and finally berthing at the doorsteps of the political class
The last topical political case that agitated the entire labyrinth of the American Judiciary is the celebrated case of Al Gore v. Bush. Before then, either at the state or national levels, there was a lull of election petition gymnastics in any of the superior courts in the United States of America, as it is very unusual for any politician or political party over there to think of doing or intending to do what our politicians here do. In effect, the Judiciary in America is not saddled with the unenviable and hazardous responsibility and thankless job of adjudicating on sensitive electoral matters, either to install a State Governor, a member of the Congress or President, or to nullify election results. Despite the ‘too-close-to-call’ nature
of the last presidential election between the two candidates of the Republican and Democratic parties, respectively, Donald J. Trump and Hilary R. Clinton, the latter is not the petitioner or plaintiff in the action asking for a decree for the recount of the ballots in some areas. Be it noted that she and her husband, Bill Clinton, were conspicuously present at Donald Trump’s inauguration. India is reputed to be the largest democracy in the world, and my research of the number of election cases in that large country and democracy, in juxtaposition with what we have in Nigeria has continuously and consistently resulted in the truism that despite the fact that the political constituencies in Nigeria constitute a very negligible percentage of the ones in India, the number of election matters, whether pre or post elections, or whether arising from pre-election summonses or post-election petitions in Nigeria, dwarfs that of India. Let us pause here to ask a rhetorical question, that is, when last did we hear or read of a challenge to the election of a Prime Minister of India,? Or the Prime Minister of Britain? Or the President of France? Again, let us remind ourselves that the last snap election in Great Britain was also ‘too close to call’, and, indeed, the ruling Conservative Party did not have the requisite number of MPs to form a government; but within hours, concessions were made here and there, and based on democratic traditions which had evolved in that country for centuries, Queen Elizabeth II invited Theresa May to form the government. Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party did not approach any election tribunal or court to stop Theresa May from so doing.
This audience might be wondering about these excursions into the democratic records of some foreign countries when we are dealing with the Nigerian political process. Let me make myself clear. The President of the Court of Appeal in Nigeria, is the equivalence of the Master of the Rolls in Great Britain. The high office of the Master of the Rolls is not saddled with the pitiable responsibility of constituting election tribunals and their memberships, as the President of the Court of Appeal in Nigeria does regularly and intermittently, even whenever there is a bye-election to fill a vacancy in a State House of Assembly. The Chief Justice of Great Britain or the Chief Justice of the United States of America does not have anything to do with the constitution of election tribunals or panels. Unlike these countries and their judiciaries, the Nigerian Judiciary has lost most of its cherished dignity, prestige, honour and glamour, as a result of its continuous involvement at deciding high-tension election and electoral matters. When election tribunals are empaneled, the Judges constituting the panels are selected from different parts of the country and posted to States different from theirs. The Chairman and a member of the Tribunal constitute the statutory quorum; while a full panel consists of three judges of the High Court. In most jurisdictions in Nigeria, an average judge has between 14-16 cases on his cause list daily. Section 285(6) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), mandates the Election Petition Tribunal to deliver its judgment within 180 days of the filing of the petition. This means that depending on a variety of factors like number of polling unit results being contested, number of witnesses being called, modalities adopted for the calling of witnesses, an election tribunal may very well expend the entirety of the period allocated to it by the constitution in deciding a petition. In doing so, the Judges are uprooted from their courtrooms to the locus in quo. Not only that, pending trials and applications, will consequently be kept in abeyance and sacrificed on the altar of election petition expediency.
Before the advent of the 1979 Constitution, the Nigerian Judiciary did not get itself much involved in election matters. One can dare submit that some of the political cases adjudicated on by the Supreme Court pre-1979 Constitution, like Awolowo v. Minister of Internal Affairs, Balewa v. Doherty, Akintola v. Adegbenro, Olawoyin v. Attorney-General, Northern Nigeria, etc., were not on whether or not a particular candidate won an election or that his election be nullified. Starting from the highly contested case of Awolowo v. Shagari, the Supreme Court was beckoned on to nullify a Presidential Election, and the ultimate decision of the Supreme Court attracted a lot of criticisms, and even denigrating comments against some of the Justices. Since then, and more particularly, since the advent of the 4th Republic, which is anchored on the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), the floodgates have been opened for the Judiciary to interfere, meddle, dabble into and adjudicate on very sensitive electoral matters. This has led to a host of decisions, whereby, Nigerian politicians and the political class, who only applaud the Judiciary whenever a particular judgment goes their way, have persistently damnified the Nigerian Judiciary and its personnel for some of the judgments they could not swallow. Some of the epochal decisions of our superior courts, particularly the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court since 1999 include Falae v. Obasanjo, Buhari v. INEC, Abubakar v. Yaradua, Amaechi v. INEC, Obi v. INEC, Ogboru v. Uduaghan, INEC v. Oshiomhole, ACN v. Lamido, Belgore v. Ahmed, Doma v. INEC, Oshiomole v. Airhiavbere , PDP v. Sylva, Ikpeazu v. Otti, Agbaje v. INEC, Agbaje v. Fashola , Nyesom v. Peterside, Ladoja v. Ajimobi , Wada v. Bello, APGA v. Almakura, Oke v. Mimiko (No. 2) , Akeredolu v. Mimiko , Agagu v. Mimiko, Abubakar v. Yar’Adua , Falae v. Obasanjo, Faleke v. INEC, Congress for Progressives Change v. INEC , Aregbesola v. Oyinlola , ANPP v. Goni, and Fayemi v. Oni.
It was through the judicial fiat of our Supreme Court that Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State assumed office as Governor. The Supreme Court had held that it is a political party that contests an election, and not the candidate. In effect, the votes cast for the Peoples Democratic Party in the Rivers State Governorship election in 2007 were appropriated to Governor Rotimi Amaechi, who did not participate in the election, but who, through his pre-election suit, claimed that he ought to have been the candidate of the PDP. In INEC v. Oshiomhole, The Court of Appeal nullified the election of Professor Oserheimen Osunbor and acceded to the petition of Adams Oshiomhole that he should be declared as Governor of Edo State, having won the majority of lawful votes cast at the election. In Agagu v. Mimiko, the Court of Appeal also nullified the election of Agagu and acceded to the relief of Mimiko that he be declared the Governor of Ondo State, also having won the majority of lawful votes cast at the 2007 Governorship election in Ondo State. In Fayemi v. Oni, Fayemi also succeeded in judicially dislodging Segun Oni as Governor of Ekiti State, the court having granted his relief that he won majority of the lawful votes cast in the election. In Aregbesola v. Oyinlola, the same scenario earlier highlighted for Oshiomhole, Mimiko and Fayemi was judicially re-enacted before Aregbesola became Governor of Osun State. The Obi v. INEC’s case lasted for over three years before Obi could judicially dislodge Ngige as Governor of Anambra State, after a fiercely contested electoral petition. By the recent decision of the Supreme Court in Faleke v. INEC, Governor Yahaya Bello, who was not a candidate at the Kogi State governorship election of 2015, and who was also proven not to be a registered voter in Kogi State became Governor of the State on the ground that he came a far distant second to Abubakar Audu at the primary election of the All Progressives Congress, to pick the governorship candidate of the party. In a normal clime where the tenets of democracy are adhered to and where the votes actually count, there was no justification to resort to litigation over the Kogi governorship matter after the death of Abubakar Audu, as the election was already concluded and a clear winner emerged. But INEC chose to declare an already concluded election inconclusive. What happened thereafter, is now history.
Although President Goodluck Jonathan honourably and commendably conceded defeat to President Muhammadu Buhari after the 2015 Presidential election, Nigerians have lost sight (or do I say memory?) of the fact that the Presidential election of Saturday, 28th March, 2015, was only held because of the judicial intervention of Kolawole J., of the Federal High Court, Abuja Judicial Division, on 25th March, 2015, who granted a stay of proceedings in the pre-election matter brought against INEC. The said stay of proceedings was granted on the oral application of counsel to candidate Muhammadu Buhari (who was not even a party to the case), praying the court for a stay of proceedings, intimating the court that an application had been filed on behalf of candidate Muhammadu Buhari to be joined as a party, and that an appeal had been lodged at the Court of Appeal for stay of further proceedings before Kolawole J. For ease of reference, as well as emphasis, Kolawole J. acceded to this oral application and held as follows:
“Whilst I agree with the submissions of the Plaintiff that a non-party cannot competently be heard to be applying for a stay of proceedings in this suit, but the oral application made by Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN, was essentially based on a court’s process which the said All Progressives Congress had filed in the Court of Appeal and the prayer therein, is one which targets the proceedings in this court….Whilst all these issues are sound propositions of law based on extant appellate court’s decisions, in their interpretation of the Court of Appeal Rules, 2011, this Court as a Court of first instance is expected to tread the ground softly, lest I will be placed in a position where I will be seen to be taking decisions on behalf of the Court of Appeal as regards the competence or otherwise of the Appellant’s “Motion on Notice” dated 24/3/15…. The best which the Applicant can make use of the said “Motion on Notice” is to bring it to the attention of this Court. Once this is done, this Court will be obliged, regardless of whatever view it may have as to its merit or otherwise, to accord the Court of Appeal an unfettered opportunity to hear the said “Motion on Notice” in the exercise of its appellate powers and to decide whether or not, the proceedings in this Court can or should go on…The Plaintiff’s action is in connection with the decision of the Defendant to use card readers appliances to accredit voters who have been issued permanent voters’ cards. The election at which the said card readers will be deployed on the field by the Defendant is only three (3) days from today…This case will have to be adjourned in order to preserve the right of the Appellant to have its “Motion on Notice” heard by the Court of Appeal without this Court foisting upon it, a fait accompli. This shall be my Ruling…The case is hereby adjourned to 30/4/15 for the hearing of applications filed by persons who seek to be joined as co-Defendants. Adjourned 30/4/15.
My take on the involvement of the Judiciary in our electoral process and democracy is that but for the Judiciary, we might have forgotten about this democratic experiment. I should not be taken as arguing at cross-purposes, having postulated earlier that our Judiciary is over-burdened by election and electoral matters, which should not be the case, and which have also robbed the Judiciary of its high respect, and also discounted its prestige. A few examples will suffice. It was the Judiciary that halted the jamboree and executive rascality embarked upon by the Obasanjo administration to sack, at its whims and caprices, and using coercive powers of State, any Governor of a State who was perceived to be an ‘enemy’ of the Federal Government or President, starting from the celebrated case of Inakoju v. Adeleke, through to Dapianlong v. Dariye and Hon. Mike Balonwu v. Mr. Peter Obi . It was also the same Supreme Court that nipped in the bud the disingenuous and crafty methodology of some Governors who, after re-contesting elections pursuant to orders of tribunals nullifying their elections and ordering for fresh elections, at extending their constitutionally guaranteed terms of four years each, ad infinitum, claiming that a fresh tenure of four years commenced after the fresh election and taking of a fresh oath. See Marwa v. Nyako. It was also the same Supreme Court that bailed Vice-President Atiku Abubakar from the ‘hangman’s noose’ when, President Obasanjo declared his seat vacant, despite the clear provisions of the Constitution relating to how a President or Vice-President can be removed from office. It was the Court of Appeal who also, rightly for that matter, rescued the then Vice- President Atiku Abubakar from criminal prosecution when he was charged before the Code of Conduct Tribunal despite the immunity vested in him from criminal prosecution by the virtue of his office. In 1983, when politicians were rampaging, maiming and killing people and/or destroying lives and properties in Ondo State after the governorship elections of that year, it was the Judiciary, right from the tribunal, through to the Court of Appeal and up to the Supreme Court, that redressed the political malfeasance and frayed nerves in the celebrated case of Omoboriowo v Ajasin.
The choice of this topic NAJUC pre-supposes a thinking or mindset that the Nigerian Judiciary must always be involved in electioneering matters, as well as the outcome of elections. I am not that surprised by this mindset because this is the unfortunate situation the Nigerian Judiciary has found itself. Our country is a very peculiar and strange one, whereby the Judiciary has become an endangered specie, as a result of its gradual descent into the political arena through adjudication on nasty, touchy and hostile political cases involving politicians who take no prisoners or pardon any perceived transgressor. I am saddened at the way and manner the image of the Judiciary has been, and is being, bruised by politicians and non-politicians across the length and breadth, as well as nooks and crannies of this country. I wonder what any Judiciary can do in the midst of desperate politicians, who do not target the votes of the people to acquire and assume power, but who ordinarily aim at capturing seats, constituencies and States rather than winning same though the ballot box. The Judiciary cannot and should not be part of politics and politicking; it has no business with how political parties are formed or made to function; the Judiciary does not partake in the drafting of their manifestoes, assuming without conceding that they have credible and clear-cut manifestoes; the Judiciary has never been present whenever politicians plan to rig elections, kill and maim opponents, either from the same political parties or without. Yet, we are gathered here this afternoon to deliberate on how the Nigerian Judiciary can midwife the 2019 general elections and our democracy. It is an intimidating wedlock. I repeat that we should stop using the Nigerian Judiciary for what it is not traditionally, professionally and ethically meant to do. The position of the jurisprudence of electoral matters under the common law is that the Judiciary should not be an avenue to change or swap the wishes of the electorates as demonstrated through the ballot box, as the ballot box is considered sacred, representing the collective conscience of the electorates. The audience might wish to ask whether the ballot box in Nigeria is sacred, or whether it represents the collective conscience of the electorates!
As a result of the situation the Nigerian Judiciary has found itself, or the peculiar circumstance the nuances and antics of our politics and politicking have put and placed the Judiciary, the Nigerian Judiciary is today under siege. It has become an institution which politicians want to invade and conquer. The lawlessness that permeates the political hemisphere has been transmitted by some politicians to the Judiciary through the use of hoodlums to invade the Judiciary and capture its personnel. It is an understatement to posit that we cannot pontificate on the doctrine of rule of law and submission to same, when there is no respect for the Judiciary. Recently, precisely on 11th May, 2018, the High Court of Justice in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, was placed under siege, as the Court was besieged, surrounded and cordoned off by political thugs who unleashed mayhem on the entire court premises, shooting sporadically, in order to prevent a particular judge of the State High Court from giving judgment in an intra-party dispute involving two factions of the same political party. Judicial workers were harassed, threatened and assaulted. Hell was let loose on the entire court premises. The Judiciary is a sacred arm of government which should be insulated both from politics and political harassment by politicians. As the 2019 general elections draw near, all of us must come to the realisation and agreement that the Judiciary must be accorded its due respect, while its sacredness must be protected. One does not need to be a prophet or soothsayer to submit that we might not be able to have a successful outing in 2019 if our Judiciary is caged or put under constant and persistent siege and invasion by politicians, through their sponsored thugs and hoodlums. No justice can come out from an intimidated or subjudicated Judiciary. On the part of the Judiciary itself, I will advise that no Judge of whatever cadre within the Judicial organogram should allow himself or herself to be used, either in civil or criminal proceedings, to promote or enhance the interest of any political party or personality against the other. Justice itself should be rooted in law and facts, and never to be based on sentiments or road side stories and unsubstantiated allegations. Whenever the appropriate opportunity unfolds, lawyers should urge the Supreme Court to revisit some of its decisions on our electoral matters, considering the fact that election itself is a process, starting from when candidates vie for the ticket to contest elections within their political parties through to the time election proper is conducted and a winner announced by INEC. To my mid, any person who does not take part in any of the stages of the elections should not assume office, either as a legislator or chief executive.
The Nigerian press has come of age. It has demonstrated patriotism, pragmatism, determination, altruism and a deep commitment to national growth and democratic ideals over the years. It has passed through many turbulent stages and phases in the hands and under the auspices of tyrants, particularly, when Nigeria descended into the valley of the shadow of death, and into the belly of the whale under the military. Three estates of the realm have always been recognised, and given preference over the press, which is often casually referred to as the fourth estate. The Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary are well catered for in our Constitution, and the independence of the Judiciary appears to be fairly constitutionally guaranteed. The Legislature is well protected constitutionally as well; while the Executive is the all-powerful. I am not satisfied with the combined provisions of sections 22 and 39(1) of the Constitution, respectively, to the effect that the press, etc., shall at all times, be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in the Constitution; and that every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, etc. I do not belong to the school of thought that believes that the combined provisions of these two sections suffice for press freedom. First, section 22 is under Chapter II of the Constitution, which spells out the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, which in turn, are non-justiciable sections of the Constitution; while section 39 is very omnibus, not tangible and, in fact, signifies nothing.
The 1st amendment to the United States Constitution provides thus:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the Press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
In nearby Ghana, section 162(4) of its Constitution enacts as follows:
“Editors and publishers of newspapers and other institutions of the mass media shall not be subject to control or interference by government nor shall they be penalized or harassed for their editorial opinions and views, or the contents of their publications.”
In not too distant Malawi, section 36 of its Constitution spells out press freedom in this unequivocal term:
“The Press shall have the right to report and publish freely, within Malawi and abroad and to be accorded the fullest possible facilities for access to public information.”
I have deliberately juxtaposed the constitutional provisions relating to the Press in the U.S.A. which is a foremost democratic country in the world with those of Ghana and Malawi, two struggling and developing countries in Africa in order to prick our conscience and question the intelligence or debunk the rationale behind the argument of those who belong to the school of thought that the Nigerian Press has been imbued with sufficiency of freedom under our Constitution and, as such, there is no need to amend the constitution to specifically provide for the independence of the Press.
It is my considered view that for us to make any tangible progress in our quest for democratic stability, the Nigerian press has to be free, and the freedom has to be in diverse areas, including but not limited to freedom from censorship by either the government, its operatives and proprietors, of individual media outfits; freedom from fear or intimidation or oppression or punishment arising from genuine, brilliant and well-grounded publications; freedom from mediocrity, freedom from religious, ethnic, political, and partisan bigoted inclinations; freedom from hatred of persons, personalities, institutions and other ideas that do not tally with those of a particular pressman qua journalist or his proprietors or sponsors; freedom from poverty – for a journalist or pressman who is not gainfully employed, or who is under what economists call ‘disguised unemployment’ or who receives peanuts or nothing for his services to his employers cannot make any meaningful contribution to either the 2019 general elections or the evolution of our democracy. A hungry man cannot be a happy man; instead, he is bound to be an angry personality.
The time has come for us in this country to actually, accurately and decidedly, appreciate the vital role of the press to every sphere of our life as a nation, including the 2019 general elections and our democracy. We must appreciate the great men, patriarchs and heroes that, through the instrumentality of the pen qua press, have shaped our nation and regulated our thoughts, right from the time we were under our colonial masters, through to the rise and fall of the first Republic, migrating into the several phases of military dictatorship, and now berthing at the experimental harbour of democracy. May the tribes of these patriarchs of our press continue to flourish.
Right from December, 1895, when the first newspaper, ‘Iwe Iroyin’ berthed in Abeokuta, through to the present time, the Nigerian press has grown exponentially and today, we can boast of several media outfits, be they print, electronic, traditional or social media, etc., all competing for space at regulating and regularising our electioneering and democratic processes, amongst others. It is rather unfortunate that the major, if not the main, beneficiaries of the present political dispensation do not appreciate the heroic, hazardous and dangerous challenges surmounted by the Nigerian press before 1999. Lest we forget, between 10th to 14th August, 1994, three Decrees were churned out by the military, proscribing some media outfits; these are the Concord Newspaper and African Concord Weekly Magazine (Proscription and Prohibition from Circulation) Decree No. 6, the Punch Newspaper (Proscription and Prohibition from Circulation) Decree No. 7, the Guardian Newspaper and African Guardian Weekly Magazine (Proscription and Prohibition from Circulation) Decree No. 8. Within the Concord’s stable, the Weekly African Concord Magazine, The National Concord Daily Newspaper, The Weekend Concord Newspaper, The Sunday Concord weekly Newspaper, Community Concord Newspaper, in all states of the Federation and Abuja, and any other newspaper or magazine in any form, under whatever name, printed and published by the Concord Press Nigeria Limited or any of their subsidiaries were proscribed and prohibited from circulation; under the Guardian’s stable, the Guardian, Guardian on Sunday, The African Guardian Weekly Magazine, The Guardian Express, The Financial Guardian, The Lagos Life, and any other newspaper of magazine in any form, under whatever name, printed and published by the Guardian Newspapers Limited, were proscribed and prohibited from circulation; in respect of the Punch outfit, The Punch, The Sunday Punch, and any other paper by whatever name called, printed and published by The Punch Nigeria Limited were proscribed and prohibited from circulation. The Nigerian press, as at then, was run down. Its personnel became persona non grata. Despite these crackdown and tribulations, it continued to publish and communicate the evils of military dictatorship to Nigerians. Brave journalists like Femi Ojudu, Kunle Ajibade, Soji Akinrinade, etc., ingeniously invented other means of communication, which took the military junta off guard. These include The Tempo, The Tell, The News, amongst several others.
More than any other time, our country is at a crossroad. Human lives mean nothing to us as a nation, as we step on the blood of our fellow citizens unperturbed. Hundreds of Nigerians are falling on a weekly, if not daily basis. Life is becoming unbearable, nasty and brutish, apologies to Thomas Hobbes. The hapless Nigerians who are falling in their droves, the legion of Nigerian youths who, despite having acquired the requisite educational qualifications, are unemployed; winners of elections, whether at intra or inter party levels, who have been rigged out by the powers that be; the teeming population of Nigerians who have no sustainable means of livelihood, etc., all look up to the press for salvation and redemption. The Nigerian press cannot, for any reason whatsoever, afford to let Nigerians down at this point in time. In a paper I delivered at the invitation of the press on 11th April, 2000, I posited that the press has a sacred duty to work in partnership with the Judiciary and the entire legal profession to enthrone the rule of law in the country, thereby fostering our nascent democracy. Amongst others, I suggested that
One thing that amuses me about Nigeria and Nigerians is that we are always very eager to criticise and chastise leaders of other foreign countries, including successive Presidents of the United States of America, Prime Ministers of Britain, etc. We do not care at removing the log in our very eyes, but right here at home, we would want to remove the spec in the eyes of foreign leaders. In the aftermath of ‘Brexit’ in Britain, Prime Minister, David Cameron, honourably resigned; a good number of Nigerians criticised him for his indiscretion; when Prime Minister Theresa May called for a snap election and her party (the Conservative Party) did not do well as expected, Nigerians described her as a political neophyte. During the prelude to the last United States Presidential election, Nigerians were more concerned about who became US President than who governs us at home. In this self-created conundrum, the press is saddled with the responsibility of showing us the way out. Whatever might be the nuances of President Donald Trump of the USA, the American press curtails him, and does not give him any breathing space. The point being made is that the American press, British press or the French press or, any press within any civilised and democratic clime is, and must be, a formidable institution which cannot be pushed or brushed aside, just as President Donald Trump cannot uproot or push aside the American press.
While the Judiciary is labelled as the last hope of the common man, I hasten to posit that the press represents the voice of the voiceless; it expresses and espouses the innate feelings of the people; it is the mirror of the populace. Through the press, the Nigerian leaders, that do not travel on the same bad roads like ordinary Nigerians, who do not feel the anguish that majority of our people are going through, etc., are expected to feel and appreciate the pulse of the people. Whenever any person looks at himself in the mirror, he might feel that all is well with him, particularly in terms of his dressing; but however meticulous that person might be, he might not be able to notice a stain at the back of his gorgeous apparel. Thus, he needs the assistance of a second party to draw his attention to that small stain, or change his dress for a stainless one. This is the role the Nigerian press is expected to play at this curve of our national life, and particularly, at ensuring that the 2019 elections turn out successful. It is the common thing in Nigeria that our leaders praise and eulogise themselves; they make no mistakes by their own perception; they are next to the gods by their own rating; they know all by their own assessment. Since the time of Abacha, the Nigerian political cap has always been befitting only one head. In fairness to the Nigerian press, particularly the print media, its verdict, as distilled in several editorial opinions of different newspaper outfits on Tuesday, 29th May, 2018, were/are fair, dynamic, pragmatic, succinct and forthright.
In particular, The Punch Newspaper was very pungent in its editorial opinion titled “Nigeria Marching to the Precipice”; The Guardian was profound in its own opinion titled “Nigeria and the only way forward”; Thisday Newspapers was very articulate in its own editorial titled “19 years of democracy: The Road Ahead”; The Nigerian Tribune was unequivocal in its own opinion captioned “19 years of civilian rule”; Vanguard’s comment titled “Nigeria’s Nascent Democracy at 18” was very insightful; New Telegraph’s opinion tagged “Buhari: Three years in the saddle’ was sufficiently balanced; The Nation’s editorial captioned “Buhari at Three” was lucid; while The Sun’s comment titled “The need to Support Democracy” was penetrating, analytical and objective.
It is hoped that the leadership of this country will soberly reflect on these snippets coming from our media houses; they honestly represent the feelings and yearnings of our people; they portray the minimum desiderata expected of any democratic government, more so as we approach the proverbial 2019.
Different leaders have sprung up and emerged on the face of the planet at different times and in different climes, who, through their commitment to humanity, rather than to self, have etched their names in gold, as well as the consciousness and sub-consciousness of their people, from generation to generation. A few examples are George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, J.F Kennedy, Winston Churchill, William Wilberforce, Chairman Mao, Lee Kuan Yew, Nelson Mandela, Julius Nyerere, Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello, Mahatma Ghandi, Kenneth Kaunda, Thomas Sankara, Kwame Nkrumah, Mo Ibrahim, Franklin Roosevelt, Napoleon Bonaparte, General De Gaulle, Mrs. Hindira Ghandi, Martin Luther, Harry Truman, etc.
There is a world of difference between a politician and a leader. There is still a marked difference between a leader and a statesman. There is also a remarkable difference between a statesman and a world citizen. Nelson Mandela, though an African, rose to become a world citizen by his candour, pragmatism, charisma, knowledge, temperament, valour, humility, forbearance, integrity, unusual act of forgiveness, and steadfastness. No wonder the entire world celebrated him in life, as well as in death. Although dead, he still lives in the consciousness of all people and races. The entire American Congress rose up to appreciate his eminence when he paid a visit to the Capitol. Reviewing his memoir titled “Long Walk to Freedom”, Washington Post Book Review described him as ”One of the most remarkable lives of the twentieth century”; while the Boston Sunday Globe expressed that the book “should be read by every person alive”. What a pride Nelson Mandela was to Africa and the entire human race! Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore was also an exceptional leader and world citizen. His book, titled “Singapore: From Third World to First World: The Singapore Story-1965-2000”, represents and demonstrates the sobriety of the inner workings of a dedicated and committed leader. Winston Churchill gave his all to his country. The examples are not only legion, but also limitless.
Be that as it may, it is rather worrisome that the type of politics we play in Nigeria does not pretend to bring forth statesmen, how much more of world citizens. Since 1999, successive leaderships that have emerged have always been engrossed in political acrobatics, both from within their political parties and without. A sizeable number of the politicians that spring up are desperate people, who want power and positions at all costs, who see and perceive elections as a do or die affair, whose primary objective is not the service to the people but acquisition of ephemeral wealth, they do not harbour or tolerate any dissenting opinion, even from within their political parties, how much more from opposition parties.
The truth be told, our democracy stands out as perhaps the most monetized democracy globally. Across political parties and lines, votes are purchased at every stage of election. What dividends of democracy do we realistically expect from elected politicians who have purchased the franchise of the electorate? All they do in most cases was, and is still to recoup, settle their debts, and make further or sufficient savings for future elections, by pilfering from the public till, on assumption of office.
Arising from the foregoing unfortunate situation, is the fact that whatever efforts the Judiciary and the press make, or whatever positive collaborations emerge from the two institutions, not much can be achieved if Nigeria does not have statesmen as politicians, and if our leaders still assume that whenever they find themselves in positions of power, either through the wishes of the electorates or by rigging elections, they assume the role and positions of emperors and conquerors, or even tiny tyrants here and there. I want to repeat what I have been saying since the emergence of our present democratic experiment in 1999, that like the military dictators of the pre-1999 years, most of our successive leaders have been grossly intolerant, proud, dictatorial, autocratic, draconian, arbitrary, arrogant and uncaring. Not only that, vital institutions that make democracy work and tick and, by extension, sustain, nurture, water and nourish democracy, including the electoral umpire, whether INEC at the national level, or the states’ Independent Electoral Commissions, at the states’ level, have been hijacked, compromised, pocketed and often manipulated. The mantra among a sizable proportion of Nigerian politicians today is that with or without the electorates, they will ‘be returned’ as the successful candidates in any election, and the ‘losers’ are the ones who will go to Election Tribunals. Earlier in this presentation, I have reminded the audience of the constant boasting of some of our politicians that they will capture a particular seat, rather than winning at the polls. In my humble opinion, we are practicing democracy in a negative way; by and large, strangulating democracy and democratic institutions. These negative traits appear to be reaching a crescendo.
Apart from INEC or SIECs, political parties themselves should evolve to the status of institutions, if our democracy must last. Any political party worth its name must have clear-cut ideologies, policies, ethos, ethics and traditions which are engrafted in the DNA of its members. In addition, it has to campaign and contest elections on the basis of clear manifestos. Members of political parties must also be sober and dedicated. It cannot be a question of ‘we are here today and gone tomorrow’. The United States of America has run a federal system of government since 1776, with a Constitution that has endured since then, subject to minor amendments. The two main political parties over there, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, have become institutions recognised all over the world. They even have teeming admirers and supporters globally, including Nigeria. Since 1828, when the Democratic Party emerged, and 1854, when the Republican Party berthed, each of them has alternated the production of American Presidents and control of Congress, based on their respective constitutions and manifestoes. Here in Nigeria, we know about the ideals of the Republicans as well as the Democrats. This also dovetails to the United Kingdom, where the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats are the main parties. Cross-carpeting or political prostitution or harlotry, as we have it here in Nigeria, is alien to their democratic culture. Here in Nigeria, we are facing an ugly situation whereby political parties, which should be potent institutions and harbingers of our democracy, have now been reduced to mere vehicles of strange bedfellows. A good number of leading politicians in our country today have migrated, without any qualms, from two to four political parties. Bereft of any ideals, or even the tiniest iota of principles, a good percentage of members of the political class of today alternate between parties in the same way, and with the frequency the British weather changes its moods. In as short a span as weeks, an average politician in today’s Nigeria could belong to three different political parties, depending on the exigency. Devoid of any moral fabric, these politicians engage in what I would like to call political osmosis, whereby once a party is out of power, or a candidate loses an election, they swiftly move allegiances to whatever party fits their mood. Yet, a good number of Nigerians, like the Biblical Pharisees and Sadducees, pretend as if all is well. Despite the Supreme Court’s decision in Abegunde v. The Ondo State House of Assembly, our politicians have learnt nothing.
Preparing for party congresses is war, within the intra-party arrangement; while contesting elections along bi-partisan lines is a battle that must be fought with intimidating arsenals, including guns, machetes, acid, charms and I dare say, weapons of mass destruction. In my opinion, stealing of the people’s mandate, whether at intra-party level or at a bi-partisan level sits at the zenith of corruption. It is a crime akin to genocide, because it is a crime against humanity. Politics should not be a game of ‘the end justifies the means’ or ‘the means does not matter, provided the end is achieved’.
Against the foregoing background, the statement credited to President Buhari by different national dailies on 30th May, 2018, admonishing Nigerians to vote for who they want in 2019 was timely. In my view, the President was saying, let the votes count in 2019. This is how it should be, in theory and in practice. A corollary to the statement is that let the electoral umpires at both the state and national levels do their jobs un-teleguided, independent of powers at all levels, without any compromise, fear or affection. Let our elections be free of rancour, violence, victimisation, killing and maiming. Let the returning officers announce results as depicted by the votes cast and dropped in the ballot boxes; and duly counted in the full glare of the electorates. On no account should any electoral officer be kidnapped and made to announce any result at gunpoint. Security officers should not threaten or harass the electorates or disperse them while queuing to get accredited or while casting their votes or while patiently waiting for the votes to be counted. The truth must be told that for now, our democracy is one of the most militarised democracies in the world. We should remind ourselves that in nearby West African countries like Ghana, Sierra Leone, The Gambia, and Liberia, free and fair elections, globally adjudged as being so, have been held, with winners emerging, without rancour or strife.
Another sad commentary of election rigging on the democratic process in Nigeria is that whereas when the present democratic journey took off in 1999, all the State Governors were elected on the same day; but today, each of the States of Edo, Ondo, Anambra, Ekiti, Anambra, Osun and Kogi holds its governorship election on different and staggered dates from when the other states hold theirs. This has led to an unwholesome situation where and when Governorship elections are to be held in any of these States, substantial security personnel of the nation are deployed thereto, making it look as if exercise of franchise in a democratic setting is a warfare. My suggestion in this regard is that elections in the aforementioned States should be brought in conformity with the general elections for other Governors. I am not unaware of the Supreme Court decision in the celebrated case of Obi v. INEC, but the constitution itself will have to be amended, so that any chief executive who assumes office after the sacking by the Judiciary of another Governor should only spend the unexpired tenure of the sacked or deposed governor. This is what happens to members of the legislature.
INEC was reported in several national newspapers on Monday, June 4, 2018, to have emphatically stated that “No card reader, no election in 2019”. The use of the card reader was introduced by the Professor Attahiru Jega led INEC in 2015 general elections. But for the use of the card reader, the general elections of 2015 would have flopped abysmally. Three years thereafter, INEC is enthusing that there would not be any election in 2019 if the card reader is not used. With respect to INEC, this is no news; it is also not an improvement on what Jega achieved. Even with the deployment of the card reader in 2015, a lot of electoral malpractices were still identified. The least that Nigerians expect from INEC for the 2019 general elections is the deployment and use of electronic device, which would ensure substantial rig-proof elections. The combination of the use and activation of the card reader and electronic device will assure and reassure Nigerians that INEC is indeed and in fact, prepared for a free and fair election. INEC should not enter any caveat or give any alibi for not being able to deploy the electronic device, which is now in use almost worldwide.
In conclusion, these are my thoughts on this very important topic. The Judiciary and the Media have made, and continue to make, their humble contributions at midwifing our nascent democracy. Indeed, both institutions are more committed to the sustenance and growth of our democratic norms and ideals than the politicians who reap most of the dividends of democracy, a la Nigeria. This might be ironic, but it is the truism and reality on the ground. This paper is also a call on the politicians to allow democracy to thrive in Nigeria, particularly in their own interest, and generally, in our overall interest. Democracy should not be seen, taken or even pursued as a rat race, for according to Lily Tomline,
“The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you are still a rat.”
To the members of the National Association of Judiciary Correspondents, I thank you for inviting me to make this presentation. The Judiciary Correspondents have always collaborated with the legal profession at ensuring prompt and graphic reporting of judicial proceedings in our various courts. The legal profession itself owes the Judiciary Correspondents a duty of collaboration, so as to ensure a seamless synergy between the legal profession and the Judiciary Correspondents in the pursuit and attainment of a fair, honest and undiluted reportage.
A few years back, I volunteered to make funds available towards the training and continuous education of Judiciary Correspondents in Nigeria, and challenged the correspondents to key into the scheme. May I use this opportunity to remind the Judiciary Correspondents that the promise is still extant.
Thank you all for the audience.
Chief Wole Olanipekun, OFR, SAN, LL.D, FCIArb, FNIALS,
6th June, 2018.