The Judiciary, once christened as the “hope of the common man” is now prostrate. It now lies before the public bereft of its dignity, honour and candour. The reason for this sordid perception is not far-fetched. The rulings of the Tribunals and Appeal Courts in respect of the 2015 general elections have precipitated concerns on the integrity of the Judiciary. And so that tier once held in reverence and awe is currently suffering erosion of collateral proportion. Suffice it to say that unless there is urgent rescue, the Judiciary may be reduced to a nondescript facet that can neither inspire respect nor authority.
The Judicial processes in the Akwa Ibom Governorship Elections Petition Tribunal and indeed others like Rivers, Taraba, Lagos have left many with doubts over the independence of this very important organ that is constitutionally imbued with the instruments of social control. It is a known fact that the absence of a judicious Judiciary is not only a panacea to anarchy; it is a collapse of the fabric that holds society together and in check. The judgments delivered in the case of Akwa Ibom Governorship Petition Tribunal lack the judicial ingredients that can protect the society. Just as the scripture posits that the truth shall set man free, similarly the Judiciary must be seen to adjudicate and deliver justice based on the grundnorm of truth and good conscience to ensure a peaceful society. It must rise above tendencies that place its judicial service in suspicion while inspiring trust that would assure the public that it is indeed the custodian of Justice.
Let us examine in the main, the verdict of the Akwa Ibom Governorship Election Tribunal and that of the Appellate Court. It is pertinent to add that the Tribunal which was constitutionally provided by law to sit in Uyo, the jurisdiction of the election was through subterfuge machinations moved to Abuja. All the fine points of Law that were advanced and the many logical reasons ranging from that of logistics to cost to safety to accessibility were ignored by forces that thought that their salvation was in Abuja. They forcibly took the Tribunal to Abuja denying our young lawyers the opportunity of participating and learning one or two things about Election Petitions. But even with this, they failed to prove the allegation of possible violence which they adduced as reason for seeking the relocation of the Tribunal. It is believed that the relocation was achieved through the official peddling of influence which in every material sense is a gross act of corruption. But as a ruling party, it had its way.
The Tribunal which sat in Abuja delivered an incongruous judgment that was conflicting, confounding, unsavoury and against expectation. It ruled that election be repeated in 18 local government areas out of the 31. The chairman of the three-man Tribunal, Hon. Justice Sadiq Umar further dressed the stage in a manner that hinted that the judgment was teleguided by saying: “What we have not been able to see as a Tribunal, the appellate court will see…” Many think that the Tribunal worked hand in gloves with the Appellate Court and had to leave part of the skewed and damaging judgment for the latter to complete.
True to type and expectation, the Appellate Court acted in concert with the plot of the Tribunal thus given credence to the suspected collaboration. The Appeal Court employing inconceivable premise cancelled elections in all the 31 LGAs and ordered a rerun in the entire State. The basis for the outright cancellation remains curious just as the intent appears to be a deliberate ploy to have a re-run in which the apparatchik of power controlled by APC government would be put to maximum use to forcibly take the State into the kitty of APC.
The nullification of the elections in all the LGAs by the Appeal Court on December 18, 2015 was to many provocative and not consistent with logic. The governorship election was held on the same day at the same time with the House of Assembly Election. Almost all the House of Assembly Elections which were legally contested and subsequently appealed, have been upheld with only 4 out of 26 scheduled for re-run. How then did the Tribunal and Appeal Court arrive at the judgment that of two election which were done simultaneously, one was isolated and adjudged to have been marred by irregularities or concluded not to have been held at-all while the other met electoral standard as stipulated by the Act. Such development is inconceivable and against the grain of reasoning. This is why many feel that the actions of the Tribunal and the Appeal Court have a potential to desecrate the Judiciary and lower its esteem in the eyes of right thinking people.
Another irreconcilable aspect of the judgment was its superficiality and total lack of judicial depth. Elections are done in units. Trite knowledge of the Electoral Act informs that to prove irregularity in an election, there must be witnesses from the units. These witnesses during cross examination must convince the Judges that the elections were in shortfall of judicial expectation. Akwa Ibom State has 2,985 units across the State but APC presented only 54 witnesses. By whatever mathematical formula, 54 persons cannot serve as sufficient witnesses for 2,985 units. Therefore the premise which was used both in the initial piece-mill cancellation of 18 LGAs and the eventual blanket cancellation of all the 31 LGAs can be adjudged to be faulty and defective in all material particular.
The ruling of the Akwa Ibom governorship Election is also said to be tainted by judicial discrepancies. There is the case of rejection of card readers as extraneous to the Electoral Act in one State and its admission as critical to the judgment in Akwa Ibom State. The duplicitous interpretation of the law which has given rise to different judicial decisions would confer erosion on judicial dignity if not urgently corrected. It was perhaps this fear that drew the ire of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed when he addressed top Judicial Officials recently at the Annual Conference of the Appeal Courts in Abuja. The CJN berated the Judges over the inconsistent verdicts from the Appellate Courts on the same matter. He said “as the guardian of law, we must not only be just, we must also convey certainty in our justness”.
As we therefore count down to the last line of this legal duel to be delivered by the Supreme Court, the fear of further erosion of judicial integrity rankles with patriotic Nigerians praying for rescue. This is a chance for the judiciary to save itself from itself. It is the time for the Supreme Court to pour out the soothing balm that would restore the once known honour of the Judiciary. The way to do it is to set aside these inconsistent rulings and proceed to deliver justice in a manner that would not only stand the test of time, but would also serve as a strong precedent in law as well as find an enviable place in the bowel of posterity.