Lessons From The Kenyan Supreme Court

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The speedy ruling on the country’s presidential election dispute holds lessons for Nigeria

By a majority of four to two, the Supreme Court in Kenya on Friday nullified President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election victory as a result of irregularities committed by the election board. The court also ordered that a fresh ballot be held within 60 days. “The first respondent (the election board) failed, neglected or refused to conduct the presidential election in a manner consistent with the dictates of the constitution” Judge David Maranga, who announced the verdict, said of the August 8 presidential election that had been adjudged free and fair by local and international observers.

There are important lessons from Kenya that will serve Nigeria well, especially at this period. One, the election was conducted less than a month ago, which implies that adjudicating on such matters need not take forever. Two, it is clear that the process is as important as the outcome, given the reason for the cancellation of the election. Three, the Kenya Supreme Court knows something that is hardly ever appreciated by the apex court in Nigeria: in the complementary duality of law and order, the latter sometimes precedes the former. The threat to public peace that has followed the disputed results touches on national security while the Kenyan Supreme Court has delivered a ruling that should settle the matter definitively and thus restore order in the polity.

It is also gratifying that politicians and public officials in Kenya respect the judiciary and would subject themselves to the instrumentality of the law in the settlement of disputes. Following the cancellation, President Uhuru Kenyatta said he would abide by the verdict, despite the fact that he disagreed with the principles of it. “We believe in the rule of law,” the president said, before adding that, “six people have decided they will go against the will of the people.”

However, what should be of utmost interest to Nigerians remains the speed with which the entire process was concluded. It took exactly two weeks between the time the case was filed and when the judgment was delivered and less than a month to the conduct of the election. The lesson is simple: In election and other related matters where order and national stability are at issue, a sensible judiciary must act expeditiously.

The pertinent question therefore is: why is it that in Nigeria our own judicial processes take ages and most often end up with some shameful array of judgments that are sometimes delivered long after the public may have forgotten what the matter was about in the first place?

That question is particularly important against the background that the rules of procedure of our courts actually prescribe a more speedy process than what currently obtains. That explains why the Supreme Court could ensure that all pre-election disputes were determined before the Ondo State governorship election last year. But the same court is yet to conclude similar cases in a few other states even when it is empowered to announce a judgment and give reasons at a later date. What that suggests is that the delays in our judicial system are deliberate acts. For it to stop, critical stakeholders must work to restore integrity to the bar and the bench in the country.

Indeed, it should worry the authorities that delay in the hearing of cases in Nigeria is fast assuming the dimension of organised crime in which the principal actors are lawyers, judges and judicial staff. This is despite the fact that the 2009 fundamental enforcement procedure rules have efficacious provisions for enforcing the rights of our citizens. The anachronistic doctrine of locus standi and statute of limitation have been abolished while preliminary objections shall be argued together with the substantive matters. But senior lawyers have now developed the illegal practice of subjecting witnesses to unending cross examinations lasting several days with Judges indulging them.

Clearly, the trouble with our judiciary entails a total systemic overhaul which is a political action. Expecting the same politicians who are often the initiators and beneficiaries of the prevailing judicial rascality to carry out such an exercise may appear farfetched. But it is in their enlightened interest to do so.

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In election and other related matters where order and national stability are at issue, a sensible judiciary must act expeditiously