Olanipekun: Kenya S’Court Decision, Strong Message to Nigeria

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Tobi Soniyi, Abimbola Akosile and Akinwale Akintunde in Lagos

Former President of the Nigeria Bar Association, Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN, saturday described the Supreme Court judgement, which annulled the recent presidential election in Kenya as a strong message to Nigeria, especially the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on the need to up their democratic game.

Olanipekun, who spoke in a telephone chat with THISDAY last night, was particularly intrigued by the timing, between the time the election petition was filed by opposition candidate, Raila Odinga, against President Uhuru Kenyatta and when the judgement was delivered by the Supreme Court, saying it is “a privilege” unprecedented in the history of Africa.

In a similar breath, a former Minister of Education, Oby Ezekwesili, has said the Nigerian judiciary has “a thing or two” to learn from their Kenyan contemporary in the promulgation of rule of law and democratic ethos.

Kenya’s Supreme Court had on Friday, September 1, annulled the country’s presidential election, which the incumbent president, Kenyatta, was declared as having won.

The Chief Justice of Kenya’s Supreme Court, David Maraga, in his judgement held that the August 8 election was not conducted in accordance with the country’s constitution. The court ordered a new election to be held within 60 days.

Four of the six justices had maintained that irregularities tainted the integrity of the votes and therefore supported Odinga’s petition for a nullification of the election.

Although Kenyatta accused the Supreme Court justices of being corruptly influenced to deliver the judgement against him.

It was against this landmark ruling that Olanipekun commended the judicial system in Kenya, saying, “The elections were held just recently and already the Supreme Court has ruled on the petition filed. It is a privilege in Africa for the length of time taken by the Supreme Court to arrive at the decision. It is a welcome development in Africa as a whole.

“This is a signal to every election rigger that wherever you are in Africa, the judicial system will chain you. That decision is the rule of law at play and heavens will not fall.” “It is also a warning to INEC in Nigeria to put its house in order. It is also a warning to all electoral commissions in Africa to avoid being pocketed by political parties or candidates. Political parties across Africa want to take democracy to extinction. When preparing for election, they prepare to rig and snatch ballot boxes. Let Africa practise democracy as it should be practised.”

The former NBA president, who also commended the judiciary in Nigeria and the rest of Africa, added: “I commend the Nigerian judiciary; a time will come when the judiciary will stamp its authority on judicial matters involving electoral processes. Let us salute the judiciary in Nigeria and Africa”.

Although he admitted that the Supreme Court in Nigeria was currently over-burdened, Olanipekun recommended that all National Assembly election petition matters should also get to the Supreme Court for final adjudication.

“Let National Assembly election petition matters get to the Supreme Court, even though the Supreme Court is over-burdened,” he said, lamenting that Nigeria still has a long way to go to perfect its electoral process, because according to him, “Even though democracy started in 1979, we are still in the teething period.”

Using her twitter handle: @obyezeks, Ezekwesili wrote: “So, the Kenyans have scored the ‎unprecedented through their judiciary! Cannot thank them enough for helping Africa discuss the judiciary.

“Hopefully, our Nigerian judiciary, which suffers from serious public trust deficit, can learn a thing or two from their Kenyan contemporary. We lost all when our judiciary (broadly‎ justice system) stopped being trustworthy. The Kenyans have a lesson for us. Shall we learn?”

Describing the development as a positive upswing in a new African political thinking, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Sebastine Hon, likened the decision to the Nigerian 2015 general election, where an incumbent was not only defeated but went ahead to concede defeat.

“The decision is salutary and most welcome. I must congratulate the Kenyan people in particular and Africans in general for this feat. Remember, the post-election violence was so determined and seemingly unstoppable that we watchers knew something grave had gone wrong with the elections.

“Recent happenings on the political landscape of Africa, including the defeat of a sitting president – Goodluck Jonathan and his voluntary concession of defeat – all point to the fact that there is a positive upswing in African political thinking.

“And with the pronouncement of the Kenyan Supreme Court, I think Africans are beginning to think out of the box now. The trend is most welcome and should spread like wild harmattan fire across Africa. Wake me up in the middle of the night; I will still be celebrating this victory for not just democracy, but also the rule of law, in Africa. It is an emerging trend that must be supported by all persons of good will.”

In a somewhat terse reaction, a former Chairman of the Governing Council of the National Human Rights Commission, Dr. Chidi Odinkalu commended the Kenyan Supreme Court for standing up to politicians.

He fsaid: “Three weeks ago, Kenya police were shooting, after the judgment. They joined in celebrating. What a difference a credible court can make!”

Equally, a former governorship aspirant and human rights lawyers, Dr. Tunji Abayomi, in his own reaction noted that the development in Kenya affirmed the advancement in thinking that there was a growing interest in due process.

Speaking also in a telephone chat with THISDAY, he said “Unfortunately, I would have preferred that this advancement first happened in Nigeria, because it’s a major shift. Kenya has a lesson to teach us that no matter how powerful a government is, democracy is about the law. This is actually one of the major problems in Africa – the capacity of the courts to pronounce regardless of who. Looking at Nigeria, you can hardly find such.

“Most of the Supreme Courts in Africa tend to blow mute trumpet, when it comes to situation that will denounce victory, especially for the incumbent President,” Abayomi added.

A Political Science lecturer at the University of Lagos, Dr. Emmanuel Onah, also said the annulment of Kenya’s presidential election would strengthen Africa’s democratic process and make African politicians to realise that political power should be acquired legitimately.

“It is a strong message to politicians across the continent that political power must be acquired legitimately. The ruling also affirms that Africa is moving away from obliging electoral fraudsters, who grab power or acquire it by trick. It is one ruling that shows that Africa is not afraid to confront illegality even at the top-most level of governance if it requires inconveniencing ourselves.”

He therefore underscored the need for the judicial arm of government of other African countries to take a cue from Kenya’s Temple-of-Justice to assert their independence, because according to him, judicial interpretations constitute the most potent force against the misuse of the power of incumbency.

The university don added that public institutions of African countries were bound to be more edified in terms of their powers to act as “check and balances’’ on political office holders.

“This is a clear message for our electoral tribunals (in Nigeria) not to uphold questionable election victories and to desist from giving favourable judgments to incumbents based on technical flaws in the petitioner’s pursuit of justice.

“It is also a lesson for us as a country to move away from contradictory, conflicting and confusing rulings on election matters which has become pervasive in our nation,’’ he said.

He, however, urged the Nigerian judiciary to be bold and resolute in the dispensation of justice.