Let Justice Reign in Zamfara

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By Dantala Abdullahi

Elections are the hallmarks of representative democracy, which enable the people to decide on the choices of their leaders and policies.

Government agencies entrusted with public responsibilities are expected to discharge such without fear or favour and should be just in their dealings because justice is the foundation of the democratic system.

It would be recalled that the All Progressives Congress (APC) primaries in crisis Zamfara had been lingering since October 2018 between the APC factions loyal to Governor Abdul’Aziz Yari and that of G8 group, which took the party to various courts seeking redress.

Due to the same unresolved internal crises of the party, a Federal High Court in Abuja had stopped the APC from presenting candidates.

The APC candidates for governorship and state house of assembly elections in Zamfara were earlier rejected by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for failure to comply with the timetable for conducting primary elections.

But few hours before the general election, a court order cleared APC to participate in the Zamfara governorship elections.

There was a lot of misunderstanding between the party in the state and INEC, but in the end, the court gave a verdict and INEC complied.

After the election, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared the APC governorship candidate in Zamfara, Alhaji Mukhtar Shehu, the winner of the gubernatorial poll in the state.

INEC declared Shehu winner of the election which held on March 9 after polling 534,541 votes to defeat his close challenger of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Bello Muhammad Mutawalle, who polled 189,452 votes.

The ruling APC, however, suffered a major setback when the Court of Appeal, Sokoto Division, declined recognition of its primaries that produced the national and state house of assembly candidates in Zamfara State, including the Governor-elect.

Justice Tom Yakubu of the Court of Appeal sitting in Sokoto had set aside the judgment of a Zamfara High Court on the All Progressives Congress (APC) primaries that produced the party’s candidates for the governorship, National and State Assembly elections.

Following the judgment of the Court of Appeal, the INEC has suspended issuance of certificate of return to the Governor-elect of the state, Alhaji Muktar Shehu.

The lawyers to the Governor-elect, Magaji Mahmmud (SAN), said his client, “has taken positive steps towards exercising their constitutional right of appeal to the Supreme Court.”

In a letter to the INEC Chairman dated March 26, 2019 written on behalf of the governor-elect and 38 others by their counsel, said the Court of Appeal in Sokoto in its March 25 judgment did not “make any positive consequential order.”

A senator from the state, Kabir Marafa, had at the Court of Appeal challenged the judgment of a Zamfara State High Court, which gave the APC the go-ahead to field candidates during the 2019 polls.

There were reports on Monday that the Court of Appeal nullified the APC primaries in Zamfara State.

But the counsel for the APC candidates, in his letter to INEC, said the Court of Appeal did not make such an order.

He said his clients drew his attention to a letter written by Marafa’s lawyer, Mr. Mike Ozekhome (SAN), wherein he stated that, “there is absolutely no legal basis for any of the APC candidates that allegedly emerged victorious from the said sham elections to be issued with any certificate of return.”

Mahmud, SAN, also argued that the judgment of their Lordships which did not contain any positive order in favour of the appellants was supported by the provisions of section 285 (13) of the 1999 Constitution (4th alteration as amended).

INEC has since said that it had been served with the judgment of the appeal court and was studying it.

Faulting INEC decision to withhold the APC candidates’ certificates of return, Mahmud SAN said, “We wish to state that issues of law of this nature are regulated by an order of court or court of law and not by opinion of counsel via a mere letter from chambers.

“May we further emphasise that in the entire judgment of the Court of Appeal, there was neither a positive order made against our clients nor in favour of the appellants.

“Thus, it will be wrong of the commission to rely on the mere speculative letter of the appellants’ counsel at this stage when elections have already been concluded and winners have emerged. The only institution that is empowered to make a positive order in respect of this subject matter is the court of law, and no court of law has made or given an order to that effect.”

Quoting section 233 (3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, the solicitor stated that the law is trite, and the right of appeal to the Supreme Court is constitutional and no court or any person can take it away by mere letter.

Indeed, this is a good step in protecting democracy because democracy is all about protecting the rights of citizens. Aggrieved members of any election should as a matter of right, head to the Election Petition Tribunals.

The victories of Zamfara APC’s candidates in the elections have been upended by the appellate court’s verdict. They must look to the Supreme Court for a remedy.

Over all, in the spirit of self-preservation, the judiciary, as typified by courts across board, is somewhat mentally applying itself and the law in the determination of all the cases before it, not minding whose ox is gored. That is how it should be.

Throughout history, there have been attempts to thwart the spirit of the laws by undermining the judicial arm of government, and when this happens, the society is worse for it.

The judiciary, though often succumbing to manipulations, is still struggling to survive as an estate of the realm, but still remains the last hope of the common man.

Justice must issue from the Bench without consideration for party affiliations, tribes and religions and justice must be conscientiously bolstered to henceforth speak as the Nigerian judge in the appropriation of a fearless voice. This will preserve the majesty of our Judiciary.

This is a very important step in the process of democratic consolidation in Nigeria and we must do all we can to get it right.

*Abdullahi lives in Abuja