JUDICIARY AND THE ELECTIONS

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The electoral law should be reviewed to reduce the role of the judiciary in deciding the outcome of elections

While the courts have always adjudicated on election matters in Nigeria, the growing pattern by which those who seek power now prefer judicial ambush to campaigning for votes should concern all critical stakeholders. Since this development bodes ill for our democracy, it should compel a rethink of our electoral laws by the National Assembly, especially as they begin another review of the constitution. According to the Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Mahmood Yakubu, more than 1600 court cases were filed after the 2019 elections. In climes where politics is played according to the rules, the resort to the courts after every election is usually minimal.

To be sure, the judiciary has the sacred role of interpreting laws and deciding the rights, responsibilities and liabilities of parties to a dispute, including on election matters. But the frequent resort to the courts and tribunals by politicians is affecting the quality of judgments as many are compromised in the process. Indeed, many of the judgments are tainted with politics as they contradict the expressed will of the people. A situation in which opportunity for legal redress is available but where it comes with little or no hope of justice ever being served, is as good as useless. In some cases, the rules of procedure of our courts are thrown overboard to achieve some predetermined end.

Indeed, INEC had cause sometimes ago, to report a serving Judge of the Federal High Court, Abuja to the Chief Justice of Nigeria over the recall process of a senator representing the Kogi West. This was in order to prevent a precedent in which politicians would resort to using the court to derail legitimate electoral process. Many of the politicians no longer bother with the electorate. Only recently, in Abuja, courts of coordinate jurisdictions nullified each other in the case of Ifeanyi Ubah, who was sacked from the Senate for allegedly presenting forged NECO certificate. That matter is yet to be resolved.

The crisis of credibility afflicting the judiciary has taken a serious toll on the institution. It is all the more unfortunate that those bringing shame upon the judiciary are the same custodians charged with maintaining its integrity and prestige. So bad is the situation that there have lately been investigations of some men and women on the bench, including Supreme Court Justices, allegedly linked with corrupt practices. But the main concern here is how all these impinge on our democracy.

The electoral law should be reviewed in order to reduce the role of the judiciary in deciding the outcome of elections. INEC is the only body constitutionally entrusted with the conduct of elections. But the only way to achieve such finality is to empower INEC to adopt current technologies in election management. Our banking and telecommunications systems are about the most advanced in the adoption and application of IT solutions on the African continent. Since we like to imitate the best of other nations, how come the Indians manage a democracy of nearly one billion voters without these needless lawsuits? How do other African countries manage their elections that they do not end up with our kind of judicial acrimony?

The essence of the court’s interventions in election matters is to promote democratic culture, and strengthen the confidence of the people in the democratic process. For as long as we insist on reducing our courts to vote counting stations in a manual process, this democracy will either destroy the judiciary or a corrupt judiciary will destroy the prospects of democracy. Many of our politicians no longer bother with the electorate. They just contest and literally wait at the gate of tribunals and courts with bales of cash! And they ‘win’!