Between Uninspiring Campaign Promises and Empty Litigation
Uninspiring Campaign Promises
Let me state for the record that I have no candidate for any election, and for the first time in decades, I may not vote in the upcoming 2023 general elections, even though I have my PVC (Permanent Voter’s Card). Nigeria, and what is best for Nigerians, is my primary concern. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen anything in most of the campaign promises that I have heard so far, that inspires me to think that the next administration will bring about the much needed recalibration and restart of our great country that will guarantee a better Nigeria. What I see is business as usual, with one or two improvements, here and there.
We have heard a lot of motivational speaking, playing to the gallery, while basic but important issues, are ignored; for instance, in 2022, recurrent expenditure is N6.9 trillion, debt servicing N3.8 trillion, while capital expenditure is about N5.4 trillion. I have not heard any concrete plans about how recurrent expenditure will be reduced; for example, how is the cost of governance which forms a huge part of recurrent expenditure and a drain on our scarce resources, going to be reduced? Is it just going to be a change of guard, with no strategies in place to address extremely troubling issues like this?
While we understand that some of the fundamental changes required to lighten the heavy weight of governance is not an executive decision alone, but would require constitutional amendment brought about by the National Assembly (NASS) – for instance, the issue of the bicameral Legislature or full time Legislators which many see as unnecessary and costly, there is plenty that can be done by the Executive. There is the body that fixes the remuneration of workers and political office holders – Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC). I have not heard any candidate so far, mention that the issue of the remuneration and allowances, allowances for constituency projects and the budget of the Legislature will be reviewed. Nor have I heard that a holistic look will be taken at the remuneration of workers, and adjustments made, so that there will be a better measure of fairness and equity across board.
Unfortunately, since campaign season opened officially last month, most television interview shows are inundated with politicians who seem more interested in rubbishing their opponents than anything else. As they say, sometimes the truth can be bitter, and the truth is that, at the end of the day, all the old allegations, counter-allegations, and exposés etc about the candidates do not amount to much in Nigerian law, at least, as far as the candidatures of the Presidential hopefuls are concerned; at best, it just humiliates them temporarily, if at all. And, as we are all aware by now, Nigerian politicians are a shameless lot anyway.
For one, dwelling on matters which are statute barred, is nothing but an exercise in futility in law. Section 137 of the 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)(the Constitution) provides for the disqualification of Presidential candidates; and its Section 137(1)(e) sets a time bar of 10 years, that is, any offence involving dishonesty committed over 10 years before the 2023 election does not count. And, to the best of our knowledge, none of the Presidential hopefuls has been convicted of any offence involving dishonesty or found guilty of contravening the Code of Conduct within the last ten years, contrary to the said Section 137(1)(e) of the Constitution.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but nothing Nigerians have heard so far about the Presidential hopefuls for example, falls within most of the scope of disqualification set out in Section 137 of the Constitution, though some Lawyers believe that some of the allegations may fall within the purview of Section 137 (1)(d) of the Constitution, and may still be triable.
Section 137(1)(d) of the Constitution sets no time limit, and a candidate can still be disqualified inter alia, if he/she is under a death sentence or sentence of imprisonment or fine for any offence involving dishonesty or fraud, or any other offence imposed for instance, by a court or tribunal. In the case of PDP & Ors v Degi-Eremienyo & Ors SC.1/2020 Judgement delivered on 13/2/20, the candidature of the APC Bayelsa Gubernatorial Candidate and Deputy was nullified even though they won the election, on account of the Deputy Gubernatorial Candidate providing fraudulent documentation to INEC in support of his application. See Sections 66(1)(i), 137 (1)(j) & 182(1)(j) of the Constitution on forged documentation.
Aside from the fact that the world seems to be moving away from perfect candidates who have no blemishes, as we saw in USA with President Trump and UK with Boris Johnson, since Nigeria returned to democracy, we have witnessed the evolution of a portion of our judicial system which is always ready to dish out conflicting court orders and judgements to further confuse issues instead of settling them, so much so that, proper outcomes are never achieved. However, this time around, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Olukayode Ariwoola GCON has issued a stern warning to the Judges who will be hearing election petition matters in 2023, urging them to discharge their duties diligently and honestly according to the law, stating clearly that he will not tolerate any acts of recklessness. This is a step in the right direction.
Nevertheless, with the kind of debates we have watched, and the various allegations that we have heard about the different candidates, it is crystal clear that many of our candidates are nothing like “Mother Theresa”. Furthermore, we cannot deny the fact that the provisions for disqualifications from elective offices in the Constitution (Sections 66, 137 & 182) are scanty and grossly inadequate, and certainly need amendment or outright redrafting, as so many troubling scenarios which the drafters of the Constitution obviously may not have envisaged or contemplated, have arisen over the years.
But, whether provisions like Section 137(1)(d) or (j) can be successfully invoked against any of the Presidential candidates, or Section 182 (1)(d), (j) or even (h) against a Gubernatorial candidate for example, is left to be seen. I am certainly not holding my breath.
To be able to maintain an action against anyone, the Plaintiff must show that he/she has locus standi, that is, the legal standing or place to institute proceedings. So, the fact that an individual has a grouse or dirt against a candidate, or a candidate has made false averments on his/her INEC Form, does not automatically give just anyone the right to sue that candidate. In Senator Abraham Adesanya v President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria & Anor 1981 5 S.C. Page 112 at 148 per Bello JSC (as he then was), the Supreme Court defined locus standi as “the right of a party to appear and be heard on the question before any Court or Tribunal”. Interestingly, in this case, Obaseki JSC went on to state that “The fundamental aspect of locus standi is that it focuses on the party seeking to get his complaint before the High Court, not on the issues he wishes to have adjudicated”. It is trite law it is the Plaintiff’s statement of claim that is examined to determine that a cause of action vested in the Plaintiff is disclosed, and he/she has the requisite locus standi to bring the action.
In Oghenovo & Anor v Governor of Delta State & Anor (2022) LPELR-58062(SC) per Saulawa JSC, the Apex Court held that “for a person to have a standing to institute an action in a Court or Tribunal, he must show (i) that the challenged conduct has caused actual injury thereto; and (ii) that the interest sought to be protected is within the ambit of the provisions of the Constitution or law”. In Re Ijelu (1992) LPELR-1464(SC) the Supreme Court held that the Plaintiff has to have special interest; “that the interest is not vague, or intangible, supposed or speculative, or that it is not an interest which he shares with other members of society….that such interest has been adversely affected by the act or omission whichever he seeks to challenge”.
My point? Many of those who may be instituting proceedings against candidates for one reason or the other, do not have the locus standi to maintain such actions. They do not have a special interest which has been adversely affected by the actions or averments of the candidates. Some of the issues qualify as pre-election matters, and Section 285(24) of the Constitution only makes mention of aspirants and political parties, as potential Plaintiffs in such matters, and not every concerned member of the public or NGO. The argument is that if an aspirant presents forged documentation or makes false averments on his/her INEC form for example, those persons directly affected by this would be the people contesting for the same position in his/her own political party or rival parties.
The sum and substance of my submissions is that, as things stand, the average man or Lawyer on the street cannot hold a candidate accountable in court for any alleged wrongdoing, because of his/her lack of locus standi – a public, general interest does not suffice; there has to be a personal interest that has been adversely affected by that wrongdoing. It seems that all disgruntled people can do, is shout themselves hoarse, feeling outraged while they watch campaign spokespersons tell blatant lies and even turn the law on its head, in order to whitewash their Principals.