Law News
Elections, law and national interest

The thankless role of the judiciary in the annulment of the 1993 general elections must necessarily become a warning in the light of the myriads of pre-election lawsuits currently pending in court ahead of the March 28 and April 11 polls.

There are no fewer than five lawsuits seeking declaration that President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party is ineligible to stand re-election. As many as 10 separate suits are pending, wherein the court has been urged to disqualify the All Progressives Congress presidential candidate, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) from the forthcoming presidential race.

Aside from this, some persons have dragged the Independent National Electoral Commission to court praying for an order against the use of the Permanent Voter Cards and the card readers in the rescheduled elections.

These developments bring to mind the events preluding the cancelled 1993 general elections.

At the root of the annulled 1993 elections was the infamous “midnight injunction” given by the late Justice Bassey Ikpeme purportedly stopping the then National Electoral Commission from going ahead with the June 12 presidential election. A group, the Association for Better Nigeria, had prayed Ikpeme for the order. But despite that order, NEC conducted the election anyway, since Ikpeme acted outside jurisdiction. The drama, however, deepened when another Abuja judge, Justice Dahiru Saleh, restrained further announcement of the election results and ordered the arrest of the NEC Chairman, Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, for shunning Ikpeme’s order.

The foregoing judiciary melodrama and the like that followed conveniently set the tone for Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and his Armed Forces Ruling Council to thwart what would have been Nigeria’s golden opportunity to lever itself early to the inestimable benefits of good democratic governance.

In his speech announcing the cancellation of the election, Babangida said, “Therefore, when it became clear that the courts had become intimidated and subjected to the manipulation of the political process, and vested interests, then the entire political system was in clear dangers.

“This administration could not continue to watch the various high courts carry on their long-drawn out processes and contradictory decisions while the nation slides into chaos.

“It was under this circumstance that the National Defence and Security Council decided that it is in the supreme interest of law and order, political stability and peace that the presidential election be annulled.”

To my mind, there is no positive end that the suit asking the court to stop the use of card readers in the coming elections seeks to achieve than to either trivialise an important national issue or to sabotage our fledgling democracy.

In particular, the excuse that the card reader, being an electronic device, should not be used because the Electoral Act makes its use illegal totally diminishes in view of the purpose that the device seeks to serve, that is to check election rigging. Besides, what about the huge resources that have gone into the procurement of these machines?

It becomes necessary to warn both the Bar and the Bench not to stifle this hard-won but thankfully growing democratic process, which got underway only 16 years ago, with the technicalities of the law.

Inasmuch as our laws are man-made and man is fallible, they must inevitably have their shortcomings, but it is not for the lawyers to exploit the weakness of our laws to sabotage the peoples’ will and by extension the posterity of this nation.

Lawyers have been long known to exploit the weaknesses in our laws, for instance, to shield high profile criminals from the long hands of justice, thereby mortgaging our common good for selfish gains and to the ultimate detriment of societal advancement.

The Bench is advised to keep in focus the ultimate and overall interest of Nigeria and the survival of democracy in this nation in their handling of these plethora of pre-elections legal matters.

Nigeria deserves this democracy, which, in the words of a prominent professor of Law and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Itse Sagay, has become the minimum standard for a civilised existence. Indeed, democracy has been equated to the most basic fundamental human right of a people.

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