Ahmed Raji SAN is a former INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner. In this interview he speaks on the performance of the election petition tribunals and appeals to President Muhammadu Buhari to allow accused persons who have been granted bail to enjoy it and sundry other issues. Excerpt:
How would you say the judiciary fared in 2015?
The judiciary has done very well despite the challenges. The Supreme Court of Nigeria is the most overburdened in the world. Whereas in England their SC delivered not more than 20 judgments in a year, our Supreme Court is forced to deliver 500 and our justices who do not have the compliment of assistants the justices in England have hence Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria work under difficult conditions.
Our Supreme Court has been criticised for stopping the trial of the Senate President Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal even when the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 said no application for stay must be entertained. What is your reaction?
What Section 306 of the ACJA 2015 says is in respect of trial before a tribunal or the trial court and it does not extend to a situation where there is an appeal before the Supreme Court of the land, especially when the appeal goes to the root of the trial. Hence we are saying tarry awhile. The tribunal was supposed to have three members but only two members were sitting.
Any law that attempts to fetter the discretion of the court is not often well received by the judiciary. You should not grant a stay, you should not grant an adjournment but how do we want the judges to exercise their discretion. It is like the legislature trying to dictate pace for the judiciary. The judiciary will not tell the legislature when to do the first reading or the second or third reading, neither will the judiciary tell the executive to build bridges and not roads. When an arm of government is now telling another arm how to function, then that is not fair.
Do you agree that the CJN is too powerful?
You are looking at the office and not the function. There is a school of thought which is that the headship of the NJC should be by a retired justice, so that when any issue involves the CJN, he would not be a judge in his own cause, other than that I don’t see anything wrong with the powers of the CJN.
What is your assessment of the war against corruption being fought by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration?
The war should be fought within the confines of the law.
How would you react to the issue of disobedience to court orders and the petition calling on President Muhammadu
Buhari to resign because of disobedience to court orders?
It is not a good thing to disobey court order. I don’t support the call for the resignation of the president. What did the president do?
It is alleged that the president shoed open disregard to court order during his media chat contrary to Section 287 of the 1999 Constitution?
On the media chat I don’t want to join words with the president. I respect him both in his personal and official capacity and I know that he means well for the country. On the isolated case of my client, Sambo Dasuki, I plead with the president to allow him to enjoy his bail. I am too small to join words with the president of the country, I will only plead that he allows him to go on bail. In law we have judicial review of administrative actions, we don’t have executive review of judicial decisions. That is why I would beg the president to allow all those that have been granted bail to go and enjoy it. But I am not part of the call for the resignation of the president.
What is your reaction to mass failure at the Nigerian Law School since 2013?
There should be a panel to look into the causes of mass failure at the NLS since 2013. The panel should consist of the lecturers both present and past, the students, seasoned legal practitioners and stakeholders to look into the matter and know what is wrong; whether law should become a post-graduate cause or the number of intakes is too large, or if the centralisation should continue.
The election petition tribunals are rounding up, what is your assessment of their performance?
To a large extent they have done their best and those who are still aggrieved have gone on appeal. Some appeals have been allowed and that is normal. For example in Abia the tribunal judgment has been set aside, in Taraba the tribunal judgment has been set aside and the governor affirmed, in Rivers the tribunal judgment has been affirmed, in Akwa Ibom the tribunal judgment has been affirmed with some modifications calling for election in the entire state as against the 18 LGAs. The tribunals are not infallible that is why there is Appeal Court and even the Appeal Courts are not infallible that is why in respect to governorship there is a window of opportunity and we have the Supreme Court. The tribunals have done well and kept within the 180 days.
Some people have criticised the tribunal saying that they seem to have set aside most of the elections won by the PDP, what’s your reaction?
That is not a fair comment. We have to realise that the number of petitions have reduced drastically and most especially when the Court of Appeal has affirmed some of the judgments.
Where the tribunals have set aside elections conducted by Prof. Jega, whom we all agree did a good job, is that not like saying he didn’t do a good job after all?
No. In 36 states it is only the elections in two states that have so far been nullified, the remaining 34 states are intact. Is that not distinction? We have not heard the last since we are still going to the Supreme Court. We can only conclude after the Supreme Court has decided on all the appeals. And the Court of Appeal has ruled on all the legislative appeals. So far I think INEC did well.
Is there any issue you wish to comment on?
Nigerians should be patient with our leaders and pray for them and we must be obedient. We should not be too quick to attack them. Where they err we should say it but we should be too hasty. We should encourage them to do good and pray for them because we are not going to benefit from any crisis