The aftermath of elections held in the country in 2015 are yet to abate as the courts are still busy adjudicating on the matters brought before them by aggrieved politicians. In this process some elections have been upturned while others were upheld by the courts thereby raising the question on the justifiability of the courts to rescue the country’s political system.
In this interview with GODWIN DUNIA, a Lagos-based lawyer and rights activist, Ebun Olu Adegboruwa, said there is the need for the Judiciary not to allow certain individuals to drag it into undue interference with the peoples’ right to elect their leaders. He also spoke on the need for the ruling party, APC, to exercise restraint in fighting war against corruption. Do you think the verdicts of the Election Tribunals are serving required justice to the affected people or mere miscarriages of justice as the case may be?
The 2015 general election has lost all forms of stabilizing our democracy especially starting from the point of the judiciary. What we hear are things that portend danger for our democracy. And I think all of us who are stakeholders in the justice sector must begin to sound this warning to our erudite judges and learned colleagues to exercise caution. We should have a way to accept that political parties have the absolute right to choose their candidates. But when we begin to hear that a candidate is not supposed to represent one party or the other and the party is not complaining then you begin to wonder what is the basis of such intervention when the party is not complaining. For instance in Taraba State, the Election Tribunal ruled that Dairus Ishaku was not the duly elected candidate of the PDP governorship primary.
To me, this is not the duty of the Tribunal or judiciary generally. Secondly the choice of who leads the people should be with the people themselves through their ballots. So if INEC had conducted an election, it should take the extreme circumstance for the judiciary to nullify such mandate.
We don’t expect this rain of judgments whereby in a single verdict, election petition will nullify nineteen members of a particular state’s House of Assembly, cancel elections of governors, senators as if people did not vote. That is why I am worried like other people asking is it not the same election conducted by Professor Attahiru Jega which produced the president and others?
The performances of the Election Petition Tribunals in 2015 have been very low and the intervention of the judiciary is alarming, such that one begins to question the influence of these political parties on these decisions. This will affect the confidence in the capacity of the judiciary to bring justice to the people.
In River State, the PDP raised an issue that there was a particular occasion the tribunal was to deliver judgment and the members rose upon an alleged phone call and went to the house of a prominent member of an opposition party before coming back to deliver the judgment.
Again look at the case of Justice Pindigi, he was removed and his panel dissolved and later when he granted an interview, he claimed he was offered bribe by a particular party bigwig and because he refused the bribe that was why he was removed. These are worrisome developments in the judiciary.
Are you saying the tribunals are not fair in the way they have been handling the election matters?
I believe the judiciary is acting ultra vires. The judiciary ought to have graduated to the extent that there must be a coordinating unit monitoring the decisions of the tribunals to avoid these inconsistencies because these judgments belong to Nigeria.
If you give a judgment in Lagos state that the malfunctioning of the card readers would not affect the general outcome of an election whereby APC was declared winner of the election, the judiciary ought to have taken that as precedent and apply it in Akwa-Ibom where similar case happened.
Once we begin to see contrary decisions and inconsistencies, most especially when different parties are involved, then people are bound to read meanings even though there are no undercurrents.
Why did the tribunals apply the same laws differently?
Under the Electoral Act and the Constitution the Election Petition Tribunal is empowered by law to determine if an election has complied substantially with the Electoral Act and the Constitution and when there is a case of substantial non-compliance the tribunal may nullify such election and order for fresh election.
Our own concern is the avalanche of decisions that the tribunals seemed to have taken over the responsibility of giving electoral verdicts of one political party to another. If INEC has declared a result and on the presentation of facts the tribunal realised that the votes are not properly cast, the best thing to do is to ask the parties to go and face the electorate afresh instead of transferring votes to another party.
To some extent, irrespective of what anybody perceive of Jonathan, he gave the country electoral reforms and by the appointment of Prof. Jega, a man of impeccable antecedent, electoral reforms were taking to another level. And that was why there was no electoral crisis in all the elections conducted under Jega.
It is pertinent to caution the ruling party against this seemingly attitude of ‘I must take it all’. The reason why I am saying this is because we are fighting corruption. And in doing so, we must be aware that we have moral and financial corruptions. If you win the battle against financial corruption, you must win the war against moral corruption. It is not possible to succeed in influencing the minds of judges and expect to win the battle against corruption, because if we are to go by what Justice Pindigi said, then APC has a lot of questions to answer in respect of certain verdicts of the Election Petition Tribunals.
How do you react to the refusal of the FG to obey court order to grant Dasuki bail?
The Judge is already watching and maybe next time if there is another case, you can imagine how the Judge will feel. And by so doing you are intimidating the judiciary. Same thing applied to Kanu and when he was arraigned days after with fresh charges, he stood up in protest that he preferred to remain in detention than to come here and receive judgment that has been predicted because of FG refusal to obey court order. This attitude of government’s intolerant of court orders is corruption, because it breaks down the society such that the people don’t have confidence in the judiciary again. All these are contributing to such movements like Boko Haram and others.
Do you think the present court system can handle corruption cases or are you of the opinion that there should be created specialized courts for corruption?
The war against corruption is not a media campaign or to score cheap political point. Apart from coup plotting, the next dangerous thing is corruption. It is because we are questioning the security vote of Jonathan today that is why we have this Dasuki issue. Our leaders embezzled our money under the guise of security votes both in military and civilian regimes. If you check the security vote of Buhari between May to now, you will be surprised. The best way to fight corruption is to provide good governance, let there be infrastructures. Then after these, there is need to change the laws.
The constitution states clearly in Section 36, that a citizen shall be deemed to be innocent until he is proved otherwise. And these are what is killing the anti-corruption cases. The only way to investigate in Nigeria is through torture and you can only do this to the common man, you cannot do it to Dasuki or Dokpesi.
What is going on is not trial and at the end of the day, Dasuki and others may be discharged and acquitted. Our focus is not on this temporal detention, allow them to go in accordance to court orders, then gather facts and do your investigation.
Another thing that need to be done, if this corruption war will succeed is proper funding of the EFCC by the government and amendment of its Acts.
In fighting this war, the government needs to work with the National Assembly which, ironically is the number one enemy of Buhari.
I have respect for President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo, they are all men of integrity and credibility, but the way they are going by this war on corruption is questionable. They should rise against what is going on in the APC.
What is your take on the dissolution of the board of NDDC?
The president has no power to do this, because the board was appointed in 2013 for a period of four years and was confirmed by the National Assembly, so there is no provision in the law by which it could be sacked. Assuming the president has the power to sack it, Section 2 & 5 of the NDDC Act state clearly that where a member of the board is removed, the person to succeed him must be from the same state of the person that was removed to complete his tenure.
The MD of the NDDC is from Akwa-Ibom, if for any reason he is removed, the person to succeed him must come from Akwa-Ibom State to complete the current tenure of the person he replaced.
But because of Rivers Etate election and the motive of the APC, the president picked someone from the state to act for three months and after the election maybe he will now go back to Akwa-Ibom State to pick a new MD.