I HAD always believed, and I hold it to be true, that every judgment, every sound judgment, must promote the course of social justice. Since the Supreme Court is the apex of judicial adjudication, the pronouncements from that hallowed bench should be so awesome as to command respect and indeed some reverence. Why then have the recent Supreme Court judgments in respect of the governorship elections in Akwa Ibom and Rivers States attracted so much criticism amounting almost to opprobrium?
Sadly, the Nigerian Bar Association, rather than accept that evil thrives when good people refuse to prevail against it, chose instead to threaten sanctions against any of its members that would further criticise those judgments.
I have read the lead judgment by Supreme Court Judge Nweze in respect of Akwa Ibom state governorship elections and my first shock was to find such exclamations as “Haba”, “Holy Moses”, “Wonders will never end” all in reference to the decisions reached by fellow judges at the lower court and the tribunal. Perhaps I was wrong, but what I had expected was such superior reasoning as would evidently confound the arguments of the lower court. I was disappointed.
Let me be the first to admit and accept that our judges, including the Supreme Court Judges are human and therefore cannot be infallible. Besides they are Nigerians and products of the Nigerian society. Still it cannot be denied that the society has the right to formulate its own expectations of people who hold certain offices of reverence.
Quite early in the judgment, the petitioners were said to have “marshalled a whooping number of fifty two witnesses”.
In the ordinary use of the word, “whopping” suggests a very large, and may be excessive, number. But towards the end, the judgment insists that “The only mode of proving disenfranchisement, as shown above is by calling, at least, one registered voter polling unit by polling unit”. In Akwa Ibom State that would have meant calling 2,982 witnesses, which is the number of polling units in the state. I think I can be excused if at this stage I should exclaim “Haba”.
Earlier on, with the reports of mindless violence and all sorts of criminal activities that had marred the elections and were likely to disrupt the tribunal’s sittings, the Supreme Court had agreed that the tribunal could relocate from Akwa Ibom State to Abuja. But the judgment insists that criminality was not established because it was not proved beyond reasonable doubt. A careful reading of the judgment seems to suggest that the only way this could have been done is if those criminals that are now freely roaming the streets and calling themselves “the powers that be” had been arrested, tried and convicted. Does a petitioner in an election matter have the means, and the time to do that; is it no longer true that “election petitions is species of civil suit and not a criminal one”?
On the issue of over voting, let us be reminded that the total number of votes said to have been cast at the governorship election in Akwa Ibom state is 1,122,836; the accredited number of voters in the electoral register which was tendered is 448,307; the card reader report shows that only 437,128 registered voters were accredited. (Note how close the number of accredited voters in the voters register is to that given by the Card Reader Report).
The Supreme Court Judgment insists that this is not sufficient to establish over voting because no probative value should have been placed on the Card Reader Report. But what about the voters register – when this could not be denied or rejected, the Supreme Court held that it was “dumped” on the lower court.
I do not know if anybody had suggested that the Supreme Court judgments in respect of Rivers and Akwa Ibom states were influenced to warrant the limp protestation by Ahuruka Isah who is said to be the media aide to the CJN.
Ahuruka’s write up in my opinion is sad and unfortunate. He succeeded in exposing a template that reveals what can only charitably be described as a herd mentality which is, by far, the easiest in the world to control and influence.
It has happened and it has happened but it has left a very sour taste in the mouth. It may not be the last time that it would happen and it certainly is not the first. There was the issue of an election matter affecting Akwa Ibom state where the Supreme Court ordered that a new tribunal should be set up and the matter be tried “de novo”. That is Latin and we all thought we knew the meaning of “de novo”. But before the new tribunal could be set, it was declared that the 180 days for tribunal sittings had been exhausted. Suddenly Latin turned to Greek and nobody could understand anymore what the Supreme Court was saying.
Our concern should be whether these judgments have served the course of social justice; whether they have established the foundation on which future elections can be conducted freely and fairly with respect for the sanctity of the ballot box and the safety of the electorate; can the judgments ensure the safety of INEC officials and offer the opportunity for the people to indeed be able to vote for the people they want to represent or govern them? How far can these judgments go to curb electoral malpractices; have these judgments deepened democracy? To what extent therefore can these judgments be considered sound and beneficial?
Our prayer and hope must be that someday our hollowed chambers will be populated with a sufficient number of biblical “Daniels” to ensure that justice is not only done but is seen to have been done.
*Obong Attah is former Governor of Akwa Ibom State.