Human rights lawyer Femi Falana SAN has urged Nigerian courts to “stop imposing politicians on Nigerians,” arguing that, “The involvement of the courts in the electoral process has not been favourable to the country's democracy.”
According Falana, “This involvement has been forced by the neglect of its duties by the INEC, the arbitrariness and impunity of some of the members of the Executive, and the corrupt activities of political parties.”
Falana stated this in a paper titled “The Role of the Courts in the Electoral Process and the Time Bomb of Section 84(12) of the Electoral Act 2022”, delivered yesterday at the Law Week, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Ondo Branch.
Falana stated that, “In order to respect the democratic wishes of the electorate there has to be a new electoral jurisprudence. Since the people are the greatest defenders of democracy INEC must be made to ensure the votes of the electorate count.”
Falana also argued that, “The courts have abandoned their primary role of ensuring compliance with the Electoral Act and the relevant legislation of the Constitution pertaining to general elections. Apart from usurping the powers of INEC in organising and supervising elections the courts have taking over the mandate of the electorate.”
The paper, read in part: “the courts have been involved in the appointment of party officers and endorsement of candidates sponsored by political parties to contest elections.”
“Even the meetings of the organs and national conventions of political parties are fixed by the courts. Cases arising from the management of political parties are filed in the high court of the federal capital territory or at the federal high court, outside the venue of the dispute.”
“The winners of primaries and general elections are no longer determined by the electorate but by the election petition tribunals and courts."
“The increasing involvement of the Judiciary in the internal affairs of political parties and elections has exposed the judiciary to ridicule; in the instance of the APC leadership crisis in 2019, contradictory orders were obtained from the various factions from the Federal Capital Territory high court, Federal High Court, Kano Judicial Division, High Court, Sokoto.”
“At some point, members of the public were wondering why high courts continued to hear matters in respect of a case that was already pending before the Court of Appeal. The phenomenon of conflicting court orders calls for an urgent review on the part of the Nigerian Bar Association and the National Judicial Council.”
“It is pertinent to point out that conflicting orders are not limited to the High Courts alone, as some of the judgments of the appellate courts have put INEC officials in total confusion.”
“The most dangerous aspect of the intervention of the courts in the electoral process is the judicial election of governors and other representatives. Aside the resort to technicalities to uphold rigged elections the Supreme has on different occasions installed governors who were not elected by the people.”
“There was an aspirant who did not participate in the governorship election in Rivers State but who was made the Governor by the Supreme Court. There was another instance where the Supreme Court overruled the judgment of the Court of Appeal without jurisdiction in order to install a Governor in a State.”
“At the material time, all appeals arising from governorship elections terminated at the Court of Appeal in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.”
“Two other Governors who lost the 2019 governorship elections were installed as Governors by the Supreme Court. In declaring another candidate a Governor the Justices of the Supreme Court not realise that the results computed by their Lordships showed surpassed the number of votes cast by the electorate.”
“The decision was so embarrassing that in his minority judgment the Honourable Justice Nweze concluded on a note of dire warning to the effect that: ‘This decision of the Supreme Court will continue to haunt our electoral jurisprudence for a long time to come’”.
“Assuming that the actual winners were disqualified why did the Supreme Court not order fresh elections to enable the people to elect their leaders. It is hoped that the Supreme Court will be provided an opportunity to set aside all judgments in which the wishes of the electorate were torpedoed.”
“The increasing involvement of the courts in the electoral process cannot be blamed solely on Judges. The INEC has contributed to the tribunalisation of democracy by abdicating its constitutional duties. For instance, Senators Godswill Akpabio and Ahmed Lawan were aspirants in the presidential primaries of the APC.”
“It is common knowledge that Senator Akpabio later stepped down for Tinubu, while Senator Lawan contested and lost the primary election. Surprisingly, both Senators returned to their respective senatorial zones to displace the candidates that were elected in the valid primaries conducted in Akwa lbom and Yobe States.”
“Out of sheer impunity, their names were submitted to INEC by the leadership of the APC. Curiously, INEC claimed that it could not reject the illegal nominations and advised the aggrieved candidates who were illegally to approach the court for redress.”
“At that juncture, I was compelled to draw the attention of INEC to provisions of the Electoral Act 2022 and the Constitution that empower the INEC to reject the names of candidates who did not emerge from valid primaries.”
“However, for reasons best known to INEC, electoral offenders have been allowed to manipulate and discredit the democratic process.”
“Such anti-democratic forces commit electoral offences which include fraudulent registration of voters, bribing of delegates and inducement of voters, bribing of party agents, bribing of electoral officers and law enforcement officers, fraudulent accreditation of voters, multiple thumb-printing of ballot papers, attack on voters by thugs, intimidation of voters.”
“The offence of corruption may be established against lawyers who allow themselves to be paid millions of dollars and billions of Naira as professional fees if such payment is traced to the public treasury.
“The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) must own up to its constitutional responsibility and stop pushing their powers to the courts.”
“The Judiciary must steer clear of the electoral process and allow the INEC to do its work accordingly. The courts must stop usurping the powers of the people to elect their leaders.”
“The courts must entertain only matters that are within their jurisdiction and not usurp those within the power of the INEC or those that concern parties' internal affairs.”
“Political parties should abide by the provision of the Electoral Act and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria partaining to the conduct of elections. They should be able to reject aspirants that are violating the extant laws.”
“We call on the trade unions and other progressive people to mobilise the Nigerian people to defend democracy and socio-economic rights.”