By Cyril I. Ujam
Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammad’s valedictory speech upon his retirement from the Supreme Court was remarkable and yet not so remarkable. The alarm he raised — that “the judiciary has become something else” — should have come while he still served on the bench. He said nothing new. Every informed Nigerian is worried about the desecration of the temple of justice, especially in election cases.
We observe court proceedings and how judges in other climes make efforts to deliver justice. They don’t bother to wear long robes. They don’t assume they know too much. We see them searching for the truth and not for technicalities that would enable them to satisfy their paymasters or save their jobs. Two illustrations are the cases of former Delta State governor James Ibori (who was discharged and acquitted by a Nigerian court but jailed by a UK court for the same offense) and former deputy Senate president Ike Ekweremadu (who is now in jail in the UK). Could any court in Nigeria have ever tried Ekweremadu much less jail him? While all the Nigerian culprits in the Halliburton bribery scandal are walking freely today, their foreign accomplices are all in jail.
Our judiciary’s failure in administering justice is most blatant in election cases. You rarely see judges condemning the “Independent” National Electoral Commission, INEC, or its officials for organizing fraudulent polls. In courts, INEC uses billions of naira belonging to taxpayers to defend those it rigged elections for. INEC no longer hides the fact that it is a biased umpire!
New justices of the Supreme Court have been sworn in since after Justice Dattijo Muhammad’s valedictory speech. Will these new brooms sweep clean? Election petition cases have been concluded at the tribunals and appeal courts. And nobody in Nigeria needs to be told that, in most of the cases determined at these lower courts, judgments were bought and sold the same way traders buy and sell rice or beans at Kano or Onitsha markets. Some who “won” their House of Assembly seats told me they parted with N150m or more.
Only the governorship election cases terminate at the Supreme Court. And that’s where the governorship candidates in Enugu, Kano, Plateau, Lagos, Nasarawa, Zamfara, and other states have taken their cases. Of the lot, Enugu provides a perfect test of the credibility of the Nigerian judiciary once more. Kano comes close, as the certified true copies of the appeal court judgment betrayed the influence of cash: contradictory paragraphs caused by bad editing in the course of rewriting a judgment. What is “clerical error”?
Every goat, dog, or pigeon in Enugu State knows the winner of the governorship election held on March 18: Hon. Chijioke Edeoga, the Labour Party candidate. He won by a wide margin. But the then PDP governor and other influential kingmakers in the state, in a desperate move to save their “investments”, have demonstrated the power of illicit cash. During the first round of elections held on February 25, LP cleared 85% of the Enugu votes; even the sitting governor lost a senatorial election! LP won seven out of eight House of Reps seats and 14 out of 24 Assembly seats in the state.
After the governorship poll of March 18, LP’s Edeoga won with over 11,000 votes after the collation of results in 16 out of 17 LGAs in the state. The margin of his victory over the PDP candidate would have reached at least 60,000 votes but for the suppression and swapping of LP’s votes with PDP’s in several places. Then, in Nkanu East, the home LGA of the PDP candidate, Peter Mbah, the election fraudsters aided by certain INEC officials discarded the BVAS, ignored the 2022 Electoral Act, and raised over 30,000 votes for the PDP candidate. Yet, only 15,000+ voters were accredited to vote in three elections that day at that LGA! When the returning officer, Professor Maduebibisi Iwe, tried to reject the result, he was summoned to INEC headquarters, in Abuja. Billions of naira from the state moved to Abuja as well. A committee headed by Festus Okoye was to allocate almost 17,000 votes to PDP to enable its candidate to defeat Edeoga by 3,000+ votes.
At the proceedings of the election tribunal headed by Justice Kudirat Akano, neither INEC nor the PDP goons had any defense for the magical votes from Nkanu East. BVAS machines were reluctantly brought to court. INEC asked the court to rely on the CTC brought by the LP candidate, for information on the BVAS that had been erased.
The last stroke that crippled PDP and its defenders was the appearance of the NYSC in court to prove, with documentary evidence, that PDP candidate Mbah had submitted a forged NYSC discharge certificate to INEC. While the NYSC director was still speaking, PDP supporters, one by one, left the court in shame!
When the Justice Akano-led tribunal delivered its judgment, therefore, the length and breadth of Enugu State became like a funeral scene. No happy face. The only people rejoicing were in Government House — the celebration began days before the judgment after N3bn of public funds had changed hands. The Akano judgment contained no iota of law! Even the statement of the NYSC witness subpoenaed by the tribunal was not admitted. If you say something was forged, you must produce the genuine one (even if it doesn’t exist), we heard.
The LP candidate went on appeal. When the venue was moved to Lagos, N5.5bn in state funds moved with it. At the appeal court, the facts of the case were laid bare once again. It was clear to everyone in court that justice had not been served in Enugu and a reversal was inevitable. A judgment already written had to be discarded hours before delivery time, however. Even the judge could not read her judgment with ease, as if someone else had just written it for her. What had happened? Well, one woman in the appeal court allegedly confessed to her friend that Enugu’s money offered her was irresistible. Indeed, champagnes were popped in Enugu a day before the judgment to celebrate the “sorting” at the appeal.
Now that the Supreme Court is about to sit on the matter, it is the last hope for the judiciary. Will the apex court help INEC to subvert the wish of the Enugu electorate? Will it reverse its earlier position on admittance of the statement of a subpoenaed witness? Will the court endorse certificate forgery and ignore section 182 (j) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? Or will it respect the wish of the Enugu electorate and keep certificate forgers away from exalted offices?
Whatever the Supreme Court decides becomes Nigerian law. There will be no further appeal — except to God. May God save the judiciary and the country.
Ujam, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja.