The court verdict on the Electoral Act has all the trappings of a kangaroo show

By The Nation

We can describe it as comedy or even farce. But that would bring a piece of laughter into a matter of national sobriety, or even mourning. It is rather a tragedy bleeding freely on our nation, a ridicule of the law, contempt for justice, grandiose folly and another episode of a judge working as a caricature, an ugly cartoon of the real thing.

The verdict handed down by Evelyn Anyadike at the Federal High Court in Umuahia, Abia State, on March 17 had all the ingredients of tendentious infamy. It was filed by a lawyer against the attorney-general of the federation (AGF). But there was a farcical mockery of time sequence in the process.

First, the case was filed on March 8. But the counter-affidavit was filed on March 14 while the response to it was filed ahead of time, that is on the 11th. The response came ahead of the case. The AGF must be a clairvoyant.

From the beginning, it was a theatre of the judicial absurd. The judge did not only turn logic and law on its head. She turned time upside down. Is it not strange that it took 10  days to file, serve, be heard and the verdict, and the execution afterwards was within 24 hours. It was a post-haste devilry and desperation on the part of judge and attorney-general, especially for a government that has advertised a haughty and preternatural contempt for promptness in executing court judgment.

Again, the AGF, Ababakar Malami, did not evince any sense of shame. He was on the side of his prosecutor. Once the verdict was given, he seemed to jubilate. After all, he had written to the National Assembly to ask the august body to delete Section 84(12) of the Electoral Act that mandates all political office holders to resign ahead of the primary. He quickly responded by mobilising all government agencies to proceed to expunge the section and lurch towards gazetting it.

This was a case of a defendant being in league with the prosecutor, and it sets a dangerous precedent. An attorney-general can always work with a rogue member of the public to make a law. By that, he overthrows the legislature, and makes the attorney-general and the president to be czars of democracy. It is constitutional monarchy by fiat. It is a de facto military rule dressed as a republic.

Justice Anyadike has joined a growing list of the bench now notorious for verdicts that cannot be described as errors but deliberate distortions, judiciary as carpet-bagging. The verdict lacked not only rigour, it was a contempt for rigour. It was a kangaroo moment in the history of Nigerian judiciary and politics.

The verdict did not address important issues. First, it did not have the decency to ask that the National Assembly be joined in the suit. Neither did it ask the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to participate. It was a hush-hush affair. The country did not know of the case until the verdict swooped on the news. It has to be taken away from the capital, to far away Abia State, outside the vigilance of judicial watchers. It is like a wild beast hiding in a cranny to chew its prey.

We therefore ask the National Judicial Commission (NJC) to investigate the ins and outs of this judgment with an eye to save the bench from its deteriorating wretched image.

It was a lack of class for an attorney-general who had never laid any claim to it in exercise of his powers and duties. Two, this behaviour emphasises why the perennial clamour for a separation of the office of attorney-general of the federation and that of the Federal Government is urgent, and the expected constitutional amendments must take cognisance of this emergency so the likes of Malami do not come our way again. We have had his types in the past, but they keeping turning their obnoxious predecessor to saints.

It has been argued in some quarters that the National Assembly may not necessarily appeal, or be joined in the suit. But we disagree. This is a consequential matter of deep constitutional and political consequence. It should have been a public trial, where the acumen of constitutional lawyers should come to play in exchange of ideas, and posterity would learn from the tempest of wisdom. It would also show that we are a nation of law and due process.

But what we saw was a torpedo of decency, a subterranean plot against the law.

The verdict did not address the substantive issue as to who is a public office holder and whether that position is different from a civil servant or a public servant. Its lack of definitional clarity has complicated the matter. What would happen, for instance, if a sensitive public office holder, like the accountant-general of the federal government, or the chief justice, or the governor of the Central Bank, holds office as a candidate while running for president?

Again, Malami did not wait for appeals, which is a window of three months, to begin mobilising agencies of government to gazette the judgment and delete the provision. Even with the uproar from both chambers of the National Assembly and their decision to appeal, Malami has not stopped its process of defiance.

We must note that there are grave consequences of the decision of the Federal Government to uphold Anyadike’s verdict. Its party, the All progressives Congress (APC), is about to hold its convention, and the attorney-general and his men want specific persons to attend as delegates and voters.  It seems they are ready to sacrifice law for expediency, the constitution for partisan glory. This is an act of political perfidy, and show of public shame. They are setting a wrong precedent in the interest of temporary gain, and they are not looking at the long-term health of this democracy.

They want to choreograph the law to suit their interest, and it will not help anyone, not least his APC, to browbeat the bench into a predetermined position. We cannot run a democracy by blackmail. It is a cooperative ideology, and once coercion tops persuasion, democracy is toppled.

We have to be careful. The APC lost its Zamfara State gubernatorial victory, and its chance in Rivers State over similar subversions of process. The implication is that attorney-general is, by his tendency to railroad events to his choice end, may lose all in the end. But it is Nigeria that loses in the end. APC is just a party, even if a major one.

What is more important to us is the health of the democracy, our regard for the rule of law, our respect for a country as family rather than a cabal, and a sense that Nigeria belongs to all of us. It begins with the law. It can end by upturning it.

Culled from the Nation

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