- Published on Saturday, 09 June 2012 12:29
- Written by Essien Ubong
For any democracy to thrive, all three arms of government must be fully functional. No democracy can thrive if any of these three arms does not work the way it is designed to. Judges and Justices in the Judiciary are vested with the power to dispense justice, fairness and the rule of law by deciding cases filed by aggrieved parties who
have been denied some genuine right or privilege.
Democracy confers equal rights on all citizens without discrimination. Most reasonable people can agree that when an individual, group or organization is aggrieved, the logical thing for them to do is to go to a court of law and seek justice. If the claim of the plaintiff is determined by the courts to be genuine, s/he gets justice and in some instances, justice is accompanied by compensation for any damages caused by the denial of that right.
Democracy in a political system allows people to exercise their rights to cast votes based on the principle of universal adult franchise to elect the candidates of their choice. Consequently, the candidate with the most votes wins the election and is sworn in for the position contested. Even the Supreme Court had this in mind when they issued an order to all tribunals asking them to go back and hear election cases on their merit and de novo.
This ruling breathe new life in petitions across the country which had been laying comatose due to the superior gymnastic antics of attorneys for defendants in election cases who had resorted to technicalities as a way of making a mockery of the stipulated 180 days.
Just as the tribunals were beginning to hear the cases sent back to be heard de novo, a Supreme Court panel issued a contrary order citing Section (285) of the constitution which requires cases to keep to the 180 days defined to be set aside by the constitution for election cases to be heard no matter what.
Most reasonable people will argue that the new order ought not to have superseded an existing order – particularly if the existing order had not been vacated. Additionally, most people will agree that the lower courts should not have seen fit to act on a new order without the vacation of the existing order.
Naturally, legal observers have argued richly on this legal dilemma seeking to gain a pure understanding of the quagmire created by these two diametrically opposed rulings for our nascent Nigerian democracy.
One of the last cases to be heard on this issue is the case of ACN & Prof. Steve Ugbah v. PDP & Governor Gabriel Suswam.
This case is particularly telling because in addition to the accusation of election malpractice, the substance of which was not heard completely before and after the order to try the cases de novo, the Governor is also accused of forging his WAEC results implying that he was not qualified to run for office in the first place.
If this case is dismissed, the Supreme Court would have sent a clear message to generations of Nigerians born and unborn that merit is not desirable. Additionally, the unwillingness to solve this constitutional quagmire by summarily dismissing cases could quite conceivably breed more election violence and malpractice in the upcoming 2015 elections thereby erasing any gains we may have made in the pursuit of a true democratic system.
As the Supreme Court sits on the cusp of making history, Nigerians and observers everywhere wonder if the Justices will choose to be on the right side of history on Friday June 8, 2012 and side with the people. As Abraham Lincoln aptly put it, democracy is “government of the people, for the people and by the people.”
For: Friends of Prof. Steve Ugbah