By Dr. Ozovehe Idris
When the Supreme Court of Nigeria ruled recently on the issue of tenure elongation on five State governors which culminated in the sudden sack of all governors of the
affected states, many commended the Justices of the Supreme Court for their far-reaching findings and conclusions. The question of how the interpretation of the ruling by the Apex court would affect Kogi State politics where a gubernatorial election had taken place formed a puzzle for political analysts especially given that the already held gubernatorial election in Kogi State was premised on an earlier Judgement of the Appellate Court which was reversed by the Supreme Court.
The fear that the Supreme Court ruling may have upturned all decisions that were based on the ruling of Appeal Court including rendering the December 3rd 2011 Kogi State gubernatorial elections null and invalid, with a doubt, presented a strong threat to the victory of PDP’s candidate, Captain Wada Idris. More than anything else, the directive of the Attorney General of Federation and Minister of Justice on the Supreme Court ruling that the Speakers of the State House of Assemblies be sworn in as Acting State Governors was a great shock and surprise to the PDP leadership but it signaled a major new direction for politics in Kogi State. However, the PDP leadership consequent upon their thirst for maximum profit as led by the dethroned State Governor Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, an ordinary citizen, instructed the President State Customary Court of Appeal to install the ‘governor –elect’, Captain Wada Idris ,leaving Kogi State in total insubordination to the letters of the constitution and the directive of the Attorney General of Federation.
By and large, what happened in Kogi State has reawakened the historical belief on rampant usurpation of the Judiciary by the Executive arm and the connection between ruling parties and disobedience of court orders in weak democracies in the developing world. The scandal of imposing Captain Wada Idris on the Kogi people as State Governor by the PDP leadership by self anointed authority of some persons even in the availability of the State Chief Judge and against the directive of the Attorney General of the Federation to State Chief judge will not go away anytime soon. This is especially so because, of the purported involvement of the Vice President of Nigeria and use of brute force by the Nigerian police. Sadly, the stories behind this scandal have provided the International development partners a new meaning on the progress or otherwise on their financial support to Nigeria’s democracy. In addition, the action of the PDP leadership has availed desirable ammunition to the political opposition of the PDP. All these issues add to the many unanswered questions relating to the uncertain foundation the present Nigerian government is laying for the promotion of the rule of law especially given that the many actions taken after the Supreme Court ruling by both the National and State leadership of the PDP are a clear departure from the acceptable norms of democratic governance.
Beyond the mist of the confusion which the PDP has concocted regarding the Apex Court Judgement, any objective analyst would have opted to wait for the Supreme Court’s interpretation especially given that some persons mostly within the PDP fold had projected the ruling of the Apex court as ambiguous or vague. Ironically, the fact of vagueness in the Supreme Court ruling is non-existent because in plain meaning, the Supreme court had ordered that the Attorney General of the Federation swears in the Speakers of the State House of Assemblies as Acting governors until elections are conducted. For emphasis, words are ambiguous when their significance is unclear to persons with competent knowledge and skill to understand them. In fact, in Nigeria, most law students become very familiar with a variety of vague terms early in their law school careers and it would be fraudulent for persons or organisation to claim ambiguity or vagueness in the ruling of the Supreme Court.
Never the less, as luck would have it, a suit was instituted at the instance of the PDP by one Chief Chris Uche SAN at the Supreme Court asking that Captain Idris Wada be declared as the Kogi State governor-in-waiting. As expected, not only parties to the suit including the PDP and INEC eagerly awaited the ruling of the Supreme Court but most Nigerians looked forward to both the fixed date of ruling and the Judgement. Eventually, when the Apex court’s judgment was delivered by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Dahiru Musdapher, he declared that the governorship election which produced Governor Wada as Kogi governor-elect was never before it for determination and that the court was constrained to give such consequential order because the issues raised were not known to the panel during the handling of the appeal on the tenure of the five sacked governors.
Unfortunately, instead of the PDP to use this rare opportunity to restore its honour and battered integrity, its former National Publicity Secretary, Professor Rufai Ahmed Alkali, issued a press release. In his words, “Our attention has been drawn to reports in several media outlets purporting that the Supreme Court has declined the PDP application for a consequential order on the governorship of Kogi State. In order to clear all doubts emanating from the reports, we wish to make it abundantly clear that the Peoples Democratic Party is not a party to any suit before the Supreme Court regarding the Kogi State governorship election, neither have we sought any consequential order because there is no reason to do so”. According to him, “the situation in Kogi State is very clear and unambiguous and therefore do not require any interpretations or consequential orders to validate the election and swearing in of Governor Idris Wada.”
From all logical reasoning, it looks as if Professor Rufai Ahmed Alkali is set to make the PDP suffer from further disgrace and ignorance. When a Judge says that the issues raised were not known to the court during the handling of a case, what it means is that the new issue being brought up does not stand in the eyes of the law. as such inconsequential. Again, this is common knowledge that any legal intern should understand. It is therefore amusing that the PDP through its ‘intellectually’ endowed Publicity Secretary is still laying claim to the legitimacy of Wada Idris as Kogi State governor. The denial by the PDP that it did not mandate the said Chris Uche to act on its behalf is an afterthought and very irrelevant at this juncture because the Apex Court has provided its interpretation to its ruling as it concerns Kogi State governorship elections of December 3rd 2011.
Professor Rufai Ahmed Alkali’s additional claim that ; by the time the Supreme Court ruled on tenure of five governors, Governor Wada was already issued a Certificate of Return by INEC and was only awaiting his swearing in. According to him, “therefore, Governor Wada, on the directive of INEC, has been duly sworn in and has assumed his legitimate duties as governor of Kogi State’. This is rubbished by the simple fact that Prof Jega’s authority as INEC Chairman in the Nigerian constitution is not superior to that of Supreme Court judges.
It is therefore right to conclude that Prof Jega’s impunity to wield for the INEC a new but unconstitutional authority was purposefully intended to flagrantly disregard of the rule of law. Indeed, this makes it very obvious that Prof Jega for the purpose of the PDP deliberately stopped playing an umpire role on electoral matters. For avoidance of doubt, disobedience of an order of Court, whether prohibitive or mandatory, whether made ex-parte or upon hearing both parties, interim or perpetual, amounts to contempt, if it is calculated or tends to interfere with the administration of justice, or brings it into disrespect or disregard. In simple terms, INEC’s role as the cornerstone of Nigeria’s democracy has been bruised by Prof Jega and his cohorts. Indeed, sufficient doubts have been created in the minds of the electorate about INEC’s commitment to democracy.
Even if these are considered unhappy facts for the PDP, It remains to be seen whether the Supreme court ruling will be obeyed by the Kogi State PDP or can the National leadership of the PDP will continue to turn the Judgement of the Apex court around in its capacity as the ruling party? However, what is certain, though, is that PDP faces a rocky road ahead without obeying orders of the Apex Court of Nigeria.
The President, Goodluck Jonathan even if not directly associated with the avalanche of illegitimate acts of the PDP, as the National leader of the Party and gate keeper of Nigeria’s democracy seems to have been thrust in an extremely difficult situation but his continued stance of ignorance or turning a blind eye to the various issues raised both spells for disaster and will do him little good in the eyes of the electorate or the International community.
Kogi people are pragmatic and if their rights are not respected in a democracy, they may simply go for the jugular especially in a country like Nigeria, where the citizens are expected to strongly uphold the independence of institutions such as the Judiciary for democracy to be consolidated.
Well, it is probably about time to shake the Leaders of PDP to their roots over their many illegitimate acts. The President’s action would have considerable bearing on restoration of hope in Nigeria’s democracy and the upholding of Judicial independence in Nigeria.