By Phrank Shaibu
ABOUT two days after the Supreme Court Judgement on tenure elongation which sacked five State Governors including Kogi State where elections had been conducted about
eight weeks before the Apex Court ruling, a reporter from a major newspaper contacted.
the Chief Press Secretary to the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) Chairman, Mr Kayode Idowu, on the next step the electoral body would take. The Press Secretary remarked that “INEC lawyers were studying the verdict and will advise the Nigerian public on the full ramifications of the judgment.
He further stated that “INEC will take a position after receiving its lawyers’ analysis in the coming week.” While Nigerians were patiently awaiting INEC to do its investigation and consult the appropriate authorities in the said one week, surprisingly, the next day after the disclosure by Mr. Idowu of INEC, the electoral body announced its decision. Many Nigerians were astonished for the simple reason that most governmental institutions in Nigeria are yet to attain 'speed of light efficiency' in reaching even simple decisions, yet INEC with a raft of tasks on its desk was able to deconstruct with ease a complex issue like the interpretation of the Apex Court judgment which seems to have yielded a plurality of meanings.
According to INEC, the decision it reached was derived from its interpretation of the Supreme Court Judgment. An important aspect of INEC’s decision is that the December 3rd 2011 Kogi State gubernatorial elections in its thinking and wisdom remains valid.
As such, Captain Wada Idris, the purported Governor elect from the troubled PDP of Kogi State is right to have been sworn in as Governor by the President Customary Court of Appeal against the directive of the Attorney General of the Federation which ordered that all Speakers of the affected State House of Assemblies including Kogi State’s Hon Abdullahi Bello be sworn in as Acting Governors in line the Apex court ruling which reversed the earlier decision of the Appellate Court on tenure elongation. There are however more far-reaching consequences of the current decision by INEC especially on Kogi state which will impact negatively on the Supreme Court Judgment and the Nigerian democracy.
First, is that INEC cannot determine for itself what the Supreme Court ruling will mean in a peculiar context like Kogi State where gubernatorial elections were conducted in December 2011, yet the Attorney General’s directive did not recognize the elections in Kogi State perhaps because it rested on the reversed decision of the Appellate Court.
Given the growing controversy that has emerged with the recent INEC’s decision, many public analysts have posited that INEC should not have looked inward for meaning of the Supreme Court Judgment rather it should waited to see how the Apex Court Justices would interpret the Judgment in line with the Constitution.
For emphasis, in most legal tussles, where a gap of understanding emerges in a judgment, thus creating a conflict especially where there is not such common meaning for interpretation of the Judgment, it’s the court that passed the judgment that is best positioned to reconcile conflicts in interpretations of Judgment.
Indeed, this is where Prof. Jega missed the point. His reliance on INEC’s in house team to reach a decision on such a complex legal issue after only a day’s deliberation is highly suspicious. This is not only very worrisome but it introduces a big question mark on INEC’s capacity to handle legal issues.
Second, INEC need not involve itself in deciding the interpretations of the Apex Court especially in determining whether a particular election after the Supreme Court ruling is valid or not especially in the face of the growing rumour that the Vice President of Nigeria, a top PDP leader intimidated the Speaker of the Kogi State House of Assembly by compelling him by force to resign after being sworn by the Chief Judge of the State as the Acting Governor of the state. The use of the Vice President’s office was obvious because over 200 armed policemen were directed by the Inspector general of Nigerian Police to ensure that the controversial Governor elect, Captain Wada was installed as the new Kogi State Governor against the earlier directive of the Attorney General of the Federation.
So what is this? It’s politics because it is only an ideal judge that could determine the right answer to such complex legal question by interpreting the law as a whole. Prof Jega in reaching such a decision owes Nigerians an explanation on the modalities he used in interpreting the Judgment of the Supreme Court or the constitution of Nigeria as it relates to the Judgment.
In fact, undue influence cannot be far removed from Jega’s position when it has to do with Kogi state. You remember that during the build up to the elections in Bayelsa state, INEC excluded PDP's Dickson from Bayelsa gubernatorial election list for the reason: ‘subject to litigation’ whereas in Kogi State, actions of the court against Capt Wada of PDP were demonstratively ignored. INEC did not recognize Dickson because of the pending court case but did on Kogi. INEC vacillated on Echocho. To send a clear message, this is double standard and INEC has evidently shown in its conduct the application of different sets of principles for similar situations. The question on the lips of all is: What is Prof Jega’s interest in Kogi? Did anybody take his wife?His actions lately is a worrisome throwback to the days of the discredited Maurice Iwu, and a reminder to Nigerians that the hopes they have placed in Jega may have been misplaced after all.
INEC should keep in mind its constitutional power and limitations and should not be allowed to rewrite the constitution by stealth.
Any objective polity watcher in Nigeria understands that most events in PDP politics are often undemocratic and predicted negative consequences ignored. This is where it is believed that if truly INEC was independent as it ought to be on electoral matters, Prof Jega should have acted wisely by isolating INEC from PDP politics. Rather, its decisions should be based on pure constitutional principles as interpreted by the justices of the Apex Court and not pure politics.
The obvious truth herein is that INEC in its premature decision on Kogi has not acted as a fair umpire but a creature of PDP politics.
A study of Prof Jega’s statement shows that INEC lacks the presence of legitimate reasoning in its action on Kogi State especially in the absence of cogent and verifiable reasons by INEC for hurriedly reaching that decision.
For Prof Jega to sustain his integrity, he must ensure that INEC’s decisions must be wholly divorced from political considerations or party affiliations.
Inspite of the blunder committed by INEC, for the substance of democracy in Nigeria, it must be stated with neither fear nor favor that Prof Jega and his legal team lack the capacity and ability to analyze the specific intent of the Supreme Court.
Judgment interpretation involves much more than simply reading the Constitution or determining what the Judges intended in the ruling. The solution to Kogi crisis lies in the hands of the Supreme Court Justices because they understand the legal grounds used to reach the judgement in such a hard case. Why then did INEC jump to such hasty conclusions on Kogi State if not for political pressure that may have emanated from the PDP leadership? Could it have been possible for Prof. Jega to disobey the Vice President?
Even when is obvious that judges are sometimes influenced by political and social trends, it is for INEC to abide by the decisions of the Court. INEC must not allow politics to play a larger role in its activities as an umpire. The Apex Court has always defended its role and the constitution in electoral matters, as such, it is not for INEC or some so called influential party leaders to force their self styled interpretation of a Judgement on the electorate. With the many objective criticisms on INEC’s position, Prof Jega must feel compelled by his sense of honor to reverse his decision on Kogi state elections because clearly, the matter has now become a major confrontation between the INEC and Nigeria’s democracy.
INEC’s intrusion into the work of the Apex Court should be roundly condemned especially, on such a complex matter that Jibrin Isah is in court to determine the authentic owner of the mandate of the People's Democratic Party given his valid victory in the gubernatorial primaries election which before now was set aside by the Appellate court ruling until its reversal by the Apex Court. Indeed, in such a very complex issue, it is the interpretation of the judges of the Apex Court that would determine who becomes the next Governor of Kogi State.
Whether the next Governor of Kogi State is Captain Idris Wada, the so called elected governor from the very controversial December 3rd election and anointed successor by the former Kogi State Governor or Jibrin Isa Echocho, the man who won the mandate as the people’s choice in the January 9, 2011 valid primary election of the PDP, what matters most is that Justice is done and seen to be done.
Indeed, this is not an easy legal question. The Apex Court judges must perceive the necessity of a prompt interpretation of their Judgement. But clear beyond the slightest doubt is that the present occupation of Lord Lugard House by Idris Wada as Governor of Kogi state is illegitimate until the Supreme Court justices give appropriate interpretation of their Judgement.
As for the name “Jega,” it will go in history as another virus in national political software if he fails to change!
*PHRANK SHAIBU, Is a Public Communications Consultant based in Abuja.