Nigeria: ‘Judiciary As Hope For A Wailing People’ -Dr. Muiz Banire SAN

Nigeria is on the verge of changing the baton of leadership, consequent upon the conclusion of the last general election in the country. Resulting from the outcome are several petitions filed in the various tribunals to interrogate the validity or otherwise of the results. Of interest to me in all of these is that the judges will have to determine the ultimate fates of the various declared winners and, by extension, the electorate in the various constituencies. Elections and their results have always been subject matters of litigation in Nigeria right from the days of the colonial enterprise from which many decisions of courts have arisen. 

The issue has always been that while the winning party is celebrating, the losing party is biting his fingers and licking his wounds. The situation has always put our judges on trial and the general public has always been querying the wisdom and the rationale that weigh against the loser. 

The law has always been as stated by the statutes regulating the elections and the outcome of them. Judges do not derive their powers to determine election petitions from a vacuum and hence they have always been bound to interpret the provisions of the legislation by which they are vested with jurisdiction. It is indubitable that the electoral laws are tilted legislatively against the petitioner and which has substantially determined the number of petitions won and lost. 

Their lordships at the various levels of courts have always, therefore, been on trial even in the most hopeless of all cases where the petitioner knew from the beginning that he stood no iota of chance of winning the election and his complaints are based on mere frivolities designed to sustain his supporters or bargain his way into relevance in the government to be formed by the winner of the election if he is large-hearted enough to consider a government of national unity desirable. 

Beyond this, the technical rules of the election petition trials are equally unhelpful to electoral justice as I interrogated elsewhere.  Honestly to my mind, I am not too sure that those rules as they stand now can engender electoral justice. That explains why in a lot of cases you discover the disconnect between the judgments and the populace. That has often led to the misrepresentation of issues and the undue tainting of our judges as corrupt.We need to save the situation by improving on these rules and relaxing them as much as possible to enthrone purposeful electoral justice. 

As things stand now, they are substantially circumscribed by the rules and not so much the judges can do. They cannot circumvent the laws and the rules in order to attain electoral justice.  The judges deserve our sympathy and pity in the dispensation of electoral justice. Hence, we still need to take a further look at the technical rules of election petitions. 

Anyway, that is not my area of interest per se. it is my concern whether our judges are really ready to handle election petitions courageously as they have done in many cases. Are they ready to spare us the agony of elevating frivolous petitions to the status of life-defining judicial exercise? Are they prepared to let litigious petitioners know that the resources of the nation are being wasted when they courts are burdened with terrible and lifeless petitions that only want to trend on twitter and other social media platforms?

Are our judges ready to show the way out to anyone who has rigged himself into power without battling an eyelid. Are they ready to tell the politicians of today that not all judges are corrupt and there are exceptions the majority of whom now sit on our bench? Are they prepared to let Nigerians know that justice still lives in our courts and the courts are the best place to turn without fear of intimidation either by the political class or a rabble-rousing multitude?

Now that our fate is in the hands of the judges, do we think that we have prepared them for these challenges? By this, have we placed the judges in a position to resist any temptation from the political class who are ever at ease to compromise them?