Thursday, 8th June 2023

Litigation, election and 2023 democratic process

By Editorial Board
19 February 2023   |   3:55 am
Recourse by two major political parties to the court for settlement of old scores is not necessarily repugnant to due process and orderly conduct. As it’s said, to ‘jaw jaw’ even in court, is much better than to ‘war war’.

Recourse by two major political parties to the court for settlement of old scores is not necessarily repugnant to due process and orderly conduct. As it’s said, to ‘jaw jaw’ even in court, is much better than to ‘war war’. The recourse to the courts however must be done with due decorum and regard for the sanctity of the court, not just as an crucial player in the elections and democratic process, but also as the last hope of the common man. It is not certain that the litigants in the present cases fully bear in mind the unwholesome implications that could ensue from their current legal voyage.

The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has recently taken legal action to disqualify All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential Candidate Bola Ahmed Tinubu over an alleged drug trafficking conviction or indictment in the US. Meanwhile, the APC has also sought to disqualify the PDP candidate Alhaji Atiku Abubakar over the #Atiku-Gate and Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) saga. The PDP argues that the alleged conviction of Tinubu for a criminal offence by a court of competent jurisdiction in the United States of America rendered him ineligible to contest any election in Nigeria. On its own part, the APC argues that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the PDP should be disqualified from contesting the presidential election over the #Atiku-Gate and  Special Purpose Vehicle SPV saga.

Instructively, both cases are coming from old accusations that have trended, subsided and resuscitated over the years, mainly depending on the political forays of the major contestants. Some of the allegations, in fact, had been referred to the courts for adjudication in the past but with no clear outcome. There are strong reasons to hold that while the parties are free under the law to legally challenge the propriety of their opponent’s candidature, their present actions are motivated more by desire to distract their opponents, than by any genuine reason to uphold the public interest. And this is where they need to exercise care, lest the court proceedings are hijacked by the third force with catastrophic results for the forthcoming elections and indeed for democracy.

Under the Nigerian law, only the law courts are vested with the jurisdiction to resolve civil disputes between citizens, institutions or political parties. Rather than resorting to self-help and force, aggrieved political parties are encouraged to seek judicial remedy in court. In this time of crisis in the rule of law, the only viable option for aggrieved political parties is to follow due process and give peace a chance.

Therefore, APC and PDP acted appropriately by seeking remedy in court. The judiciary’s role in dispensing justice is threatened by self-help and force in settling disputes. Suspicion alone cannot lead to a criminal conviction; everyone is innocent until proven guilty by a competent court. Undermining the courts and resorting to self-help would undermine our democratic experiment.

Having said this, the ongoing litigation war between the APC and the PDP evidences the worst possible bad faith and abusive use of court orders and processes for selfish political goals.  A worst fear however is that apart from being a recipe for chaos, uncertainty and confusion in the polity, such court challenges could significantly be cashed upon by mischief makers to derail the 2023 electoral process as we have experienced in Nigeria in the past.

And because these court challenges are politically motivated, they can undermine the integrity of the election and call into question the legitimacy of the results. Worse still, prolonged court challenges can create political instability, further eroding the public’s trust in the democratic process and could destabilize the country’s nascent democracy.

The judiciary must not be made into a source of ridicule by desperate politicians who use any means to secure favorable court orders in furtherance, not of public interests, but merely to scandalise opponents and purely for their selfish interests. The court has ruled that court litigation is not a game of chess where players outsmart each other through dexterity and traps. Rather, it is a contest through judicial process where the parties present their differing positions clearly, plainly, and without tricks.

Therefore political parties should respect the judiciary. They should not turn court litigation into a game of chess for their delight. Jumping from one court to the other with spurious claims is tantamount to undermining the court’s integrity. Besides, such a mischievous attitude could create disillusion among the voters. And if voters become disillusioned with the electoral process, they may be less likely to participate in future elections.

In particular, no matter the political pressure, our judges should not fall prey to the antics of selfish politicians and political parties. Like Caesar’s wife, judges should adorn the breastplate of integrity, transparency, discipline, impartiality, and honour in the discharge of their duties. They should not allow desperate politicians to derail the 2023 democratic process with spurious and questionable court litigations aimed at satisfying their selfish interests.

Our judges should be reminded that using court litigation to frustrate upcoming elections can have serious negative consequences for democracy and should be avoided. They should recall the public opprobrium that has attended, even now, the role of the court in a series of comical tragedies that culminated in the annulment of June 12, 1993 elections, regarded till today as the best election Nigeria ever conducted.

Our judges should understand that the judiciary is insulated from partisan politics. Therefore they should desist from issuing court orders that are capable of giving one political party undue advantage over the other or capable of eroding the public’s confidence in the judiciary as the common man’s last hope or capable of scuttling the entire 2023 democratic process.