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How court decisions, INEC’s shortcomings may endanger Nigeria’s democracy

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Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Photo; TWITTER/INECNIGERIA

If there is anything that poses threat to the continuous existence of democratic governance in Nigeria aside from the rising spate of insecurity and the dangerous trend of distrust among ethnic nationalities in recent times, the rate at which the Supreme Court now decides election outcomes and the perceived shortcomings of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are of major concern.
 
As a matter of fact, the verdicts of the Supreme Court in the isolated governorship elections of Osun State held in September 2018, the Imo and Bayelsa State governorship polls and the conduct of INEC in the Kogi State exercise have continued to give political pundits and legal luminaries worry over the fate of Nigeria’s democracy should the trend continue.
 
Although, a former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olabode George recently raised the alarm that with the way the Mahmoud Yakubu-led INEC had conducted itself since it took over from the erstwhile chairman of the commission, Prof. Attahiru Jega in 2015 has not only left much to be desired, “it is also a threat to elections and the umpire need to be scrapped and reorganised.”
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Several other Nigerians, using the Bayelsa and Imo states governorship elections and the final verdict of the apex court as a peg, also expressed concern that Nigerian courts are gradually taking over the role of the election umpire, especially when it comes to determining winners in many contests.
 
While it is also of importance that the desperations of contestants and lack of internal democracy in political parties are not helping the election procedures as once noted by INEC chairman shortly before the November 2019 governorship election in Kogi State, the application of violent and financial inducement before, during and after elections seem to be contributing immensely to the possible threat facing Nigeria’s democratic governance. Although, civil rule has managed to thrive since 1999 in Nigeria, the longest the country has ever witnessed, “for how long it can be sustained under this situation is however not certain,” says the National Chairman, African Democratic Congress, Chief Ralph Nwosu.
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Speaking on the apex court’s judgment in the Bayelsa election, a Port Harcourt-based lawyer, Mr. Festus Oguche, faulted the Supreme Court for being inconsistent in its decisions. 
 
In the judgment delivered last Thursday that sacked the All Progressives Congress (APC) governor-elect in the November 16, 2019, governorship election in Bayelsa State, Mr. David Lyon and instead declared Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Senator Duoye Diri winner following PDP’s appeal at the apex court challenging the joint candidature of Lyon and his running mate, Biobarakuma Degi-Eriemienyo, on the grounds of alleged certificate forgery, Oguche blamed both the APC and INEC for failing in their duties to effect proper screening of candidates before bringing them out for election.
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The legal practitioner, however, maintained that the apex court ought to have recalled its earlier judgment that brought Yahaha Bello of Kogi State to power.
 
He said: “I don’t know where to place my blame, whether on the political party (APC), or on the screening committee of INEC. But in all, it gives credence to the recommendations of Justice Mohammed Uwais committee on electoral reforms, which states that there should be a Political Party Registration and Regulations Commission.   
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“With such a committee, this kind of screening would not have taken place. They would have had a better screening exercise so that the right people would be brought forward.”

He noted that Supreme Court decision was received across the board with mixed feelings “because while in the Honourable James Faleke and Audu Abubakar’s case, the court separated the deputy governor from the governor.

“The court refused to give it to Faleke on the ground that he was not the governorship candidate but the deputy. But in this judgment, the same Supreme Court joined them. Now, the governor who won the election in this election is suffering for the sin of his running mate. So, there is no consistency on the issue of qualifications.
 

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“In President Muhammadu Buhari’s case, the issue of certificate was downgraded seriously. It tells you that there is a somersault in principle of the apex court. The decision of the Supreme Court in the Bayelsa State judgment gave credence to the fact that certificate was one of the factors through which a candidate can pursue his aspirations, but it was treated as if it was not important at all in the petition against President Buhari. But here again, there are saying that the deputy gubernatorial candidate forged certificate.”
 
He explained that while President Muhammadu Buhari was not said to have forged his certificate, he did not present any. “Although he deposed to an affidavit that he has certificate without attaching it. He even said the certificate was with the army but the army came out openly to say that his certificate was not in their possession.
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“Is there any difference between that and forgery? So, there should be consistency in decisions”, he stated.
   
“Also, INEC ought to have excluded the political party from the ballot. The people of Bayelsa State have elected their candidate but the Supreme Court and INEC have subverted their choice.”
 
As the Supreme Court will be sitting over the Imo State governorship election today to re-examine its earlier decision, a group of human rights lawyers have urged the apex court to reverse itself and to order INEC to conduct a rerun election for the candidate of APC, Governor Hope Uzordima and the ousted governor, Emeka Ihedioha of PDP.
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The body, which consists of Movement for the Advancement of Democracy in collaboration with Cadrell Advocacy Centre, Youth Arise for Nigeria and Constitutional Rights Advocacy Initiative, said Uzodinma whom the apex court awarded victory also did not meet the same provisions of S. 179(2) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) for which the court nullified Ihedioha’s victory.
   
In an address titled, ‘Imo Guber: Why the Supreme Court ought to have ordered a Re-election,’ a legal practitioner, Mr. Liborous Oshoma, said while the group agreed with the position of the National Chairman of APC, Adams Oshiomhole, on why INEC ought not to have declared Ihedioha as governor of Imo State, has not met the requirements of S. 179(2) of the 1999 Constitution, “we also need to add that by the same token, the declaration by the Supreme Court of Uzodinma as winner of the election is also unconstitutional, not having met the same provisions of S. 179(2) of the constitution.”
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Oshoma, who spoke on behalf of other human rights and constitutional lawyers, Evans Ufeli, Fred Nzeako, Jimmy Abia, Uche Ihemanma, Gideon Umoh, Victor Akpata, and Georges McNobson, said, “An examination of Section 179 (2) (a) and (b) of the Amended 1999 Constitution provides that, for a candidate to be declared as duly elected, he or she not only has to have the highest number of valid votes but also should have a spread of 25 per cent of the votes in two-thirds (2/3) of the local governments in a state: specifically it provides that a candidate for an election to the office of a governor of a state shall be deemed to have been duly elected where, there being two or more candidates – (a) he has the highest number of votes cast at the election; and – (b) he has not less than one-quarter of all the votes cast in each of at least two-thirds of all the local government areas in the State.
 
“These statutes are the unambiguous requisites for the declaration of a winner in a governorship election. From available facts, whereas 25 per cent of votes in 18 local government are the minimum requirements to emerge as governor in Imo state, and whereas Emeka lhedioha only secured 25 per cent in 14 local governments and ought not to have been returned in the first place, shockingly, Senator Hope Uzodinma who secured 25 per cent only in two local governments of Oru East and Oru west was declared by the Supreme Court as a governor on the basis of simple majority controversial votes from 388 units without consideration of the constitutional requirement of spread despite  the concurrent findings of both Tribunal and Appeal court.”
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Giving the breakdown, Oshoma said in Uzoinma Oru East, he scored 64.2 per cent of the votes (not surprising because he is from this LGA), while in Oru West he scored 27 per cent of the votes according to the records of INEC available to all contesting parties in the election. His other significant scores still below 25 per cent were in Ideato North, where he scored 22.9 per cent and Orsu Local Government where he scored 22.5 per cent of the votes respectively “From these figures, it is clear that Senator Hope Uzodinma’s declaration as the winner by the Supreme Court is unconstitutional, null and void by virtue of sections 179 (2) (b) of the constitution. Whilst it is already a notorious fact as noted above that Emeka Ihedioha of the PDP did not also meet the constitutional spread required by S. 179(2) of the constitution having scored 25 per cent in only 14 out of 27 local government areas, the Supreme Court did not reflect in any paragraph, in its entire judgment, the particular local government areas where the candidate of the APC met the 25 per cent threshold.  This in itself is a tragedy and fundamental error in the judgment that negates the minimum constitutional threshold.
   
He added: “We are of the firm view that to save our constitutional democracy from this unprecedented precedent of declaring someone a governor with just two local governments where such a candidate secured 25 per cent of votes in less than the constitutionality required threshold, the apex court should as a matter necessity set aside that judgment on the ground that the judgment itself is a nullity, having not satisfied the clear provisions of the constitution, which renders the Uzodima’s government unconstitutional.
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Meanwhile a group of elders in Imo, led by Chief John Enyogosi, have advised that the Supreme Court judgment, which ousted Ihedioha and installed Uzodinma should be respected by the entire people of the state.
   
The group, which identified itself as Imo State Elders’ Council, posited that the apex court verdict was in the overall interest of the state.
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But a political pressure group, Concerned Nigerians, has raised the alarm over alleged plan by the Supreme Court to use the same panel that nullified Imo election to review it today. 
 
The group, led by its convener, Comrade Deji Adeyanju, berated the court for ridiculing itself to the extent where citizens would question its judgment.
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Adeyanju said, “they have decided to fix both Zamfara and Imo review on Tuesday (today) so they can strike a political balance.
 
National spokesman of one of the deregistered political parties, Abundant Nigerian Renewal Party (ANRP), Akume Sesugh warned that the rate at which winners of election or democratic wishes of the Nigerian electorate are being determined in the courts is worrisome and might further encourage voters’ apathy. 
 
According to him, “No country has ever built its solid democracy in a situation where the court is the final determinant of election results.”
 
The development has, however, triggered a renewed call on President Buhari to sign the New Electoral Amendment Act into law.

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