Our Supreme Court has dared the gods again

By Casmir Igbokwe
Published: Sunday, 3 Feb 2008
LAST December, a court in Jharkhand, India, dared two Hindu gods over a disputed ownership of 1.4 acres of land housing two temples. Villagers reportedly claimed the land belonged to the two deities, Ram and Hanuman. Temple priest, Manmohan Pathak, claimed the land belonged to him. The dispute has raged for 20 years. Recently, the court sent two notices to the gods by a peon and a registered post, asking them to come and testify before it. But when the deities refused to appear (as the notices were returned after the gods could not be located), the judge was forced to put up adverts in local newspapers summoning them.

The Supreme Court of Nigeria may not have summoned any god to appear before it. But it has dared some tin gods in the country. Since the advent of the current democratic dispensation in 1999, the apex court has touched sacred cows. It has shown courage in its judgements and it has left worthy legacy that other arms of government should emulate.

Last Tuesday, the Court, in another progressive verdict, dismissed the application filed by the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the April 2007 gubernatorial election in Anambra State, Mr Andy Uba, seeking a reversal of the court‘s earlier ruling that declared Mr Peter Obi as the governor of the state. The Independent National Electoral Commission had declared Uba the winner of the election. And Uba had ruled for about two weeks before the judgement declared his purported election a nullity.

In the most recent judgement on the Anambra saga, the justices of the apex court descended heavily on one of the appellants and the Anambra gubernatorial candidate of the Nigeria Advance Party, Mr Ifeanyichukwu Okonkwo. The man alleged that Obi bribed him with N10m to withdraw his preliminary objections to his (Obi‘s) appeal in the Appeal Court. As Justice George Oguntade put it, “The sum total of your position is that you accepted money to withdraw from the case but later turned around to blackmail the governor and say that you have been compromised and asking the court to set aside the judgement. I have a feeling that you are one of those exploiting politicians and making things difficult for them to rule this country…You are a common crook. I think very little of you…I wonder where you derived the courage to come before us and ask us to set aside our judgement after you took bribe to compromise yourself… .”

It is regrettable that since the creation of Anambra State in 1991, some soup-guzzling elders have chosen to be stumbling blocks to its development. From the regime of the first military administrator, Navy Captain Joseph Abulu, to the present government, Anambra has not fully plucked the fruit of development. When Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife assumed office as the governor, he lamented that the state was naked. He promised to adorn it with clothes. He was still sewing the clothes, perhaps, when the military sacked the civilian government of that time. Chinwoke Mbadinuju later emerged as the governor in 1999. But some godfathers held him hostage. By the time he left in 2003, the state had become more violent and more backward. Dr Chris Ngige, who came in 2003, was able to achieve some of his developmental objectives because he distanced himself from some self-serving godfathers. Unfortunately, his was a mandate stolen from Peter Obi of the All Progressives Grand Alliance. It was that mandate that the Supreme Court restored to Obi and had him sworn in on 17 March 2006. The court later ruled that Obi would remain in office until March 17, 2010.

This judgement was what Uba wanted to reverse. The annoying thing is that some youths, who have been at the receiving end of the perfidy in the state, chose to play the devil‘s advocate. In October last year, for instance, some individuals claiming to be Ohaneze Ndi Igbo youths were reported to have expressed their joy and support for Uba‘s legal bid to have the Supreme Court reverse itself on the mandate it gave to Obi.

These characters cannot be true representatives of Igbo youths. Real youth leaders would have expressed concern over the number of their compatriots roaming the streets of major cities in search of non-existent jobs. Authentic youth leaders would have felt sad about the level of underdevelopment in the eastern part of Nigeria. They would have thought of how to contain the level of frustration among the youths, most of whom are migrating legally and illegally to London, New York, Angola, South Africa, Mozambique and other parts of the world.

Surely, the Supreme Court deserves commendation for restoring some hope in the polity called Nigeria. In 2002, the apex court, in its first landmark judgement, ruled in favour of 36 state governors in a suit they filed challenging a provision in the Electoral Act 2001, which attempted to extend the tenure of local government chairmen and councillors in the country from three to four years.

The Court also ruled against some provisions of the Electoral Act 2001 and the Independent National Electoral Commission guideline, which barred civil servants from joining or forming political parties. The Court declared that the restriction was against Sections 40 and 222 (b) of the 1999 Constitution, which guarantee the freedom of every person to assemble and associate with other persons, trade unions or political parties.

Nigerians still remember the intervention of the Supreme Court in the illegal seizure of the Lagos State council funds by the Federal Government during the regime of Olusegun Obasanjo; the voiding of the unlawful impeachment of such ex-governors as Chief Joshua Dariye of Plateau State, Alhaji Rashidi Ladoja of Oyo State and Obi of Anambra; the reversal of the disqualification of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar from contesting the presidential poll by INEC; the restoration of the mandate given to Senator Ifeanyi Araraume to contest the governorship position of Imo State on the platform of the PDP when the powers that be wanted to substitute him with Mr Charles Ugwu; and the sacking of Mr Celestine Omehia who posed as the governor of Rivers State when the rightful occupant of that seat should have been Mr Chibuike Amaechi.

The Nigerian judiciary, however, is not devoid of problems. In 2006, for instance, former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Alfa Belgore, had cause to lament that judges were collecting gratification in handling cases before them. The National Judicial Commission later dismissed some of these judges.

In all, let us all support our judiciary in its efforts to restore the integrity and quality of governance in this country. Let us back the Supreme Court so it can continue to deal with those playing God in our political circles. It is not yet time to sleep because the task ahead is still daunting. The watchword for all Nigerians should be eternal vigilance.

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