The Supreme Court and the ordinary man

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Not many people know my uncle, Sir Ajayi Edobor that I often refer to in this column because of his impact on me as a young man. It was from him I learnt the technique of the communication of the deaf which I later found to be popular in government which behaves as if it does not hear what the people say. He has in earnest always served as my ever-ready barometer for measuring how the ordinary man sees every government policy. A casual phone call yesterday to Uncle Ajayi automatically modified the envisaged topic of this week’s article into a look at the series of election petitions handled by our Supreme Court. His answer to hello uncle was; is every judge in this country now mad? Although I was myself slightly jolted over the series of decisions by the apex court concerning governorship elections in some states, I imagined that the speed with which the decisions were made was helpful to the polity as it could mitigate the distraction to governance which prolonged litigation often caused. When I canvassed this in our telephone chat, the following questions which uncle Ajayi asked showed he was just not impressed. The first question was: my boy as he still calls me, are you sure the judges who decided the governorship election cases are Nigerians? I confirmed that they all are. Second, do the judges live in this country? Again I said yes. Third, could it then be that they delivered the judgments to satisfy the wish of the President? When I explained that the decisions were not in favour of the President’s political party, he concluded that the justices must have been materially influenced. I couldn’t answer that because I won’t be able to prove that the judges accepted or rejected bribe. In fact since the case of Justice Salami over the Sokoto governorship case, I have learnt not to be involved. Another question I could not answer was whether or not the judges have television sets in their homes and whether they watched media coverage of the elections in which all types of electoral malpractices were televised. Whereas, I can imagine that a judge can afford a television set, whether judges watched the 2015 election coverage or not is a different ball game. Indeed, I don’t know any Supreme Court justice, let alone where they leave or their television viewership profile. What I know however is that judges are not expected to deliver spectator judgments; rather they are to deal with issues as formulated and canvassed by the parties who bring up such issues before them for resolution. So, it is probably unfair to expect them to make decisions which rationalize what the ordinary man feels, knows and thinks. As if I am part of the judiciary, this last explanation annoyed uncle Ajayi so much that he banged the phone on me with the exclamation: why then do you educated people say the judiciary is the last hope of the common man? If the truth must be told, many ordinary folks like my uncle have a right to be upset not because of who lost or won cases as decided but because of the awkwardness of our inherited justice system that heals no wounds. Besides, the impact which our hopeless election process imposes on the ordinary man is unquantifiable as many families lost their loved ones to election violence. Can anyone convince such families that the quantum of electoral malpractices which always occur in the presence of our armed security operatives during elections do not matter? While it is true that politicians tell so much lies about the conduct of an election to suit themselves, we all saw the charade in states like Akwa Ibom and Rivers that INEC ended up accepting as elections. How can anyone be allowed to become a winner of such bedeviled contests? It is patently unfair to blame the ordinary man for having no faith in judgments at whatever level that purport to resolve the disputes. Those were no elections and someone needs to tell our judges that they can convince neither the common man nor the elite to the contrary. Instead, the decisions are awkward and at best meet technical justice which our judiciary often says is unacceptable. Indeed, we already have evidence that many ‘Ogas’ are astonished by the latest judicial pronouncements on elections. Chief John Odigie Oyegun, National Chairman of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) said so point blank a few days ago. Speaking at a meeting with a delegation of his party from Rivers state, Oyegun, who expressed shock over the ruling of the Supreme Court, said there was “something fundamentally wrong in the judiciary” which ought to be investigated. In earnest, the fundamental issue has to be resolved before it consumes us. Today, everyone seems to have put behind him the story of how Rotimi Amaechi our present Minister of Transport was elected Governor of Rivers State by the Supreme Court. The latter had its way without explaining to us how voters cast their ballots for Amaechi who did not contest the election. We were told that because Amaechi ought to have been the rightful candidate, those who voted for Celestine Omehia imagined that it was Amaechi’s name and photographs they saw while voting. That the contraption can consume us easily lies in the fact that people are being encouraged to win an election by any means and then proceed to validate it in the courts in due course. What this suggests is that perhaps there is merit in the argument of those who feel that our courts are incapable of resolving disputes when they concern elections. Perhaps, it is time to listen to those who feel the judiciary is due for investigation because even among its own members, there are certain issues that ought not to be overlooked. The other day, a retiring judge, the Hon. Justice Okechukwu Okeke said he would “like to be remembered as a victim of injustice in the Nigerian Judiciary.” Hmmm!!!

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