By Michael Chibuzo
Following the recent judgments of the Appeal Court nullifying the election of Governor Abba Yusuf of Kano State and Governor Caleb Muftwang of Plateau State over issues bothering on their eligibility to stand for election in the first place, many commentators (mostly disgruntled supporters of the ousted political parties) have expressed worry that our democracy is fast turning to what they call ‘judiciocracy’.
Their reason is hinged on what they argue is the increasing manner in which the judiciary tend to decide winners of elections instead of the voters. They contend that a situation where the courts are the final determinants of election winners is no longer democracy but judiciocracy, which they say is making mockery of elections. Some even accuse the APC-led government of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu of influencing the judiciary to upturn these elections.
Curiously this category of people who are vocal with their disapproval with the increasing influence of the judiciary on our elections are opponents of the ruling All Progressives Congress. In 2019, APC even as a ruling party was at the receiving end of the judicial hammer. The courts prevented the APC from fielding NASS, governorship and state assembly candidates in Rivers State due to the nullification of the APC congresses in Rivers State which produced delegates for the various APC primaries in the state. These opponents of APC celebrated the Supreme Court judgment and hailed the apex Court as the defender of democracy.
The case of Zamfara was more brutal for the APC in the same 2019. APC candidates in the governorship, NASS and state assembly elections were disqualified after they had emerged victorious in the general election, with first runners-up in the various elections being declared winners. The Supreme Court held that APC did not carry out a valid primary before the INEC October 7, 2019 deadline for conduct of primaries.
During the governorship election, APC’s candidate Mukhtar Shehu Idris polled 534,541 votes to defeat PDP’s Bello Matawalle who got only 189,452 votes. The margin of victory in the Zamfara guber election was 345,089 votes. In the end the Supreme Court declared Bello Matawalle as the duly elected governor of Zamfara State. The 534,541 votes garnered by APC were deemed wasted. PDP and other anti-APC supporters hailed the judiciary to high heavens.
The most heartbreaking of them all was in Bayelsa State where on February 13, 2020 the Supreme Court sacked David Lyon of the All Progressive Congress (APC) as governor-elect of Bayelsa State, barely 24 hours to his inauguration on the grounds that his deputy, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, presented false information to INEC in aid of his qualification for the November 16, 2019 governorship election in the State.
David Lyon had won the election after polling 352,552 votes becoming the first opposition party candidate to win a governorship election in Bayelsa State since 1999. His closest rival, Duoye Diri of the PDP polled only 143,172 votes. The Supreme Court declared Lyon’s 352,552 votes as wasted and declared Diri with 143,172 votes as Governor-Elect. He was sworn in the next day.
PDP and opponents of the APC were drowned in euphoria with the miraculous victory handed to Diri by the apex court. To them judiciary became the beacon of Nigeria’s democracy and the last hope of the common man. There was nothing like judiciocracy in their dictionary at that time. APC on the other hand accepted their fate in Zamfara, Rivers and Bayelsa states and licked their self-inflicted wounds quietly. They learnt a valuable lesson.
In 2023, the table turned in Plateau State with the PDP now on the receiving side following their failure to obey a court order mandating it to conduct fresh congresses to elect its State Executive Committee in 2020 – the fallout of a battle for the soul of PDP between two PDP heavyweights in the state, Jonah Jang and Jeremiah Useni.
Despite suffering judicial losses at the Appeal Court on two occasions (one of which shut out PDP from participating in the 9th October, 2021 local government elections while the other resulted in the PDP losing the Jos North/Bassa House of Reps seat it won in a by-election to the PRP candidate), the Plateau PDP failed to obey the existing 2020 court order and went ahead to use Caretaker Committee to conduct primaries for all its candidates in the 2023 general elections.
This act of disobedience to court has now cost the PDP the governorship seat as well as the national and state assembly seats they won in the 2023 general elections. It is hypocritical for PDP and their younger cousins in LP and other anti-APC elements to point accusing fingers at the APC or the judiciary. This is simply the rule of law taking its course.
In Kano State, it is a similar case of not following simple laid down electoral regulations. This time around NNPP and Abba Yusuf are the culprits. Although the Kano guber issue is two-fold, the one that borders on ineligibility to contest the election is the contention by the petitioner that at the time of his nomination as governorship candidate of the NNPP in Kano State, Abba Yusuf was not a member of the NNPP. This is serious and strikes at the heart of Section 177(c) of the Constitution which dwells on qualification to contest for the office of the governor.
That NNPP chose to give its governorship ticket to a non-member is not the fault of the APC or the judiciary. It is crass disobedience to the clear provisions of the Constitution and the electoral act. It has gone beyond internal party affair that deals with nomination. This is a matter of constitutional eligibility to contest and if a candidate allegedly fails to meet any of the requirements, his/her opponents have the locus standi to seek his/her disqualification. This is simply what happened to NNPP and Abba Yusuf and not judicial interference in elections or judiciocracy.
The cases of Kano and Plateau are normal punishments meted out to actors who disobey the law. It is the duty of the judiciary in a democracy to uphold the rule of law. If the actors, in this case, political parties and their membership, fail to follow the law, it becomes a direct challenge to the supremacy of the law and at that point, the judiciary must come to the defence of the supremacy of the law.
It is not enough to vote in a democracy. Even though voting and freedom to choose is the central pillar of democracy, it is not the sole determinant of legitimacy. The lawful processes that precede voting and come after voting is crucial to conferring legitimacy to the product of the voting itself. The judiciary is the body vested with the power to scrutinise these pre-voting and post-voting legal processes.
Therefore it is safe for me to define judiciocracy as the judicial scrutiny to ascertain compliance to the various legal processes that take place before and after election in a democracy. Any non-compliance is visited with a correction, which can also be seen as a punishment to the defaulting party. To this end I appeal to the ‘democracy in danger’ town criers to understand that the increasing reign of judiciocracy in Nigeria is not a danger to democracy at all but on the contrary a necessary antidote to all forms of democratic disobedience!