WEDNESDAY COLUMN BY USSIJU MEDANER
Setting aside fatal natural disasters, which are infrequent in Nigeria compared with some other nations, especially in the West, the main catastrophe impaling our existence and development as a country has been institutional failures which are many and abounding. Consistent institutional or government failure to do its basic duty, to organise state institutions to operate within the ambit of establishing rules has become the fundamental cause of the many anomalies that has been plaguing the nation Nigeria since independence.
Last week, I ruminated on the perennial failure of the nation’s healthcare delivery institution, but then, that isn’t an isolated case. It is a case study and a reflection of the entire institutions that make up the national system of Nigeria. The educational institution has been moribund and remains so for decades, having been plagued with embarrassing and incessant strike actions, low inputs and outputs, and a near general loss of interest in education by a large swathe of the population. The nation’s housing sector, infrastructural development, including power and energy production, and national social programmes are all down below minimum standards; after 63 years, it is still impossible for us to travel a full length of journey between any two states on a good road, talk less of across the regions. Though, it may take more than a couple of years for the big federal road and railway national projects to materialise and hereby address the preceding concern. The level of social integration is so weak that it has become nearly impossible for us to organise Nigerians as a united front for any purpose outside footballing. We lost control of the national security system up to the point that sections of the country have started getting used to living with bandits and other similar scourgers.
From independence, either by omission or intentional disposition, or even both, successive leaders of the country have taken the country through a part parallel to that which could have led to the attainment of real national developmental goals. Even when we were initially getting it right, such as agriculture, we deviated, until food security became alien to us. Today, the consequences of these failures stare us all in the face; government after government failing to do what is right and supposed to be done, and the consistent desires of government after government to keep paying more attention to, and pouring more resources to what should not have been be done at this stage of our national development. Hence, the beacon and primary cause of the nation’s institutional failures and citizens’ sufferings.
There has been a lot of public discourses over the years that touch on institutional failures as it affects the national democratic system. Coming from the 1963 elections, there have repeatedly been cases of malevolent politicians abusing and exploiting established procedures to personal ends, until the democratic landscape of Nigeria became inundated by money politics, gross violence, manipulation of the electoral umpires and even the neutrality of the judiciary has become a subject of public controversy. This got worse during the Obasanjo-led PDP government when these anomalies became a norm within the system to the extent that the 2007 presidential election result was announced while vote collation was still underway. And the situation has continued to get even worse.
The worst that has happened to us, is that even when some subset in the system attempts to turn a new leaf, public trust remains low. That is the reality of the current dispensation as it relates with INEC’s handling of the 2023 elections, and the judiciary’s constitutional intervention in the ensuing electoral litigations. And this, I understand, we have had the judiciary compromised in the past to deliver favourable judgments to the procurers. The powers that be had so many times in the past influenced the electoral umpire to pronounce their preferred winners. Those were indeed, dark days of Nigeria political development.
But we started noticing unprecedented changes in 2015, when the unthinkable and unbelievable began to happen in the Nigerian democratic environment; the erstwhile ruling party, PDP losing elections, at the federal and state levels. The primary reason APC could have won the 2015 presidential election, lost all its major strongholds in the 2023 elections, and why a number of sitting governors also lost the contest to move to the Senate while a number of unknown aspirants won a number of prime elective positions must largely be credited to the independence and neutrality of the election umpire more than any other factors; but apparently, many Nigerians, given the dismal antecedents, would not agree to that. Perhaps, in the future, this assertion may become clearer and widely accepted.
However, 2023 elections proves to be a complete manifestation of the darkness in some politicians and the extent they are willing to go to circumvent institutional processes and manipulate the same in order to win elections; and this has become a thorn in the national quest to salvage the battered image and public trust in both INEC and the judiciary. The highhandedness of politicians and political parties to bend the rules has, eventually after the elections, become the common grounds for the judicial annulment of a handful of victories and the attendant exchange of aspersions by the key institutions involved – INEC, the judiciary as well as the political parties and politicians.
At this point, I would state that the nation’s political party, as a core democratic institution has become a total departure from what a political party should be; because, rather than be a platform for a holistic electoral participation based on rules and respected standards, we now parade political parties that are mere collation of individuals that make it so easy for malevolent politicians to find their way – to buy their way apparently – to contest and win elections. Of course, intra-party rancours, leading to political parties going into elections without appropriate lawful structure, without complying with the rules of the game, for instance, failure to constitute proper party excos at the state level, and the acceptance of nonmembers, the last minute carpetbaggers to jump in to pick party nominations with such abandonment as witnessed in the last election cycle in the country; and a host of other anomalies that characterised the operations of political parties and managers of political parties in the country, has added to the dent on the institution, and by extension, INEC and the judiciary that interface with the nation’s democracy and political system.
Take for instance, what transpired in Plateau State PDP prior to the 2023 elections. A court sitting in Jos had mandated the party to put its house in order and organise legitimate party congresses to produce legitimate party officials in the state, but either by omission or sheer impunity, the party called the bluff of the court and proceeded with a divided house and without a recognised, compliant party structure to present apparently illegitimate candidates for elective positions in clear contravention of constitutional provisions. And now, that the court was left with no option but to declare all votes for the party candidates in the state wasted, and equally handing over their respective victories to the party that trails behind in the election, being the APC, all hell is let loose on the judiciary.
But what would we have the judiciary do? To look the other way from the constitution and the electoral law to shield itself from public battering? I don’t think so. At the cost of losing its public image, occasioned by politicians’ orchestrated public attacks, the court can only do one thing, stand strong on the shoulders of justice. Just like the words of the Chief Justice of the Federation of Nigeria, ‘’the judiciary must be determined not to be overwhelmed by the sentiments of the “mob” in their decisions. The law is the law; public sentiments and opinions would always run riot in its attempt to sway the court from doing its due diligence in determination of cases brought before it. Sentiments or emotions can never take the place of the law in deciding cases.“ The law remains the law, no matter whose interest is involved.
The same judiciary was the one that stripped the ruling APC from the ballot in Rivers State in 2019, it was the same court that sacked the APC’s governor-elect in Bayelsa State four years ago, the same judiciary, took away all the spoils of victory from APC in Zamfara state in the same 2019; all for reasons that are backed by the electoral laws and the constitution. Then, the judiciary was doing well, and well praised for being neutral. What suddenly happens now, that the same judiciary that did so well four years ago, is suddenly being battered for doing the same thing.
The problem is not the judiciary and not even the ignorant mob followers on the street, but the desperate political parties and politicians who would go to all lengths to mobilise the people against the system for personal gains. We are where we are today, because the same politicians who create the problems the judiciary is resolving are the same spewing propaganda and mobilising attacks against the courts and its justices. The problem is the bastardisation of the national democratic institutions by malevolent political players. This does not exclude even lawyers, who should understand the law and stay on the side of the integrity of the court, but who have for reasons ranging from ‘stomach infrastructure’ to emotional hatred for individuals or certain political party, have become elements of destabilisation of the system as they erroneously interpret laws to suit their pleasing narrations and interests.
Imagine someone learned lawyers insisting the various judgments of the past weeks that sacked a couple of elected governors and members of the National Assembly are miscarriages of justice. Even after clear explanations of the stand of the law on each case by the justices of the courts. These lawyers should know better that an elected governor who was not a member of the party that nominated him for the position, to the extent that the party membership register that was submitted to INEC before the latter’s deadline did not contain his name – as tendered in evidence in the court – would only remain a governor if no one approaches the court to remove him. The same learned lawyers should have known that error in written judgement, respectfully taking care of by the doctrine known as the Slip Rule, would be irrelevant in the face of court proceedings that state the true position of the verdict; yet, they chose to mislead their clients and maintain position that incites public outcry from people who are apparently misinformed about the position of the court.
The people, who today constitute the Obidient mob, see the country’s systems as enemies that must be brought down by all means, just as the politicians who were able to successfully mobilise them; all successful because our systems are broken and present cracks for them to operate with ease. This is just but the beginning; malevolent politicians would continue to contravene and circumvent the electoral process and internal political party rules of conduct, and both INEC and the court would continue to take expected lawful and hard decisions. The dismal circle will continue given the laxed environment until our systems and institutions are reformed and sanity is established to make our body politic thrive as it should for the nation.
Until then, the sociopolitical and democratic institutional degradation would continue and the hitting on INEC, the court, and the image of Nigeria in the global age of information would increase. Is there a way or ways out? Definitely, there are solutions pathways. Politics as an institution, as a platform provides room for the consideration of ideas, solutions and negotiations. Having more political engagements, participants and new candidate solutions to the institutional challenges are considerations for Nigerian leaders as well as the general public to begin earnest consideration.
GOD BLESS THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA !