Bayelsa: The judiciary, politicians and the electorate

On February 14, a day remarkably known as Valentine’s Day, God taught us a very big lesson about the awesomeness of His power to decree things beyond our reasoning and imagination.

It was an unprecedented game of hope, expectation and outcome in Bayelsa State on February 14. I pity the governor-elect, David Lyon. No matter how stoic he might have been before the cookies crumbled, he must have melted lie snow the moment news filtered in that he would no longer be sworn-in as the governor less than 24 hours when he had thought his mounting the rostrum of leadership in the state was a done deal.

I’m not sure how optimistic Senator Douye Diri was but despite the fact that the average Nigerian politician is an incurable optimist, I doubt if he could beat his chest with utmost certainty that he would laugh last after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had declared Lyon as the winner of the election.

I wondered what the state of Lyon’s mind was when he alighted from the military vehicle he was using for rehearsal for his inauguration when he heard that the table had turned against him.

Even if he were to be a superhuman being, there was no way he could have slept well that night and that was if he slept at all. It must have been a long and nightmarish night for him.

Report had it that his supporters, politicians and hangers-on who had converged on the residence of the governor-elect soon fizzled out and the residence, which had turned into a pilgrimage land suddenly became desolate within minutes after the court’s verdict and attention shifted to Senator Diri’s house.

Those who had abandoned Diri quickly ran to the man who now has the knife and yam. Perhaps, the Yoruba had a situation like this in mind when they came up with a proverb that: “human beings will only lick the hand that is soiled in Palm oil while they will ignore the hand that has blood stains. Politics in Nigeria is mostly about where bread will be buttered.

While I pity Lyon, I sympathise more with the electorate in the oil-rich state who actually voted for Lyon according to the results released by the INEC. But because law is what it is and not what it ought to be, the votes cast for Lyon cannot stand. Allowing the votes to count will amount to Lyon and his party profitting from illegality.

The All Progressives Congress (APC) should blame itself for presenting an unfit and improper candidate in the person of Bobarakuma Degi-Eremieyo. I hope I got the name right. Lyon and that fellow ran a joint ticket.

So, it was not a case of visiting the sin of Lyon on Degi-Eremieyo. It was a joint sin sanctioned by their party, the APC, which presented them as its candidates.

So, the party shot itself in the leg by not screening its candidates well before presenting them to INEC. The fraudulent presentation made by the APC cannot stand in the face of the law.

This is what the Supreme Court did. It is normal that praises and criticisms trail judicial pronouncements. Losers will always see unfavorable judgments/ rulings in bad light while winners will always go to town with the mantra: “judiciary is the last hope of the common man.” The year 2016 was a bad year for the judiciary.

In October of the year, the Department of State Security (DSS) in “sting operations” raided the home of some judges and arrested seven of them including two from the Supreme Court. During the raid,the DSS claimed it recovered N366 million from the houses of three of those judges.

Some took this to be a sad reminder of the alarm raised in the past by a former Supreme Court Justice, the late Kayode Esho, that there were dirty men in the temple of justice.

To this category of people, the raid and its attendant consequences confirmed that not all our judges go to equity with clean hands. Yet, to others, it was meant to cow the judiciary and vitiate its independence by the Buhari administration.

This set of people even ridiculously felt if there are established cases of corruption against judges; they should be left alone just to maintain the independence of that arm of government. But Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, the late dad of Charly Boy and one of the finest justices to have sat on the Supreme Court’s bench said this about corrupt judges: “if you are a judge and you are corrupt, where do we go from here? Then everything has come to a halt. If the legislature is corrupt, you go to the judiciary for redress. If the executive is corrupt, you go to the judiciary for remedy.

If the judiciary itself is corrupt, where do we go from here?” There are bad judges in the temple of justice just as there are good people in the inner Chambers.

This is not to say we should cast aspersions on the entire judiciary and label all judges as corrupt whenever the decision of a court does not sit well with us. It is even sad when lawyers come on national television to lambast judges instead of proceeding on appeal as recognised under our judicial system.

This is the way to go instead of throwing judges under the bus once a judgment or ruling is not “favourable.” If lawyers who are “learned” disparage judges, then we should expect the worse from those of us who are not “learned.”

There was no basis for what happened at the residence of Justice Mary Odili on Tuesday. But that foundation was laid by the garrulous APC Chairman, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, who made uncomplimentary remarks after the Supreme Court sacked Lyon as the governor-elect for running a joint ticket with an unfit and a fraudulent candidate.

If the APC cannot use judicial means to upturn the verdict, then Oshiomhole and his members should go home to mourn their losses instead of heating up the polity by whipping up sentiment against a judge or the entire judiciary. Oshiomhole and his ilk should find out a better way of addressing the issue.

For now, the attempt by the APC to foist a fraudulent candidate on the Bayelsa electorate and smuggle the man into our political space and have him feed fat on taxpayers’ money has failed. And this remains the position of the law for now. What happened at the residence of Justice Odili is a real threat to the independence of the judiciary.

The police should investigate the protest with a view to bringing the sponsors and the dramatis personae who took part in the show of shame to book. This will send a strong signal that the judiciary cannot and should not be intimidated.

The Supreme Court has an internal mechanism to reverse itself if it actually erred when it delivered its judgment on the Bayelsa election or any other election.

A situation whereby litigants behave like a bear with a sore head cannot be right and it portends a grave danger for our judges. Once parties submitted themselves to the judiciary processes, then the outcomes should be binding without prejudice to window of opportunities to reject judicial outcomes using only known legal means.

A known method does not include protesting at the residence of a judge. If this is not checked, it is a matter of time before judges will be physically attacked or killed for not giving a perceived ‘favourable’ judgment. People have the right to protest but not in the manner of what happened on Tuesday at the residence of a judge. Our judges should not be intimidated or blackmailed. If there is an established case of corruption against a judge, it should be dealt with on its merit. The judiciary did not shortchange the electorate in Bayelsa State; they were actually shortchanged by the APC. Why put the blame at the doorstep of Justice Odili or any judge for that matter? If the judiciary was ‘good’ to the APC in Imo, then we cannot turn around to say it was ‘bad’ to the same party in Bayelsa. However, I can’t wait to see how things will pan out in Imo and Bayelsa states at the end of the day. This seeming confusion should be resolved as this will set a precedent that will strengthen our democracy in the long run. So, let the aggrieved parties go to court and not instigate people against the judiciary. This is the civilised way to go.

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