By Zubairu Abbas
Evidently, the Nigerian electorate are set to exercise their franchise beginning with the Presidential and National Assembly elections this Saturday and the Governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections on February 2. But the snag is whether the judiciary, which is a key player in the electoral process, is ready to be seen to live above board.
The failure of the judiciary to dispense justice without fear or favour as well as assert its independence and incorruptibility will, no doubt, render the elections unacceptable as it will lack the essential element of being free and fair.
The crisis rocking the Zamfara state chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) tends to lend itself amenable to a judicial abracadabra and rigmarole, calling for immediate intervention in order to save this critical arm of government, which is the last hope of the common man, from ridicule and public opprobrium.
Unfolding events since the botched primaries of the APC in September last year, particularly the pronouncements of the courts and the brazen display of contempt by Governor Abdul’Aziz Yari, tend to suggest that the judiciary has been compromised and may not be trusted to be impartial in the Zamfara imbroglio.
The matter took a dangerous dimension on Monday when the three judges of the Appeal Court in Sokoto withdraw from the case challenging the judgement of the lower court which upheld the primaries of (APC) in Zamfara state over bribery allegation to the tune of $3 million.
One of the respondents, Kabiru Marafa, alleged that there was bribery allegation against the judges which made them lose confidence in them. Counsel to Senator Marafa, Barrister Muhammad Nuhu, alleged that there was a posting on social media platform, alleging that the judges had received three million dollars from one Kabiru Kamba to compromise. “Because of that my client is not comfortable with them. I urge the president of the Court of Appeal to constitute a new panel to entertain the case”.
Responding to the allegation, the presiding judge, Justice Ahmed Belgori, said they have decided to disqualify themselves from the case over the grievous allegation in view of the present situation in the judiciary and the country.
However, the judges had before withdrawing from the case, refused the application of the appellant, Aminu Sani Jaji, who wanted to withdraw the appeal. The panel held that he (Jaji) ought to have waited for the substantive hearing date before moving the application.
Reacting, Jaji, who represents Kauran Namoda-Birnin Magaji federal constituency, expressed shock over the ruling in an interview with newsmen. “I don’t know why they rejected my application. This is my case which I have the right to withdraw at any given time in line with the 2016 Court of Appeal order 11(1) which gives me all the power to withdraw any appeal but the judges, using their own parameter of judgement, decided to dishonour my application.”
According to him, the decision to withdraw the case was necessitated by the calls he received from all over the country.
“But to my candid surprise, it is my food, I ordered for it and I said I don’t want it but they said no I don’t have that power. So it sounds strange to me. So I asked “is this the kind of judiciary we have today, that somebody cannot exercise his birth right? That was the reason our lawyers said on our behalf we don’t have confidence on the judges because of what we saw on the social media and the privileged information we heard.”
Jaji, however, said they were ready to accept the verdict of the new panel and also cooperate with President Muhammadu Buhari in resolving the matter as long as the candidates picked by Governor Yari were not adopted as the flag bearers of APC in forthcoming elections in Zamfara state.
Two judicial infractions seem to have occurred in this matter. The first borders on the legality or moral justification for the judges to deny the appellant his right of the withdrawal of the appeal. This leaves one wondering whether the judges were acting in furtherance of bribery allegations against them, otherwise it is strange to law for one to be denied his right to an action he instituted in court without any explanation founded in law or morality. The second is the hastiness with which a new panel of judges was constituted to hear the appeal, which tends to suggest a pre-determined motive. This also probably lends credence to the bribery allegation.
It is instructive that eight governorship aspirants of the APC in Zamfara state have petitioned the National Judicial Council (NJC), calling for its urgent intervention in the matter. The aspirants were specifically focused on Governor Yari’s appeal on INEC’s decision not to accept his faction’s candidates for the polls. The aspirants, under the umbrella of G-8, are Senator Kabiru Garba Marafa; Zamfara state deputy governor, Malam Ibrahim Wakala; former governor of the state, Mahmud Aliyu Shinkafi, Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali; Hon. Aminu Sani Jaji; Engineer Abu Magaji; Dauda Lawal; and Mohammed Sagir Hamidu.
The aspirants had formed the G-8, following the crisis that trailed the APC’s primaries in the state as Governor Yari has insisted on his faction being the authentic group in the party. A Court of Appeal sitting in Sokoto had adjourned the appeal on APC candidates tussle to February 19, for hearing and abridged the time for the parties to file briefs. Two courts had given conflicting judgments on the matter on January 25. While a Federal High Court presided over by Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu held that INEC acted within its powers by refusing to accept list of candidates from a faction of the APC in Zamfara state, another judgement was delivered by Justice Muhammad Bello Shinkafi of the High Court in Gusau, Zamfara state, affirming that primaries were conducted and requested INEC to accept the candidates produced from the primaries.
However, INEC on January 30, after studying the two judgments, maintained its earlier position on the matter. Two sets of defendants in the case before the Zamfara state high court, Senator Marafa and Hon. Sani Jaji separately filed notices of appeal against the judgment.
This writer is in sync with members of the G-8 to the effect that it remains to be seen what course justice will take in the matter, especially in view of the decision reached by the Supreme Court on February 8, 2019, affirming that INEC was right to take a position not to allow APC field any candidates for violation of the conduct of party primaries in Zamfara state.
Abbas writes from Kaduna.