The recent leadership crisis which rocked the All Progressives Congress (APC) reopened a chapter that many Nigerians thought we might never see again. And that is the plethora of legal cases that trailed the leadership tussle in the nation’s ruling party. In recent times, the role the judiciary has played in helping to navigate thorny political matters has put them in the spotlight of sorts.
We recall that the battle between immediate past chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole and his estranged godson, Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State has sparked a crisis within the party. The battle which gravitated quickly into Obaseki’s disqualification from the APC primaries and subsequently his defection from the party, caused a whirlwind of legal cases which blew through the party after a Court of Appeal upheld Oshiomhole’s suspension as national chairman.
As the crisis nosedived into an intense tussle for control of the party’s national leadership, series of ex parte motions and rulings started flying around. The legal battles which started in Abuja, quickly moved to Rivers State where courts of concurrent jurisdiction were issuing counter rulings.
The legal rigmarole during the APC leadership crisis was worrisome in that it reminded Nigerians of the post-2015 leadership crisis within the former ruling party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which dragged for over a year. With the party sharply split between the Senator Ahmed Makarfi and Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, both camps, in the race to retain the leadership of the party, had resorted to the courts. As such, Nigerians witnessed a barrage of judgments and rulings from courts of same coordinate jurisdictions.
The situation at the time became so worrisome that it put the integrity of the judiciary on trial until the matter got to the chamber of the Supreme Court where a five-man panel of the apex court, in its unanimous judgment, reinstated the Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee, which was earlier sacked by the majority verdict of the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal on February 17, 2017.
While it took the Apex Court to intervene and restore order in the judicial cum political space, following the uproar caused by the conflicting judgements by the coordinate courts, Nigerians believed that that scenario would be the last of its kind going forward. Alas, it is obvious that no lesson was learnt. In the quest for victory at all cost, politicians will always be politicians, taking no prisoners.
The application of same tactics by politicians in the scenario that played out in the APC and the ease with which the judiciary granted their pleas showed that much more engagement needs to be done over this matter.
Although it took the intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari to ensure sanity in the judiciary cum political space, still, this newspaper is worried that some judges, as we have seen recently, would still oblige politicians who make, in some instances, demands from them that seem more like attempts to waste everybody’s time.
While some politicians, driven by inordinate ambition, will always seek to exploit the latitude that the judiciary provides, goaded by their lawyers for selfish pecuniary purposes, the expectation is that the temple of justice would be mindful of not being reduced to the level of such political actors.
As 2023 approaches, it goes without saying that politicians will become more daring and reckless in the pursuit of their ambitions. Expectedly, they will seek to manipulate the laws and the judiciary to achieve such aims. Given these circumstances, we are of the considered opinion that the judges will be firm and sensitive to the feelings of not just the politicians but also the populace who have started getting upset by what is going on in the guise of politics. The priests at the temple of justice must also realise that they have become an integral, albeit, indispensable arm of the entire exercise. They must, therefore, ensure that the sanctity of democracy vis-à-vis the rule of law is upheld.
We also call on the National Judicial Council (NJC) to be more proactive as the political treadmill begins to gather speed ahead of 2023 polls. We hope that the council will keep a keen eye on the activities of judges and ensure that they do not drag the judiciary into the murky waters of partisan politics.
It is our view that the entire judicial community will have an opportunity to reflect on how critical their role is in ensuring that our democracy is not ridiculed any further because of few bad elements within its fold.
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