Chris Okotie: Is President Jonathan obstructing the rule of law?

by Chris Okotie


However, INEC has since July 29, 2013 when the judgment was passed, refused to recertify our party as required by law. The implication is that FRESH would not participate in any future elections, as the name and logo of the party are not on the ballot papers.

Respect for the rule of law was the leadership mantra that the late President Umaru Yar’Adua brought to his Presidency when he assumed office with his vice-president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, in 2007. This policy posture was widely applauded. It was, therefore, no surprise that the political class rose stoutly to resist a powerful cabal that tried to prevent the then vice-president Jonathan from taking over the Presidency, albeit, in acting capacity, when Yar’Adua became terminally ill and incapable of governing the country.

It will be recalled that in the confusion that followed the power vacuum created by Yar’Adua’s long absence from office, a clique opposed to the then vice-president Jonathan tried to frustrate his succession. The civil society played a leading role in inspiring the Doctrine of Necessity which the National Assembly invoked to appoint him as Acting President, to the relief of the nation. The rest, they say, is history. What we cannot forget in a hurry is that Jonathan rode to power on the wings of the rule of law and justice.

Therefore, it was natural to demand that strict obedience to the rule of law should be the signage of Jonathan’s Presidency; that was what brought him to power in the first instance; and he must never forget that. Unfortunately, he seems not to remember. Human memory is so short. It is unbelievable that this President, who was literally given power by lawmakers, and the civil society could tolerate the reign of impunity that has characterised his administration, especially in the area of abuse of court processes; and the refusal of his government’s functionaries to obey the rule of law.

The latest action of government in its disregard for the rule of law is the case involving the Fresh Democratic Party which I have the privilege to lead, and the Independent National Electoral Commission. Although this matter has been in the public domain for almost a year, I had deliberately refused to comment on the matter because the media and a section of the human rights community have taken up the gauntlet by challenging the Commission’s brazen assault on the rule of law.

I’d do a brief recap to refresh the memory of the public on the details of this case. FRESH was one of the 28 political parties deregistered by INEC in December 2012 for failing to win at least a seat in the State or National Assembly as required by Section 78(7)(ii) of the Electoral Amendment Act, 2010. We went to court and won a verdict delivered by Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court 5, Abuja Division, which not only nullified the deregistration, but the judge also averred that the legislation negates Section 222 of the constitution, which stipulates qualifications for registration of political parties.

However, INEC has since July 29, 2013 when the judgment was passed, refused to recertify our party as required by law. The implication is that FRESH would not participate in any future elections, as the name and logo of the party are not on the ballot papers.

INEC’s response to the court verdict is that we should re-apply for registration, which for us, is totally unacceptable. The commission has ignored entreaties by various pressure groups, including the civil society organisations and the media to accept the court judgment and do the needful.

Instead, there’s a new proposal before the National Assembly to re-amend the offensive Electoral Act 2010 to empower INEC to deregister what has been called “non-performing parties”. This proposed bill is a red herring and is, therefore, dead on arrival, because the lawmakers cannot legislate on a matter which a court of competent jurisdiction had declared unconstitutional, null and void. Besides, the National Assembly is a defendant in this case, which makes its attempt to shoot down the FRESH verdict by legislation, unfair.

The issue of the Electoral Act which empowers INEC to deregister political parties is a constitutional matter. Our party took the appropriate step when we sought the interpretation of the court on the legality of that Act, particularly Section 78(7)(ii) of the Electoral Act which INEC invoked to deregister political parties. Justice Kolawole’s judgment was a direct, unambiguous declaration that the National Assembly exceeded its mandate by making a law that offends Section 222 of the constitution which deals with fundamental human rights and freedom of association.

But beyond all that, the fact is that for the three arms of government – executive, the legislature and judiciary – the separation of powers is the artery that sustains the life blood of any credible democracy. This must never be lost on the key operators of our young democracy. In any dispute pertaining to legal interpretation of contentious legislation or implementation of judicial decisions, it is the duty of the courts as the oracles of jurisprudence to give the final word which all parties to a dispute must accept. The FRESH victory can, therefore, not be tossed around within the three arms zone, like a can down the road.

It is on record that some controversial governorship elections under this dispensation had to be resolved by the Court of Appeal. That was how Peter Obi, Rauf Aregbesola, Kayode Fayemi, and Adams Oshiomhole, won their governorship seats. This is not without precedent. In the tumultuous Presidential election of the Second Republic in 1979, which was supervised by Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo’s military regime, the National Party of Nigeria candidate, Alhaji Shehu Shagari and the Unity Party of Nigera’s Chief Obafemi Awolowo were locked in a dispute over what constituted twelve-two thirds of the then 19 states which a candidate needed to win to be declared President.

The polls recorded no clear winner due to the odd number of the state structure. Shagari actually had 2/3 of the votes in 12 states plus a fraction in the 13th state. But because the NPN flag bearer didn’t win the 13th state outright, the matter went to the Supreme Court which gave the landmark verdict in favour of Shagari and that was how he became the President.

Even under military dictatorships, there was still some level of respect for the separation of powers and, in some cases, the rule of law, although we know that military dictators governed with emergency powers. Those who annulled the June 12, 1993 presidential election which M.K.O Abiola won hid under a dubious injunction obtained at a nocturnal court sitting by the mischievous Association for Better Nigeria.


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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