by Juli Ashiru
Selective justice is a subversion of the democratic process… Every Nigerian has a right to belong to a party of his choice regardless of the size, financial clout or popularity of such a party. A small party with purpose and integrity is better than a big party of corrupt, greedy elites.
Just as the nation is reeling from the comical saga of Senator Ahmed Yerima’s child marriage legislation, the shock victory of Rev. Chris Okotie’s FRESH Party against the INEC in the legal tussle over the party’s deregistration in an Abuja Federal High Court is creating ripples across the judicial and political landscape.
FRESH has won what, in sporting terms, could rightly be called an upset victory. That is when an underdog inflicts a humiliating defeat on an acclaimed champion. INEC’s Attahiru Jega, backed by the mythical federal might has gone about deregistering smaller parties in an arrogant manner, making provocative pronouncements that clearly gave out the supposed neutral election umpire as a PDP Man Friday.
Less than six months after the 2011 pesidential election, the commission, acting on a controversial Electoral Act 2012 (as amended) in collaboration with the PDP-controlled National Assembly, threatened to decree what it calls non-performing parties out of existence. About a year later, Prof Jega made good his threat despite widespread public outcry and went ahead to first deregister six parties, and then on December 6, 2012, brought the hammer on 28 political parties, including Rev. Okotie’s FRESH.
All the affected parties, some of which were led by veteran politicians like Balarabe Musa, a second republic Governor of Kaduna State, and former Secretary to the Babangida military regime, Chief Olu Falae, cried out loud against this injustice, but the INEC would not burge. Some, like FRESH went to court to seek redress. While a Lagos High Court had earlier ruled in favour of the INEC’s position that it could deregister political parties based on Section 78(7)(ii), Rev. Okotie’s party ignored this obvious setback and pursued its case independently at an Abuja High Court.
Notwithstanding the cloud of uncertainty hanging over the judiciary over some recent questionable rulings of its officers, FRESH kept faith with the system. This persistence finally paid off on Monday July 29, 2013 in an Abuja Federal High Court of Justice Gabriel Kolawole. After carefully considering the protracted arguments of the INEC and FRESH on the propriety or otherwise of the deregistration exercise, the Honourable Justice declared that the INEC’s action is unconstitutional and invalid. He went on to recommend that the offending Section 78(7)(II) be expunged from the constitution.
One must give kudos to Rev. Okotie for his doggedness, a crucial quality of a strong leader whose grit would inevitably be called forth at critical moments; and without sounding patronizing, his two lawyers, Messrs Fred Agbaje and Kola Dopamu, deserve praise for their brilliant submissions that swayed the judge.
The tardiness of INEC’s lawyers and the lacklustre attitude of the entire defendants who have a weak defence anyway, exposed their illegality in the face of legal fireworks by Okotie’s attorneys. These guys have written their names in legal history for this landmark judgment like Lord Denning said, “Justice must be done, even if the heavens fall.” The truth is that it is the earth that quakes, the heavens never fall because God always vindicates the just.
I am not a member of FRESH, but I love the party’s boldness and its philosophy of paradigm shift in the running of the affairs of state. It strikes me as a party of the future. But the future starts now. It goes beyond proving a point by taking on the heavyweights of our polity as Rev. Okotie has been doing since he joined the fray in 2002.
It is not easy to contend with the federal might. Aso Rock has a way of destroying its opponents, but so far, FRESH has proved to be a tough customer. This party could well pull the rug out of the feet of the almighty PDP, sooner than later. At least, with this legal triumph over the President’s party, FRESH has shown that it is a strong contender for power which can not be wearied by the arm-twisting and dirty tactics of a corrupt ruling elite.
From the legal perspective, one cannot but commend Justice Kolawole for doing his job without fear or favour. That is precisely what the tenets of the profession demand of every practitioner: Dispensation of justice no matter whose ox is gored; no matter the stakes. Those who claim that the judicature is dead and buried, I say, you are wrong.
This great verdict is a victory that resonates beyond our borders. It must alert those who have given up on Nigeria, including our fervent admirers that this country still has men of integrity in positions of leadership, in the judiciary, in the legislature and even in government. Our foreign friends must be happy that you never say never, with Nigeria. This nation, under righteous leaders, can redeem its battered image. Picking the pieces of our broken nation is an opportunity offered on a platter of gold by this divinely inspired verdict.
We must seize this moment and begin to challenge those who want us to continue doing business as usual. The paradigm must shift, even from now; not just in politics; but in all aspects of our lives. Some folks in power who benefit from our current suffering will go any length to resist the change we all desire. But it is a well established fact that when change comes, nothing can stop it.
This legal victory for our democracy is an encouraging signpost to paradise. Nobody is saying any change is easy. There’s never a royal road to victory. Nigerians must stand up for their rights. If we fail to do this against the foolish, child marriage legislation being promoted by some paedophile lawmakers, for instance, we’d end up with a huge moral burden. One is highly disappointed that our President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, has not spoken out against this looming injustice against the girl child, when President Barack Obama has openly condemned the verdict of a jury which perverted justice by failing to convict a white murderer of a black kid.
Selective justice is a subversion of the democratic process. That’s what FRESH fought for in this case of deregistration. Every Nigerian has a right to belong to a party of his choice regardless of the size, financial clout or popularity of such a party. A small party with purpose and integrity is better than a big party of corrupt, greedy elites.
The survival of parties should be left for the electorate to decide; not the PDP. If that’s the only point from this verdict, I’m satisfied with it.
Read this article in The Nation Newspapers
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.