By Jesutega Onokpasa
I just read with exceeding consternation that the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, is presently prosecuting a most shamefully self-centered and shamelessly opportunistic case seeking to have absolutely each and every candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC for the next elections disqualified on grounds that they have been illegally presented for the polls, having been so put forward by allegedly illegitimate party officials! This is actually merely the continuation of a trend nourished by what, to all intents and purposes, are truly most deplorable decisions some of our courts have been handing out like candy since the restoration of democracy in 1999.
Clearly drunk upon its temporary victory against Osun State Governor, Gboyega Oyetola, the PDP is placing reliance on the judgement delivered by His Lordship, the Honourable Justice Emeka Nwite which voided Oyetola’s nomination for a second term on grounds that Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State, then head of the caretaker executive committee of the APC, and who submitted Oyetola’s nomination to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, violated certain sections of the Constitution and Electoral Act. With respect, the Learned Judge’s decision was delivered per incuriam, that is, in error, and, miserably falls flat on its face when subjected to even the most rudimentary scrutiny just as it must fail woefully upon any rigorous review.
In fact the decision in Oyetola’s case springs from reasoning on all fours with the Poisonous Tree Principle in law, which turns on the logic that if the tree is tainted then its fruits cannot be otherwise. While that logic is, of course, a most valid and utilitarian device of the law, like all rules of law, it is, itself, the product of reason and can neither be applied with unreasonable implications nor relied upon to midwife unjust resolutions. Whatever else it is, like absolutely every other legal principle, it is most certainly NOT a legalistic precept. As for legalism, it has absolutely no place in law, being the very antithesis of the rule of law, itself.
In any case, the logical progression that if Governor Buni was presiding illegally, therefore everything he did was in turn illegal is most infantile. A party head, just as any other officer of a political party, acts essentially as an agent of the party in whose name he or she carries out each and every duty they undertake. It is not as if Buni would had ever been entitled, even as the most legitimate political party head in history, to submit the nominations of candidates in his own name or personal capacity. All party heads do so on behalf of their national working committees, which, itself, acts on behalf of the party. If Governor Buni was illegally chairing the caretaker executive of the APC, were the other members of that executive, on behalf of whom he submitted nominations for the party, equally illegally serving in their various capacities, as well?
Assuming, without conceding, that Buni was, indeed, serving illegally, at the time, or even that the entire Buni-led executive, itself, was unlawfully presiding over the affairs of the party, the notion that any principle of law then automatically kicks in to void absolutely every thing it did is most stupefying and down right pedestrian to say the least. Such reasoning is nothing higher than a most shameful descent into the lowest depths of legalism with all the arcane and reprehensible implications pertaining thereto. Thus, the courts, themselves, for instance, do not render the acts of state governors it removes from office for election rigging (who therefore were never even governors, in the first place) unlawful, null and void, and, of no effect whatsoever as that would be rascally in the extreme!
It is not similarly remotely conceivable that any court would, for instance, be so irresponsible as to declare the entire quantum of work of either House of the National Assembly null and void because they were carried out while a presiding officer who was later sacked by the court held sway! Surely, that would amount to the courts imposing anarchy upon the jurisdiction they exist to protect and preserve, thus propagating the very state of affairs courts were invented to remedy, in the first place!
While legalism is the refuge of the indolent judge and the companion of the lazy lawyer, the very idea that any principle of law might work to justify the untenable is clearly the hieght of absurdity. Indeed, it should be notorious knowledge amongst lawyers and judges, alike, that no rules of law can ever become the foundation upon which the forum might construct some infernal edifice in mockery of the Repugnancy Test or any of the other staples of the administration of justice. Regardless of how clear or settled the law is in any connexion, the court cannot apply any legal principle to the effect of an absurd, inhuman, morally reprehensible or otherwise untenable outcome. This is not just settled law; it is the very fulcrum of justice, itself.
The judgement in Oyetola’s case reminds one of the utterly absurd and most excruciatingly unjust decision in Duoye Diri v David Lyon. Even assuming, of course without conceding, that a case of forgery had been proved against Lyon’s deputy, Senator Degi Eremienyo (actually, nothing even remotely of the sort was ever done throughout the litigation of the case), that David Lyon must therefore lose his mandate upon the infraction of his running mate because theirs is a joint ticket is not the reasoning of the luminary; it is the automation of legal reasoning and therefore, no reasoning at all!
That is the lazy man’s approach to law and certainly not how to practice the legal profession, even at the Bar, but especially even more so not on the Bench. Indeed, rather too many pedestrian tendencies have slowly become trendy in the courts, the number one institution in society that must uphold fidelity to the most painstakingly meticulous methodology for ensuring that no matter what else might happen, justice is nevertheless served at the end of the day.
Justice is what courts do, why they exist and the one and only reason they evolved in the very first place. It is truly most alarming that some jurists seem to be entirely forgetting the most fundamental principles of the law it is their remit to apply with the utmost competence. The sacred and most sacrosanct precepts of natural law such as the Repugnancy Test are not just still part of our law, they are an immutable and immortal bulwark of jurisprudence and whatever is repugnant to natural justice equity and good conscience remains and will forever remain patently and irretrievably unjust. Case closed.
Just as the Supreme Court in its recent decision in Edevbie v Oborevwori saw fit to effectively correct the grave miscarriage of justice in Diri v Lyon, the appellate rungs of the judiciary should earnestly set about the remediation of the rather shameful judgements that keep emanating from some of our trial courts. How can the malfeasance of just one man or, indeed, a small group of people within a political party serve to render the candidacies of potentially thousands of their fellow party men and women illegitimate when those candidates had no hand in the said infractions? How can any lawyer, much less a whole judge even reason like that, in the first place?
Assuming Mai Mala Buni was, indeed, an illegal caretaker chairman, was it Governor Oyetola who removed Buni’s predecessor, Adams Oshiomole, and illegally installed Buni in his stead? What case does he have to answer that he should then be the one to have to pay most dearly for the alleged rascality of others? How can such a resolution of the matter not be deemed not only morally reprehensible and most unconscionably inequitable but selfevidently repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience? And if it so woefully fails the Repugnancy Test, how can it ever be valid other than that way too many lawyers and even certain jurists seem to be all too comfortable with descending into quackery and warmly embracing a rather pedestrian approach to their jurisprudence?
Should there be consequences for a party breaking the law, breaching its own rules or for anyone running a political party unlawfully? But of course! Nevertheless, those consequences cannot then, in turn, be themselves unjust, absurd, unreasonable or howsoever in breach of time-hallowed principles of natural law.
It is quite clear that the PDP, having realized it shot itself in the foot by producing an unmarketable presidential candidate whose emergence has generated internal wranglings within its ranks that have now crystalized at the level of the unresolvable, now wants to altogether avoid an election it knows it is guaranteed to lose and hopes instead to simply be handed the keys to the Presidential Villa by a judge! That is how, vide the courts, the PDP aims to pocket the Presidency of our entire country! What a caper!
The most miserably divided political party in Nigeria, which nevertheless claims it wants to unite the country by first further disuniting it by stealing the turn of one half of the country to produce the President, and thus further accentuating extant resentments and deepening our divisions, plans to completely bypass the ballot box and simply stroll into Aso Rock without passing through the verdict of the people at the polls! There seems to be nothing Atiku and his “no longer at ease” pathetic excuse for a political party will not do to achieve what his former boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo, revealed to Nigerians is an ambition predicated on the most obscurantist dictates and esoteric postulations.
You simply invalidate the candidates of the ruling party and your return to looting ways in the corridors of power is a walk in the park! Are these desperados planning for our country to burn over one man’s inordinate ambition or what? Will they even have a country to govern were that to happen?
Yet that seems to be what our polity has been reduced to by very poorly thought out judicial decisions in the sad reality of an ongoing pedestrianisation of our jurisprudence. If you cannot win the election, cannot rig it, or cannot simply write results for yourself, then just go to court and hope some unwary or tactless forum will hand you the government of the country on a platter of gold! If that is not madness, then there is no such thing as sanity. Unfortunately, that is the state of affairs the judiciary has caused and must now correct.
The hypocrites of the PDP who breached their own constitution on zoning and are now parading a patently illegitimate serial loser of elections as their presidential candidate, can keep daydreaming that they are about to sneak into power through the backdoor of truly shameful judgements delivered per incuriam. They will most certainly lose in court, even as surely as they will lose at the ballot box.
- Onokpasa, a lawyer, writes from Abuja.