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In the recently concluded 2023 general elections cases, the apex court rulings raised disturbing questions about the integrity of judgments by some courts.

Election is a process. It begins with the registration of voters and ends with the judicial adjudication over disputes. In between, aggrieved politicians have the option to take their case to the election petition tribunal and go on appeal for further resolution.

And if still dissatisfied, they could move further up to the Supreme Court, as in presidential and governorship matters. That way, our inclination for rules and laws will tower over recourse to self-help and violence, making our society a more peaceful and stable one for citizens and foreigners alike.

As provided for by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and the Electoral Act (2022), many aggrieved politicians who were dissatisfied with the outcomes of the 2023 general election had laid their petitions before the various election petition tribunals. In many instances, the returns made by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) were upheld by the tribunals. In a few states, the results were upturned. Same happened at the appellate level.

At the end, result of the presidential election was affirmed by the Supreme Court, and so have the results of the governorship elections in all the states concluded thus far. We hope that as we progress in our efforts to deepen the democratic content in the polity, this recourse to the law would become the norm.

However, last Friday’s judgments by the apex court have also raised serious questions about the integrity of judgments delivered by the Court of Appeal. In some cases, the rules of procedure of our courts were thrown overboard to subvert the will of the electorate.

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For instance, many elected members of the States and National Assembly had their elections nullified on pre-election matters on which the Supreme Court had laid a firm precedent. And they have no remedy.

Mostly affected are Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lawmakers in Plateau State, although there are also such cases across the country. For inexplicable reasons, different panels of appeal court justices not only disregarded precedents but also, in many cases, contradicted their own judgments. Even more sordid, the Kano State appellate tribunal was affirming and nullifying the gubernatorial election at the same time.

While reversing the judgment that sacked Governor Caleb Muftwang of the PDP, the apex court had harsh words for the appeal court justices as well as the lawyers who argued the case. In the lead judgment delivered by Justice Emmanuel Agim, the panel held that the APC and its candidate, Mr. Nentawe Goshwe, lacked the locus standi to challenge Muftwang’s candidacy, going by the provision of section 84(18) of the Electoral Act.

“The whole case is a thorough abuse of the court process,” the apex court held. “The legal profession should wake up or it will render itself irrelevant in the eyes of the people with this type of judgment from the Appeal Court,” Justice Agim warned.

Refusal to follow precedent, as highlighted by the Supreme Court, amounts to a violation of code of conduct for judicial officers. All the Court of Appeal Justices involved in the Plateau State tribunal case should be investigated. It is the only way victims of such judicial recklessness can have some sort of justice. Since the essence of judicial interventions in election matters is to promote democratic culture and strengthen the confidence of the people in the rule of law, we should be concerned when Judges turn the law upside down in a milieu where many politicians contest elections where they stand little or no chance and then wait at the gate of tribunals and courts for ‘victory.’

This growing pattern by which those who seek power now prefer judicial ambush to campaigning for votes should concern all critical stakeholders. In societies where politics is played according to the rules, the resort to the courts after every election is often minimal.

Now that the process has been concluded it is important to undertake a frank review of the electoral law, regulations, and processes. That is the only way we can make the necessary adjustments to improve the quality of elections and deepen our democracy.

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