A Culture of Litigation?
By Fred Igbeare
It was with alarm that I read a statement credited to the Senate Majority Whip, Senator Kanti Bello. His barbs were directed at Nigeria's ÔÇśchief litigants': Atiku Abubakar and Mohammadu Buhari. Senator Bello accused the two, to quote the Punch, "of attempting to destroy Nigeria's democracy by introducing a culture of litigations into the polity"! Really, Mr. Senator? Would you rather they had gone to hire private armies and storm Aso Rock? People like you, Mr. Senator, are very dangerous for Nigeria and should be watched carefully!
What is so annoying about the senator's ill-advised comments is the contrast with another news story making the rounds simultaneously. In the same Punch of 28 February 2008 that carried his story, there was this headline: "Yar'Adua's victory: Military warns trouble makers"! The report quoted a statement from the Chief of Defense Staff, Gen. Owoye Azazi through a spokesman: "The attention of the DHQ has been drawn to plans from some quarters to cause disruption following the Court of Appeal judgement on the presidential election petitions. That is not the right way to go and certainly does not represent the people's quest for national security".
I am with the defense chief on this one. Although the elections were massively rigged, I have always held, and still hold, that litigations (coupled with legal changes) constitute our best option for resolving the matter. Other avenues include peaceful protests or even armed conflict (read: military coup, civil war, etc.)! If matters degenerate into full-scale armed struggle, will Senator Bello then be ready to spill his blood on the frontlines? Or would he rather send other people's children to die for him?
The senator is certainly entitled to his misguided opinions. It is discouraging that a high-ranking lawmaker like him would be complaining about litigation. Alright, let me spell it out for you, Mr. Lawmaker, in case your have forgotten the basics. Folks like you make the laws. Based on the laws, institutions like INEC conduct elections. When there are disagreements about the elections as in INEC's non-compliance with the laws, people go to court. Then the courts decide.
Without the courts, the possibilities for violent protests can increase dramatically and frightfully. When then Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and former President Olusegun Obasanjo were battling each other, one huge factor that defused tensions was litigation. On this, Atiku Abubakar deserves much praise! Our then vice-president could have taken the violent path. Make no mistake about it: he had (and still has) sufficient resources to navigate that road! Sure, Obasanjo had the commanding control of the army and other violent resources, but it wasn't a monopoly.
A lot has been written about Atiku Abubakar's corrupt image. It is okay to criticize him for that. It is also okay to honor him when he does right! In contesting the rigged elections through litigation, Atiku has done more to strengthen Nigeria's democracy than we presently realize. Even Buhari who helped sack an unpopular civilian government deserves praise also for going the litigation route. Maybe one day Buhari will apologize to the Nigerian people for his past mistakes. He was part of a military clique (armed robbers) that stole power and threw Nigeria back into the Stone Age! But today, Buhari is doing much to strengthen the country's young democracy. Honor is due here!
It is really disappointing that a top Nigerian lawmaker would make the comments attributed to Senator Bello. Maybe my expectations are too high! We are supposed to be moving the country forward, not backwards. I call on his colleagues to repudiate his comments. Perhaps he was misquoted. If so, then the Punch owes him an apology. If not, then the senator owes Nigerians an apology for polluting the air with poisonous thoughts.
Perhaps the senator envisaged peaceful protests as the route for Buhari and Atiku? If we take the current Kenyan experience into account, it can be argued that protest marches against rigged elections aren't always peaceful. I have nothing against peaceful protests. The question I have is: after the protest marches, then what? Even in the US, progress in the civil rights movement came from protests, litigation and legislation. Perhaps the senator and his colleagues should focus more on changing the laws so we have a better electoral system?
It is very troubling where the focus is right now. Litigation is not our problem. If anything, we need more litigation. In fact, Nigerians who were disenfranchised in the last presidential and state elections should be trooping to the courts in multitudes seeking huge financial damages from the government and INEC. An area of litigation where government workers can be sued in their personal capacities also needs to be explored vigorously. I would love to see the day when the assets of public officials are confiscated by the courts to compensate Nigerians deprived of their God-given, constitutional rights! We can make that day become reality!
We need more litigation, not less. Look for instance at all the disturbances, killings and disruptions that Nigeria has had to endure from a lack of sufficient litigation. The courts provide our best means now for resolving conflicts and holding Nigeria back from degenating further into a more violent, unstable country. Please pay attention, Senator, and do your job! Make better laws! And please, please leave Buhari and Atiku alone as they proceed to the Supreme Court to contest the electoral tribunal's questionable ruling!
Interestingly, the Punch also quoted Senator Bello as saying: "They (Buhari and Atiku) know that they didn't win the elections. I want them to take their time, think and get the video tape of this judgment, listen to what those judges were saying attentively. I sympathise with Buhari because I still respect him as a senior brother. The judges gave reasons (for their ruling) even if it goes to Supreme Court, I can assure you the ruling is going to be the same, so what is the need?"
Eh? Is there something you know that we don't, Senator? Has the verdict already been fixed at the Supreme Court? Now, that would be truly dangerous for the country!!!