Like different parts of the human body, institutions in any polity should work in harmony without which there will be a breakdown of functions. The overall function of the state is justice. And when institutions that are primary machinery of the state work independently without regard for others, the function of the state is bound to suffer. The ultimate losers will be the human beings or citizens who populate such states. It must be noted that in the workings of institutions and the overall function of the state, time is of essence. In Nigeria, election fever has reached its peak and political parties are electing their flag bearers in preparation for the general elections. One institution that will be besieged by an avalanche of petitions and counter-petitions is the judiciary. The judiciary must be reminded that its members should be ready to work in order to dispense justice and not deny justice by engaging in a delay tactics.
Giving the fact that the nature of the 2007 elections created an unprecedented quagmire for the judiciary, she must be blamed for compounding the problems through constant and unnecessary adjournment, denial of jurisdiction and confusing judgements. The citizens - both contestants and the voting masses - were also complicit in the generation of confusions that arose from election petitions. The first misstep started from Amechi vs. Omehia and PDP where the Supreme Court through the aid of a consequential order installed Amechi as the governor of River State, a decision that generated much furore from legal minds including the late Gani. I argued in favour of the Supreme Court based on pure legalism while stating that the opposition parties have everything to gain from such order. The need to ascribe faces to individuals who should contest for offices makes their case easier. To our utter dismay some members of the opposition relented in their quest for justice. A person like Tonye Princewill rescinded his decision to challenge the imposition made by the judiciary. Thus, a brazen fraud was left to stand and a precedent was created. It became valid for a candidate whose face never appeared on the ballot paper to confidently sit as the governor of the state.
The Supreme Court in making such pronouncement did not state categorically the starting date and end date of Amechi's tenure neither did INEC when the issued Amechi a certificate. The whole nation was thus guessing if Amechi's case would be like that of Anambra state governor Peter Obi who had to go back to court to determine the duration of his tenure after Andy Uba has usurped his office. Everybody was guessing but behold the PDP primaries did take place in River State to confirm that Amechi's case and Obi's case are not the same. But what is really the difference? Perhaps it lies in the fact that the usurper's political party is different from that of the plaintiff. Consequent judgement of the courts seems to be a pointer as the cases of Liyel Imoke, Adams Oshiomole, Olusegun Mimiko and Rauf Aregbesola etc show.
The case of Alphonsus Obi Igbeke seems to have defiled that logic. Igbeke battled the erstwhile senator Joy Emordi representing Anambra central senatorial district for close to three years and before his eventual triumph. After much commotion, he took up his seat in the senate house. Igbeke recently cross-carpeted to the PDP where it is rumoured that he lost the primaries for the same seat he won in court. Now this scenario raises a lot of questions. Did Igbeke intentionally give up his seat just to cross over to the PDP, or has his tenure come to an abrupt end? If his tenure has not ended, why should he cross to the PDP to contest in their primaries and not going to court to insist on the full course of his tenure? If not, where is the fairness or is it that the office of the governor is treated fairly than that of a senator? Indeed fairness may not exclude treating different persons differently or different offices differently, but it requires only that the differential treatment be justified either by inevitable limits on one's action or by intelligible requirements of the good of the polity. If Igbeke's tenure is deemed to have ended, what is the justification for it?
This brings us to the recently concluded re-run of Delta state gubernatorial election. After three and half years, Great Ogboru managed to convince the courts to nullify Delta states's governorship election and after the re-run Uduaghan retained his seat. Now the question of tenure arises again, Uduaghan having been sworn in for the second time. Is his tenure going to run up to another four years or is it ending by May 2011? From the precedent I mentioned earlier we will assume that his tenure will elapse by May. But then who gains and who loses? If there will be another governorship election in Delta state come April, a load of waste and difficulty in terms of logistics has been created for the state and INEC, thanks to the dilly-dallying of a confused judiciary. If his tenure will run for another four years, we will have a case where an individual enjoys the governor's office beyond the statutory requirement for such office.
Therefore we must remind the judiciary ones more that time is the essence of justice. Justice delayed as they say is justice denied. But in our own case justice delayed is not only justice denied, it is resources wasted and logistics complicated. Nigerians who are suffering the consequences of all kinds of institutional failure should not be made to bear the burden of a confused judiciary. When elections are nullified and re-run directed, individuals are the ones to go and re-cast their votes. They are susceptible to disillusion and thus lose faith in the electoral process. The finance that can be used in upgrading other facilities is used over and over again to conduct elections. Members of the judiciary must therefore stand up to do their work. The chief justice of the federation should be able to advise his men that what happened in 2007 stretching to 2011 should never repeat itself.
We must remind the judiciary as the jurisprudent John Finnis writing in "Natural law and Legal Reasoning" (Cleveland State Law Review, Vol 38:1) states:
Legal reasoning, indeed, is technical reasoning, at least in large part - not moral reasoning. Like all technical reasoning, it is concerned to achieve a particular purpose, a definite state of affairs which can be achieved by efficient disposition of means to end. The particular end here is the resolution of disputes by the provision of a directive sufficiently definite and specific to identify one party to the dispute as right (in-the-right) and the other as wrong (not-in-the-right). Hence the law's distinctive devices: defining terms, and specifying rules, with sufficient and necessary artificial clarity and definiteness to establish the "bright lines" which make so many real-life legal questions easy questions
The adjudication of electoral disputes must take cognizance of the very purpose of such petitions, i.e, the fact of the time frame of supposed office holders. Neglecting this very fact only succeeds in cascading the nation towards the job of Sisyphus. The judiciary is often reminded of the ancient aphorism that justice must been seen to be done even if the heavens are falling. The adage does not mean the neglect of time. Rather as the philosopher Kant puts it "the true but somewhat boastful sentence which has become proverbial, Fiat justicia, pereat mundus ("Let justice reign even if all the rascals in the world should perish from it") is a stout principle of right which cuts asunder the whole tissue of artifice or force. But it should not be misunderstood as a permission to use one's own right with extreme rigor (which would conflict with ethical duty); it should be understood as the obligation of those in power not to limit or to extend anyone's right through sympathy or disfavour.
Election-petitions must not be seen or treated like land disputes where a land case can last up to ten years starting from the customary court through the high courts' and appellate courts even up to the Supreme Court. What happened for instance in Ohakim vs. Agbaso was a case in point where electoral issues were treated like land disputes; a case which started from the High court up to the Supreme Court only for the Supreme Court to throw it back to the court of first instance. As the judiciary prepares for the task ahead we hope that her members will find the courage to do what is right and spare the nation of another avenue of incontinence.