A former Resident Electoral Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Akwa
Ibom State, Mike Igini, has described two recent judgements of the Supreme Court as a “tragedy.”
Mr Igini, a lawyer, spoke against the backdrop of the Supreme Court’s decisions declaring the Senate President Ahmad Lawan as the authentic candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Yobe North Senatorial District for the 25 February general election.
Similarly, the Supreme Court declared a former Akwa Ibom State governor, Godswill Akpabio, as senatorial candidate for the Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District for the poll.
Messrs Lawan and Akpabio had both unsuccessfully vied for the APC presidential ticket on 8 June, 2022.
The duo were hurriedly, under controversial circumstances, nominated by their party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), as the senatorial candidates for their districts.
But featuring in an interview on Arise TV prime-time programme ‘The Morning Show’, on Wednesday, Mr Igini lamented that the Supreme Court by the two recent verdicts was shirking its responsibility as “the last line of defence of democracy and the rule of law.”
Giving a historical context to the judiciary’s role in Nigeria’s democracy, he said the courts have “not actually lived up to expectation,” citing the controversial judgements of the Supreme Court in affirming the election of late President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2007.
Mr Yar’Adua had shortly after taking office, admitted that the election that brought him to power was flawed, calling for far-reaching reforms, which birthed the Justice Lawal Uwais electoral panel report.
Picking holes in the judgement
Faulting the Supreme Court judgements, Mr Igini said a pre-election case does not require oral evidence in terms of calling of witnesses.
In a split decision of the Supreme Court on Monday, Centus Nweze, held that Mr Lawan’s challenger in the suit, Bashir Machina, ought to have commenced his case at the Federal High Court in Damaturu, Yobe State, with a Writ of Summons.
“Where there is an allegation of fraud it (the suit) should not be commenced by an originating summons.
“There was a need to call witnesses to prove allegations of fraud,” Mr Nweze said while delivering the majority judgement on the APC’s appeal against Mr Machina’s victory.
But referencing Section 137 of the Electoral Act, which provides, “It shall not be necessary for a party who alleges non-compliance with the provisions of this Act for the conduct of elections to call oral evidence if originals or certified true copies manifestly disclose the non-compliance alleged,” Mr Igini sided with the dissenting decision of two justices of the Supreme Court.
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Adamu Jauro and Emmanuel Agim had upheld the decisions of the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal in Mr Lawan’s case.
Messrs Jauro and Agim said, “The appellant (APC) has not contradicted that findings of fact are perverse or unreasonable,” Mr Agim said.
Mr Agim further pointed out that Mr Lawan had withdrawn from the Senatorial race before joining the presidential contest of his party, and could not have qualified for the parliamentary poll.
“The failure to challenge the findings of facts defeats the entire appeal,” Mr Agim, said while stressing that there was no need for oral evidence in determining the merit of the case.
Mr Igini argued that the decisions were an “interrement” of the innovative provisions of the Electoral Act, which were meant to curb politicians’ desperation to destroy internal party democracy in Nigeria.
“I am worried by the expanding empire of the courts in political matters,” Mr Igini whose tenure as INEC REC ended last August, lamented.
In Mr Akpabio’s case, the Supreme Court five-member panel led by Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, held that the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal were wrong to have assumed jurisdiction in the suit because the issue of candidate nomination lies with political parties.
Consequently, the apex court sacked Udom Ekpoudom, a retired deputy inspector general of police, as the authentic candidate of the APC for Akwa-Ibom North-West Senatorial District.
PREMIUM TIMES reported that the two lower courts upheld Messrs Machina and Ekpoudom’s elections as the validly nominated flagbearers of the APC for the senatorial district polls in Yobe and Akwa-Ibom states, respectively.
But the decisions were upturned by the Supreme Court.
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