Impediments to democracy in Nigeria

The Judiciary
With the 2011 election approaching, there is increasing worry that Nigerians are apprehensive about unresolved issues that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s democracy. These are corruption in the judiciary, prohibitive cost of running for election and the manipulation of the voters’ register.

Nigerians are worried that a tiny but privileged clique is making a fortune out of electoral litigations and in the process not only undermining confidence in the judiciary as the last hope of the common man but creating a situation that poses a great danger to the nascent democracy Nigeria has enjoyed since 1999.

Demola Seriki, former minister of state for defence, on Thursday accused the judiciary of being corrupt. At the roundtable dialogue convened jointly by the Restoration Group and the Concerned Professionals in Ikoyi, Lagos, Nigeria, the minister, a member of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) from Lagos State, said judges were one the two ‘Js’ constituting a stumbling block to progress in Nigeria. He said the problem was more at election petition tribunals, where judges ask politicians for money, adding that judges struggle to be in election petition tribunals.

Without knowing it, Seriki was actually corroborating what eminent jurist and retired justice of the Supreme Court, Kayode Eso, said recently. Eso had raised alarm at he President’s Dinner of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators Nigeria’s and Presentation of Certificates and Fellowship Awards in Lagos. “It is sad about what is happening in election petitions. In fact, those of us who have passed through the yoke of being judges, what we hear outside shatters us, because they are not just millionaires as we were told but billionaires”, he said.

The association’s president, Afe Babalola (SAN), had before Eso spoke, talked about the pervasive corruption in the judiciary. He lamented that if left unchecked, corruption could kill the judicial arm of government and certainly the hope of ordinary man for justice.

Recently, Ishola Williams, a retired general of the Nigerian Army and chairman of Transparency International (TI) in Nigeria, had told journalists that election tribunals have become the goldmines for Nigerian judges. He said “All the judges are just using the election tribunals to make money. All those who had gone through election tribunals are millionaires today. I challenge any one of them to say no.” As at press time no one has come to raise issue with Williams, months after he threw the open challenge.

The failure of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct credible elections since Nigeria’s return in 1999 has left aggrieved politicians with no option than to seek redress in court. After the 2003 elections, over 300 suits were filed at the various election tribunals across the country by aggrieved parties and candidates. The scenario took an alarming dimension after the highly flawed 2007 elections which generated a deluge of over 7,000 electoral cases. Many judges saw this as an opportunity to join the millionaire’s or billionaire’s club.

BusinessDay investigations reveal that election petition tribunal members routinely collect bribe in dollars. The question is if election tribunal members take bribe, why is it that the tribunals still come up with judgment that look populist? BusinessDay investigations reveal that if tribunal members don’t trust a politician they would not collect money from him or her. In addition tribunal members must have confidence in the link man of the politician involved before they can collect money.

In addition investigations revealed that many tribunal judges deliberately allow proceedings to drag for long so that they can make more money from litigants and petitioners. The longer the suit takes, the more the parties are under pressure to raise the stakes and reach out to the judges involved. It is not surprising that with less than one year to the end of the present tenure of elected officers, some state governorship election petition cases are yet to be disposed off. The remaining states include Imo, Sokoto and Osun.

At the Lagos dinner, Babalola said “Time was when a lawyer could predict the likely outcome of a case because of the facts, the law and the brilliance of the lawyers that handled the case. Today, things have changed and nobody can be sure. Nowadays, politicians would text the outcome of the judgment to their party men before the judgment is delivered and prepare for their supporters ahead of time for celebration. In some cases, there have been text messages before the judgment day, like, ‘we now have four members to two, we are still working on the fifth,’ referring to members of election tribunals”.

This was played out in Osun State last year. The petitioner established exchange of text messages between the tribunal headed by Justice Thomas D. Naron and Governor Olagunsoye Oyinola’s lead counsel, Kunle Kalejaiye, days before its sitting. The graphic details of the conversation between the parties provided elicited public dismay and outcry. In Sokoto, the Supreme Court, in what not a few law experts have described as unusual, ordered the Court of Appeal Sokoto Division, to stay the delivery of its judgment in an appeal filed by the governorship candidate of the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP), Mahammad Maigari Dingyadi, challenging the election of Sokoto State governor, Aliyu Wammako. The apex court later gave the appeal court 45 days for delivery of new verdict. It is now more than three weeks and there has been no verdict on the case.

Eso said the allegations must be investigated and those found guilty penalised to save the nation’s judiciary from crisis of confidence. “I want to seize this opportunity to appeal to the CJN not to keep quiet about this indictment. It is easy to say we should wave it aside, but I think we should not. A panel should be set up to find out what is going on in election petitions tribunals,” he appealed. Constitutional lawyer, Itse Sagay, pitched his tent with Eso. “I totally agree with Justice Eso on the prevalence of corruption among tribunal judges. Some of the judgments they have delivered recently look absurd and unbelievable. What is happening now is so disheartening and something must be done to stop it because it can pollute the stream of justice to the extent that people will lose confidence in the judicial system”, he said.

Another respected jurist, George Oguntade, also a retired justice of the Supreme Court, last year revisited the October 25, 2007 verdict of the apex court in which it declared Rotimi Amaechi, as governor of River State. Oguntade, who was one of the Supreme Court justices that decided the case, said the appeal court judges who sat on the Rotimi Amaechi vs Celestine Omehia should “have been called to account” for the role they played in perverting justice. That statement by Oguntade as a guest lecturer at the Hon. Justice Adolphus Karibi-Whyte Convocation lecture of the Nigerian Institute of Advance Legal Studies (NIALS), Lagos on December 12 last year, reverberated round the country. It was the first open indictment of the judiciary by someone of Oguntade’s stature.

In an interview with BusinessDay, Tayo Oyetibo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) agreed that a corrupt judiciary poses a great danger to a society. However, he said politicians could raise false alarm when there is no need for it. “When a politician loses an election case, he accuses the judiciary. As much as there are few bad eggs in the judiciary there is also a political class that does not want to lose election. We must try to strike a balance to ensure that incorruptible judges are appointed to election petition tribunals. The political class must learn to accept defeat knowing

that only one person will win.” He said.

Oyetibo said the Bar should be given opportunity to make input into the appointment of election petition tribunal members. “The Bar knows the Bench just as the Bench knows the Bar”, he said. He also said the judiciary knows itself and should also be allowed to contribute to the appointment of tribunal judges.

On her part, Ayo Obe, former president of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), said if the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) did not declare fake results, election matters would not get to the court. In her view, the manipulation of the process by INEC is afar bigger problem than whatever shortcomings the judiciary might have. She said whenever an election result is challenged, INEC goes to court to defend it.

For Obe, INEC is the chief culprit. She said if the electoral body did its job well there would be no need to go the judiciary to resolve election cases.

Voters’ Register
The other issue in the triple alliance is manipulation of the voters’ register. An analyst told BusinessDay that “as basic as it is we have not got the voters’ register right either as a result of fraudulent intention or laziness. If you leave out a voter, how can his vote count when he has been denied his franchise?” He cited as example the last governorship election in Anambra State when many prospective voters could not find their names in the voters’ register on the election day while there were many fictitious names and names of either foreigners, dead people or Nigerians who do not reside in Anambra State.

BusinessDay investigations reveal that INEC normally invites politicians in different constituencies to bring names of their constituents. INEC staff registers these individuals without seeing them. This explains why in a polling booth on an election day voters will see names like Jimmy Carter or Mike Tyson as voters in Nigeria.

Ordinarily, there is nothing wrong with this arrangement because INEC does not have the capacity to go round an entire community. Along with the National Orientation Agency (NOA) it mobilizes opinion leaders (like traditional rulers) in an area to get people registered. Politicians use unscrupulous INEC staff to manipulate the process.

It is a voter’s card, which the individual collects upon registration, that is the only weapon the individual has in an electoral process to ensure that he or she votes the candidate of his or her choice. Oyetibo told BusinessDay that manipulation of the voters’ register is a serious danger to Nigeria’s democracy. He said rigging of an election is not necessarily done on an election day but that it begins with the voters’ register with multiple names that are registered. He said on an election day, the politician that manipulated the voters’ register to have multiple names collects the register and thumb prints the ballot papers after election.

Ayo Obe said the voters’ register is a major problem In Nigeria’s democracy. In her view the present voters’ register, imperfect as it is, is what the nation will have to use because of the short time, just six months, needed to produce a completely new voters’ register. Elections are likely to be held in January 2011. “We just have to look for a method that bypasses the problem with the current register,” she said.

Obe disagreed that Nigeria has had 11 years of uninterrupted democracy. In her view, it is just 11 years of civilian rule, saying that the elections that were conducted from 1999 to 2007 were not free and fair. She cited as example the rerun election in Ekiti State last year, where she said INEC perpetrated illegality and irregularities and became partisan. She said Maurice Iwu, the former chairman of INEC was impervious to other people’s views, adding that the civil society wanted the kind of voting period that was adopted for the June 12, 1993 presidential election, when the election was concluded within one hour. She said if INEC is not transparent nothing would work in terms of genuine democracy.

Kayode Ajulo, a constitutional lawyer based in Abuja told BusinessDay that every step of Nigeria’s “electoral process is fatally faulty, that is why some of us did not see Professor Maurice Iwu as the sole fault of our incredulous elections. Our present electoral law is nothing but rigging manual/handbook.

“Abuse of voters register is just one of the dishonest arrangements of premeditated outcome and it is the genesis of rigging because of its strategic precedence and priority.

“INEC got it all wrong from the outset with the deliberate fraudulent registration of voters, thereby turning a very simple thing to complex issue and Nigerians must stand up in unison to demand that meaningful action should commence forthwith with purposeful steps towards the compilation of a new, comprehensive and authentic voters’ register for the 2011 general elections.”

High Cost of Running for Election
The prohibitive cost of running an election campaign in one other issue that Nigerians think could derail the current democracy. It is estimated that in the southeast for instance, governorship election campaign in 2007 cost between N1.5billion and N2billion. In the northern part of the country, the same governorship election cost between N1 and N1.1billion in 2007 while for the southwest and the south south, the figure is between N1billion and N1.5billion. The result of high cost of election campaign is that credible aspirants who cannot afford the high cost of running for office may be discouraged from politics, leaving the stage for charlatans and ‘money-bags’ to manipulate and feast on.

A politician, Ikem Ozobia, an aspirant for the Onitsha Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives in the forthcoming 2011 election, said politics is expensive in Nigeria because the people believe that if they did not getting anything from a candidate or aspirant during campaign, once the person gets into office, they won’t benefit from the office holder again. In that case, they believe that whatever they could lay their hands on during campaign, they want to collect. He said some aspirants even for the National Assembly spend between N600,000 and N1.5million monthly to maintain their structures prior to election. According to him, people will attend meetings, their transport fare will have to be refunded; they will need to be fed in addition to other sundry expenses.

Ozobia said the challenge is for a politician who is genuine to let the people know that what is important is politics of empowerment and not that of bread and butter or rice so that the aspirant will have the resources to positively affect the lives of his constituents when he gets into office.

On this, Oyetibo said because of poverty people could sell their votes for as low as N500 or for a loaf of bread. He agreed with Ozobia on the need for voters’ education so that people would be told that if they collect money from a candidate, such a candidate would have to recoup the money he spent if he won the election. The implication is that the people would be deprived of facilities and amenities they are entitled to.

Ajulo agreed that the high cost of election campaign is one of the causes of Nigerians’ apathy to politics. “It is quite unfortunate that ours is in the extreme as we lay so much emphasis on money and material politics. Our people’s mentality has been conditioned to think that something must be given if you’re seeking their ‘favour’, whereas the favour is not even a favour but an offer to serve them of which they will be the major beneficiaries of the service.

“We need to change our people’s orientation and empathy, they need to realise that once you sell

your vote the person buying it will turn around to recoup his investments and you won’t have a say on how he governs you since you have taken your own share of the loot upfront. This I call upfront payment of democratic dividend, an advance payment of democratic dividend. It’s so painful to note how our people sell their destiny and that of their generations so cheap for plate of porridge to later turn around to shout corruption. It is so sad. We need national orientation to stop this”, he lamented in an interview with BusinessDay.

But Ayo Obe has a different perspective. She said when the Mohammed Uwais panel on electoral reform recommended a separate body for election monitoring, the National Assembly threw it out on the ground that there were too many commissions in the country. Without such a body, she wondered who would monitor the amount of money spent by political parties on election campaigns. She said part of the duty of an electoral body is to monitor the funding and expenditure of parties’ campaigns.

She said, however, it is not in all cases that politicians spend huge amount of money to get to office. She cited as example Ibrahim Shekarau, the governor of Kano State, whom she said didn’t spend much win the governorship election in 2007.

Written by
Max Amuchie
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