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Justices Jimi Olukayode Bada, Hamma Akawu Barka, Balkisu Bello Aliyu: Defection Laws Are Clear—Do Not Ignite Rivers State with Perilous or Magic Judgments

Feature Article Justices Jimi Olukayode Bada, Hamma Akawu Barka, Balkisu Bello Aliyu: Defection Laws Are Clear—Do Not Ignite Rivers State with Perilous or Magic Judgments
SUN, 16 JUN 2024 LISTEN

In the pursuit of a just and equitable society, the judiciary's role is crucial. As a psychologist and policy observer, I recognize the judiciary's importance as the cornerstone of the rule of law and accountability. However, concerns about the integrity of the judicial system persist, as highlighted by Femi Falana's 2013 critique, "The Rot in The Judiciary." While I do not question your integrity, it is evident that the Ariwoola-led judiciary, under which you serve, faces significant challenges.

As Rivers State grapples with political maneuvering and judicial pressure, the nation's focus is on Justices Jimi Olukayode Bada, Hamma Akawu Barka, and Balkisu Bello Aliyu. Your decisions, as jurists, will shape a pivotal moment in the state's history, with the potential to either exacerbate discord or to quell it with the balm of justice.

The task before you is monumental. You are entrusted with upholding the judiciary's sanctity and ensuring that justice prevails, even as the shadow of corruption looms large. While I do not accuse you of corrupt actions, wavering resolve, or fearful hearts, it is undeniable that the public's confidence in the judiciary is fragile. The hope for a Rivers State free from political strife hangs precariously in the balance.

Let us remember the courage of retired Supreme Court Justices Ejembi Eko and Dattijo Muhammad, who have spoken truth to power, exemplifying unwavering commitment to a transparent and accountable judiciary. Their example serves as a beacon for all who seek to honor the sacred duty of justice.

As a psychologist, I understand the profound influence of institutional integrity on society's collective mindset. The judiciary, as the final refuge for the common citizen, must be perceived as incorruptible to retain its moral authority. The weight of this responsibility rests upon your shoulders, Justices Bada, Barka, and Aliyu.

In contrast to the pejorative term "Abuja judges," symbolizing the perceived politicization of justice, you stand as the "Non-Abuja Judges"—a testament to the enduring hope that the judicial process remains the ultimate arbiter of accountability. As I call you Non-Abuja Judges, be warned that it is imperative you rise to this occasion, demonstrating that even amidst systemic challenges, the judiciary can and must be the guiding light of justice and integrity that society craves.

As you ponder the decisions that lie ahead, remember that the nation's eyes are upon you, and your rulings have the power to set a precedent for those who would betray the trust placed in the guardians of justice. The time is now to forge a path that honors the principles of fairness and equity, and to do so with the utmost integrity and courage.

Furthermore, the words of Chief Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, who emphasizes a focus on the law while seemingly disregarding public opinion, offer a critical perspective. However, it is essential to recognize that the law is interpreted and applied within the social fabric that binds us all. The language of human rights and constitutionalism is not merely legal jargon; it is a golden thread that weaves through our society, securing justice for the disadvantaged and underserved. Your role transcends the courtroom; it is to assert, protect, and defend human rights, civil rights, and civil liberties. In doing so, you contribute to the public interest and social justice, advancing the cause of justice and improvements for the good of the general public.

In a recent development that underscores the delicate balance you must maintain, a virtual court setting witnessed a directive from you to all parties involved in the appeal filed by members of the Rivers State House of Assembly loyal to FCT minister, Nyesom Wike. The court ordered the maintenance of status quo pending the hearing of the substantive suit. This directive comes in the wake of the defection of 27 pro-Wike lawmakers, led by Martins Amaewhule, from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC).

The lawmakers, in an effort to safeguard their positions, have gone to the court to prevent any moves to declare their seats vacant. As the three-man panel of the appeal court, convening virtually, you have adjourned the hearing of the substantive matter to a later date in 2024. Amaewhule, representing twenty-six others, is contesting the decision of the Rivers State High Court, which ruled to vacate their seats and barred them from sitting or performing any legislative functions. The state High Court has also affirmed Victor Oko-Jumbo as the Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly and declared that all laws enacted by Amaewhule and his 26 colleagues are null and void.

Oko-Jumbo has argued that the 27 defected lawmakers have forfeited their seats at the State Assembly, citing their defection and invoking Section 109 (1) (g) of the Nigerian Constitution. This legal battle, with its high stakes and complex interplay of party politics and constitutional law, places a significant burden on your court to navigate these treacherous waters with wisdom and impartiality.

The perspective of legal luminaries such as Femi Falana, a human rights lawyer, adds a layer of ethical consideration to this judicial process. Falana has argued that the decamped lawmakers have lost their seats and their rights to remain members of the assembly, citing the Supreme Court's ruling in the case of Adetunde and the Labour Party. He emphasized that the lawmakers would have to demonstrate a division within their previous party, the PDP, to justify their defection, a condition that does not seem to be met in the current situation.

Moreover, the truth remains that if the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which is now seen in a negative light, were doing its job correctly, the judiciary would not be burdened with deciding election matters. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, judges and thugs have become the de facto directors and deciders of electoral outcomes, a sad state of affairs. The case at hand exemplifies this, as a group of persons who openly defected from the PDP to the APC, and have been publicly disavowed by the PDP, are now scurrying from one court to another, akin to little ants, seeking a judicial declaration that they are still members of the PDP.

In the pursuit of a just and equitable society, the integrity of the judiciary is non-negotiable. It is with a sense of urgency that we address the allegations surrounding Governor Nyesom Wike, who is reportedly, as stated by the media, using his influence to sway judicial outcomes through financial and fear inducements. Such actions not only tarnish the reputation of the judiciary but also erode the public's trust in the democratic process. Justices Jimi Olukayode Bada, Hamma Akawu Barka, and Balkisu Bello Aliyu, how about that oddly?

The recent revelation by a senator, who admitted to influencing his wife's decisions while she was the President of the Court of Appeal, underscores the vulnerability of the judicial system to external manipulation. The pervasive nature of corruption within the judiciary, as highlighted by the United States Department of State, is in global sight.

The legal landscape surrounding the defection of the 27 lawmakers from Rivers State is marked by a clear consensus among legal experts, political parties, and electoral authorities. Prominent figures such as Femi Falana, Kalu Kalu, and others, including the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), have articulated the unambiguous legal principles that govern such situations. The law is explicit on the consequences of defection before the expiration of a legislative term, leaving little room for interpretation. Certainly, no room for magic or technicalities rulings from you.

In this context, you are called upon to uphold the established legal framework and to resist any temptation to deviate from the clear path laid out by the Constitution and electoral laws. The Nigerian judiciary, while known for its occasional unorthodox rulings, must exercise restraint and adhere to the rule of law in this critical matter. Be very careful, no matter the possible temptations, fear, influence, promise of promotion, bribes; again, I am not accusing you of any.

The people of Rivers State, like the rest of Nigeria, are watching closely. They expect a decision that respects the democratic process and the will of the electorate. Any attempt to conjure a "magic law" to aid the defectors would not only be legally untenable but would also invite public backlash. The judiciary must tread carefully, ensuring that its rulings do not undermine the trust of the people or the stability of the democratic system.

As veteran jurists deliberate on this matter, you are reminded of the weight of the responsibility. The eyes of the nation are upon you, and your decision has the potential to either reinforce the rule of law or to sow the seeds of discord. It is imperative that you resist any urge to engage in legal gymnastics and instead anchor your ruling on the solid foundation of existing laws. The future of Rivers State and the integrity of the judiciary hang in the balance.

In the intricate dance between justice and politics, the judiciary is called upon to perform a delicate balancing act, especially in matters as sensitive as those currently unfolding in Rivers State. As "Non-Abuja Judges," you bear the weighty responsibility of maintaining an unimpeachable standard of judicial independence and integrity. The term, though pejorative, underscores the need to steer clear of the tendencies exhibited by some Abuja judges, who have been known to meddle in local and state political affairs through the liberal issuance of restraining orders or ex parte directives. It is incumbent upon you to resist any such inclinations and to stand firm in your commitment to impartiality.

The citizens of Rivers State are well-informed about the realities of their situation, with an overwhelming majority standing behind the current government in its confrontation with pro-Wike legislators. It is essential that you remain unswayed by the lure of financial gain or the specter of intimidation. Your mandate is to uphold the law and to ensure that justice is meted out fairly, not to be drawn into the murky waters of political machinations.

The PDP's disavowal of the defected lawmakers and the legal clarifications provided by respected jurists like Falana serve as clear signposts on the path you should follow. There is no room for judicial overreach or for the manipulation of legal technicalities to appease the powerful.

As a psychologist with a keen interest in legal and policy matters, I have witnessed the irregularities that pervade the Nigerian landscape. It is evident that Rivers State and its populace are poised for a resolution that is firmly rooted in the rule of law. Your duty is straightforward: adhere to the law, and let that be your guiding principle. There is no need for extraneous considerations. Uphold the tenets of justice, and in so doing, you will uphold the faith and trust of the people of Rivers State.

A retired Supreme Court judge, Justice Samson Uwaifo, has strongly recommended prosecution and jail terms for corrupt judges if the National Judicial Council wants the judiciary to be free of corruption. Justice Uwaifo shared his opinion in an exclusive interview, emphasizing that while the Nigerian judiciary is not entirely corrupt, there are indeed corrupt judges. He stated, "A corrupt judge is more harmful to society than a man who runs amok with a dagger in a crowded street. If a judge is corrupt, he is no longer a judge; he is a thief and therefore should be treated as such, according to the law and sent to jail."

In fact, I am happy that the sluggish CJN and the dragging NJC did this. Do not allow your name to come in. The Rivers people of the Niger Delta are ready, including possible huge unrest that will shake Nigeria. Do not be the cause.

The National Judicial Council, under the Chairmanship of Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, at its plenary of the 105th Meeting held on 15 & 16 May 2024, resolved to discipline multiple judges, which is a good sign at last, and to issue a warning letter to a known controversial judge, Hon. Justice Inyang E. Ekwo of the Federal High Court. Justice Ekwo was warned for abusing his discretionary power by wrongly granting an ex parte order. Do not join this list.

The judicial crisis in Plateau State, where the Court of Appeal unjustly nullified the election of Governor Caleb Muftwang and sacked 21 PDP candidates, serves as a stark reminder of the challenges faced by the judiciary in upholding democratic principles. The Supreme Court's overturning of the decision in the governor's case offers a glimmer of hope, but the inability of the affected lawmakers to appeal to the apex court highlights the need for electoral law reform. Senior lawyers and human rights groups have criticized the Court of Appeal's actions as a form of "Judocracy" that disenfranchises voters. The call for the President of the Court of Appeal to resign underscores the depth of the crisis and the demand for accountability.

Justices Bada, Barka, and Aliyu, May I remind you of a scathing critique published on February 13, 2023, in BusinessDay. Castro Ginigeme, a lawyer and former adjunct law professor in the United States, lambasted the Supreme Court of Nigeria for its decision in the MACHINA V. LAWAN case. Ginigeme argued that the court's ruling, which favored Senate President Ahmed Lawan over Bashir Machina in the contested senatorial candidacy for Yobe North, exemplifies how technicalities are being used to subvert justice in Nigeria.

The case centered around Lawan's participation in the APC presidential primary and his subsequent attempt to secure the senatorial nomination without competing in the primary, a move that contravenes Section 115(d) of Nigeria's electoral law. Machina, who won the primary unopposed, challenged Lawan's nomination on grounds of fraud. However, the Supreme Court's decision focused on the technicality of the litigation method rather than the substantive issue of Lawan's ineligibility, returning him to the Senate. The majority decision, delivered by Justice Centus Nweze, hinged on the method by which Bashir Machina, the rightful winner of the senatorial seat for Yobe North, initiated his legal challenge. The court held that Machina's use of an originating summons was inappropriate given his allegations of fraud against the APC. However, two justices dissented, arguing that Lawan never participated in the primary and that the APC's actions violated the Electoral Act.

Justice Nweze, until his unfortunate death, became an odd reference point during the Ariwoola court's most institutionally stressful times and even now remains an object of mockery. This serves as a reminder to you, Justices Bada, Barka, and Aliyu, to prioritize justice and the rule of law over technicalities, especially given the real-life consequences your decisions could have on yourselves, Rivers State, and the nation.

You must navigate these treacherous waters with caution, ensuring your decisions reinforce democracy rather than erode it. The trust of the Nigerian people and the future of Rivers State are at stake.

The situation in Rivers State has taken yet another twist, with the APC initially welcoming the defection of lawmakers from the PDP, only to find themselves jilted as these lawmakers now profess their return to the PDP. This political ping-pong match is a testament to the opportunistic nature of some politicians, who seem to be driven solely by personal gain.

The APC's acceptance and subsequent running away of these apparent political prostitutes highlight the fickle nature of political alliances in the state. It's a game of cat and mouse, where politicians are constantly on the lookout for the best deal, ready to switch sides at a moment's notice if it serves their interests.

Justices Bada, Barka, and Aliyu, as you observe this political drama, it is clear that the judiciary must be the antidote to such opportunism. The law cannot be a pawn in the political chess game; it must be the immovable object that anchors society. Your role is to ensure that the scales of justice remain balanced, unaffected by the winds of political convenience.

In the midst of this opportunistic dance, the judiciary stands as a beacon of stability and integrity. It is up to you to keep the flame of justice burning brightly, illuminating the path forward with the light of fairness and impartiality. As the politicians may engage in their opportunistic maneuvers, your duty is to uphold the law and protect the rights of all citizens, ensuring that justice is not just served but seen to be served.

The political maneuvering in Rivers State extends beyond the statehouse to the local government level, where chairmen have been engaging in legal battles to secure favorable outcomes. However, the end of their tenure on June 17th marked a significant shift, as the governor moved to replace them with caretaker committees. This move not only brought an end to their legal wrangling but also provided the state government with a much-needed respite.

This legal intervention serves as a reminder that while political actors may attempt to manipulate the system for their benefit, the law ultimately has the final say. It is a check on the excesses of opportunism, ensuring that there is a level playing field and that the state's governance can proceed without undue interference.

Justices Bada, Barka, and Aliyu, your role in this context is to ensure that the law is applied fairly and consistently. As the legislators play their games, it is your duty to uphold the principles of justice and to prevent the judiciary from being used as a tool for political gain. Your decisions must be grounded in the law, providing clarity and stability in a sea of political maneuvering.

In the end, the judiciary's role is to act as a bulwark against opportunism, ensuring that the rule of law prevails over the whims of political expediency.

As a psychologist, I understand the impact of institutional integrity on public perception. The judiciary must be seen as incorruptible to maintain its moral authority. Justices Bada, Barka, and Aliyu, you carry the weight of this responsibility

In your deliberations, you must resist any temptation to undermine the judiciary's integrity. The clear law that guides legal minds must also guide your decisions. The trust of the Nigerian people and the future of Rivers State rest in your hands.

The people of Rivers State, unlike those legal shameful games in Plateau and Yobe North, will not accept decisions that infringe on their democratic rights. The psychological impact of such actions must be considered. The judiciary must ensure its decisions are legally sound and psychologically acceptable to the people.

Which team do you think has the higher chance of winning the 2024 elections?

Started: 02-07-2024 | Ends: 31-10-2024

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