In modern-day democracy, elections into various national political offices came into manifestation through the instrumentality of the law. Both the electoral institution and its processes are governed by legal framework. Every democratic state across the world elects their political leaders through direct or indirect electoral system which is supervised by electoral body guided by relevant rules and regulation.
By virtue of judiciary as one of the fundamental tripod which upholds democratic system, no democratic nation can oust the jurisdiction of the court from intervening in the institutional machinery and procedural mechanism which usher in her political leaders and administrators. Any attempt to either exempt the decisions of the electoral umpire from judicial review or place the electoral procedure above judicial scrutiny would defeat the fundamental principle of democracy.
Nigeria, being a democratic state is not an exception in this regard. The country has both the electoral and legal institutions created by law to handle the conduct of elections and the issues emanating from the electoral exercise respectively. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which is the country’s electoral institution, was a creation of Sec 153 (f) of the 1999 constitution, as amended. The functions of this electoral body are further stipulated in Sec 15, Part 1 of the Third Schedule of the constitution.
In the same vein, the constitution empowers the ordinary court to entertain pre-election matters. On the order hand, an exclusive jurisdiction is conferred on a special court (election tribunal) to hear post-election matters subject to Sec 285. In this light, the erroneous notion that the judiciary is an uninvited interloper smuggled into the electoral process by the ruling party is unfolded and uncharitable. It is practically impossible to exclude the judiciary from electoral process.
The exclusionary suggestion as being debated in some quarters is a blatant display of ignorance. Nigerians can either choose between democratic system and live by its rules or full-blown dictatorship and live by the discretionary dictates of the authoritarian regime. If Nigeria continues to embrace democratic system, the judiciary too would continue to intervene, review and adjudicate on her electoral process. Though, a number of judicial decisions may attract some collateral damage. Nevertheless, the judiciary can’t be held responsible.
In every democratic election, the rules and regulation for the exercise are essentially meant to achieve a level playing field for all candidates in the political contest. This innocuous motive would be defeated if the electoral umpire, political parties, candidates and the electorates are permitted to act contrary to the stipulated rules. The failure of any of these electoral stakeholders to strictly abide by law would definitely open endless questions of suspicious manipulation and irregularities. It is therefore left for the judiciary to determine the merit of such claims.
Some individuals whose political interest seem threatened are currently inciting the unsuspecting members of the public against Nigeria’s judiciary. They have continued to undermine the judicial system with numerous vituperative remarks. This premeditated conspiracy as targeted towards diminishing people’s confidence in the judiciary is ostensibly aimed to further aggravate the current state of anarchy and disarray in the country.
As Nigeria prepares for general elections, all stakeholders in the elections must exercise their electoral obligations as prescribed by the Electoral Act, 2022. Failure to adequately comply with the Act, the judiciary would rise to the occasion without minding whose ox is gored if electoral redress is sought. There are litanies of pre-election matters and electoral petitions resolved in favour of the opposition party as against the insinuation which portrays the judiciary as an extension of the ruling government.
Ranging from the 2010 landmark judgements of the Court of Appeal which restored the governorship mandate of Engr. Rauf Aregbesola and Dr. Kayode Fayemi, in 2019, the Supreme Court sacked David Lyon of the ruling party and paved the way for Douye Diri from an opposition party to emerge as governor. In the same 2019 elections, the Supreme Court disqualified all candidates of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Zamfara and Rivers States, amongst a plethora of electoral pronouncements resolved in favour of the opposition party.