By Yinka Olujimi
In dismissing the hitherto unheard-of appeal for a review of its recent controversial judgment in the Bayelsa governorship election conundrum, the Supreme Court of Nigeria on Wednesday this week dug into equally unheard of depths of anger. It imposed hefty fines on two eminent lawyers who filed the applications, Chiefs Afe Babalola and Wole Olanipekun, both Senior Advocates.
The world eagerly waits to see if the court will depart from this ratio in the equally vexing case of Imo that is before it. We wait. Eagerly.
What the apex court did in the Bayelsa appeal, on paper, was proper as there must be an end to litigation. But, does it end the disputation and put the law in Nigeria on a proper course? I doubt.
The men and women on the nation’s highest judicial seat will have to live with their consciences on the issues that led to the appeal in the first instance.
Citing Order 8 Rule 16 of the Supreme Court Rules which stipulates that the court can review its judgment only to correct clerical errors or minor slips and to give effect to its positions on earlier decided matters, the Supreme Court held that the applications for judicial review in the Bayelsa election dispute as filed by Babalola and Olanipekun were frivolous, vexatious and an abuse of court process.
Justice Amina Augie who read the judgment of the seven-member panel of justices that sat on the matter, came down heavily on both senior lawyers for bringing before the apex court matters on which the law uses the words “shall not” – a direct, unambiguous, mandatory order against an action.
Justice Augie thundered: “I cannot believe, and with tears in my eyes, that in my lifetime, I will see very senior members of the Bar bring applications of this nature to this court which are aimed at desecrating the sanctity of this court, (and to) foul its well-known principle that the decision of this court is final and destroying the esteem in which this court is held.”
According to her, to accede to the request of the applicants is “to open a floodgate of litigation on appeals already settled by this court.”
Her fear: If certainty and finality are removed from the decisions of the Supreme Court, there is “no guarantee that if these applications are granted, the other side will not come with fresh applications for a further review of the court’s decision.”
Sound argument, no doubt. But the tears should have welled in the eyes of Justice Augie much earlier as the apex court has itself to blame, not the senior lawyers.
The Supreme Court is, undoubtedly, supreme. Its decisions are final. However, it is for this very reason that the court ought to tread carefully and refrain from giving verdicts that are patently questionable and riddled with inconsistencies.
No, m’ilords, the desecration of the “sanctity of the judiciary” is not by the lawyers or their clients. It is being brought on the bench – as well as the law, morality and social engineering in the country – by the Supreme Court itself.
As most succinctly put by Chinua Achebe in his iconic novel. An Arrow of God, “the man that brings ant-infested maggots into his house should not grumble when lizards pay him a visit.”
What were the justices thinking when they snatched the governorship ticket from the hands of the duly elected governor-in-waiting of Bayelsa David Lyon of the All Progressives Congress (APC), and handed it over to Duoye Diri of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), 24 hours to inauguration, on the ground of a defective candidature of Lyon’s running mate, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo?
What is wrong with imposing sanction on the offending candidate, by dropping from the ticket while allowing the wishes of the electorate to stand? Why the wholesale dumping of the entire ticket, and the wishes of the voters?
Yes, the Supreme Court is the final word on matters of law. That is the very reason the court must strive to be fair, and be seen to be just. Immediately the decision of the Supreme Court in the Bayelsa matter was pronounced, the state was thrown into a whirligig, as the residents resorted to violent protests. Stern measures and cajolement had to be adopted by the Police to calm the storm that was raging in the streets.
When it constitutes itself into the ultimate voting machine, treating the electorate with disdain, the Supreme Court must know that it is bringing maggots-infested wood into its home.
The scenario is not remarkably different in Imo State where the court removed Governor Emeka Ihedioha of the PDP and replaced him with Hope Uzodinma of the APC who came fourth in the election on the ground that the election umpire rejected results from some constituencies.
The man who came fourth in the reckoning of the voters is now the Governor, on the orders of the Supreme Court? And, if the ratio is maintained in the Imo application for review, the justices appear set to insist that their attention can be brought to review their position only if there is a clerical error, or a need to give effect to certain aspects of their earlier verdict!
Yet, that it is the same court that threw out a suit challenging the candidature of President Muhammadu Buhari who had had to hire six Senior Advocates to defend his failure to present basic minimum High School certificate! It is the same court that threw out the joint ticket of Lyon and Degi-Eremienyo on account of defects in the certificates of the running mate!!
So, how come a teary-eyed Justice Augie is considering it unthinkable that litigants receiving the short end of the stick feel compelled to approach the court for a second look at a controversial decision by the highest bench?
You do not bring a maggots-infested wood home and not expect to be visited by lizards. That is a poser that the men and women on Nigeria’s highest judicial bench should ponder on.
Imposing hefty fines on the lawyers who filed the applications is hardly the solution to the quagmire. It is an error to think that the judgment of the Supreme Court is final.
Nigerians are deeply religious. They believe in the Judgment Day – that day when all mortals will stand before their Maker. The men and women on the Supreme Court bench should always remember the possibility of that last day being real and stop bringing maggots-infested woods home.