Can the Courts Scuttle Presidential Election?

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Mahmud Mohammed

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There are fears that the presidential elections slated for February 14, may be scuttled by litigants who have gone to court to get a disqualification order on General Mohammadu Buhari, presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress because of the certificate scandal which has dogged him for weeks now

By Maureen Chigbo  |  Feb. 16, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT  |

NIGERIANS are worried that some people may use the courts to truncate the forthcoming general elections. The outcry over the shoddy distribution of the permanent voters’ card by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has made some people to resort to court action to seek redress. There are others who have also gone to court to compel General Mohammadu Buhari, presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, to quit the race because of the certificate scandal which has trailed him in the last one month. The several cases pending before the court have prompted civil society organisations in Nigeria to raise alarm that the election might be derailed through the courts.

The Nigerian civil society’s Situation Room has raised concern about the multiplicity of court cases on multiple issues apparently instigated and contrived by persons intent on disrupting the holding of elections already scheduled by INEC for February 14 and 28, 2015. While Situation Room welcomes the right of all persons to seek judicial intervention to protect their rights, it places on record that any attempt to use the courts to disrupt the elections might lead to unimaginable negative consequences such as upheaval that could result in violence across the country.

For instance, Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Abuja Federal High Court on Monday, February 2, ordered the service of summons on Buhari and the Independent National Electoral Commission. The order was given in a suit seeking to bar Buhari from contesting the February 14 presidential elections. In the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/14/2015 filed by Max Ozoaka, the plaintiff raised eight questions for the court’s determination and prayed for among others, an order disqualifying Buhari from contesting or participating in the election. The suit has Buhari and the INEC as defendants. The plaintiff’s contention is that INEC FORM CF 001 which the APC candidate submitted to the electoral body was incomplete because he allegedly failed to accompany the form with all relevant academic credentials. He also faulted some information contained in other documents he possessed including Buhari’s voter’s card.

The plaintiff wants the court to restrain INEC from permitting Buhari to participate in the presidential election on February 14, or any other date the 2nd defendant (INEC) may fix.

Buhari
Buhari

Although the case is yet to be determined but the threat it poses to the electoral process is obvious. This is why the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room aligns with the statement of Fatou Bensouda, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, ICC, on ICC’s preparedness and willingness to observe the electoral process in Nigeria. Bensouda’s had said that “No one should doubt my resolve, whenever necessary, to prosecute individuals responsible for the commission of ICC crimes”.

According to Situation Room, the ICC by this comment is being proactive and progressive in supporting a climate of peace in Nigeria ahead of the elections. “Coming on the heels of irresponsible and inciteful utterances by various political actors in Nigeria, the ICC is putting Nigerians on notice that conducts which trigger commission of mass crimes will not go unpunished. This comment also affirms the ICC’s commitment to hold to account and prosecute all persons involved in subverting the conduct of free and fair elections in Nigeria  and we believe it include officers who take on cases and issue judgments on the elections that subvert the constitutionally guaranteed powers and independence of INEC.

The Situation Room sees this call by the ICC as a lesson for the Nigeria judiciary. There are many allegations of effort by political interests to undermine the legitimacy of the Judiciary or to exploit the judiciary for selfish ends. “We call on the Judiciary to defend its integrity at this time and ensure that any ruling or orders coming from it is rooted in impeccable constitutional grounds and must be for the greater good. The Judiciary should not allow itself to play again in Nigeria history the ignoble role it played in 1993, that led to that year’s election impasse. It is important to mention that any act of judicial rascality that plunges this country into violence and mass destruction opens such a judicial officer up for war crimes charges,” it said.

The Situation Room is monitoring and documenting all acts capable of triggering violence in Nigeria and will work with local and international groups to ensure accountability. It will also pursue and work with the ICC to bring to account and prosecution at the ICC, all persons including judicial officers who use the instrumentality of the courts to provoke violence and national crisis that lead to killings and mass unrest.

The Situation Room is made up of Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, working in support of credible and transparent elections in Nigeria and includes such groups as Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, PLAC, CLEEN Foundation, Action Aid Nigeria, Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD, Enough is Enough Nigeria, Wangonet, Partners for Electoral Reform and Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement, YIAGA. Others are Development Dynamics, Human Rights Monitor, Election Monitor, Reclaim Naija, Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, CITAD, CISLAC and several other CSOs numbering more than 60.

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