Nigeria’s Supreme Court Must Remain Standing

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By Tonnie Iredia

The 2023 general elections and the naira redesign policy were the two most dominant issues of the last few weeks in Nigeria.

Luckily, the nation’s Supreme Court, two days ago, resolved one of them by its ruling that the old naira notes should continue to be in use till the end of this year.

The controversial monetary policy had brought untold hardship to millions of Nigerians especially those operating in the informal sector consisting of unbanked citizens. Many people were therefore satisfied with the ruling.

But contrary to the views of some analysts that the policy was too rushed to succeed, the real problem was not just about time, but more about the huge gap between policy formulation and implementation in Nigeria.

The policy which was to make Nigeria cashless was first initiated in 2014 almost a decade ago with both citizens and the banking sector unwilling to embrace it – a trend that would not happen in other parts of the world where implementation strategies are usually part of policy formulation.

What subsisted after the announcement of the cashless policy was that banks were more disposed to encouraging cash deposits and withdrawals instead of funds transfer.

While a few banks created separate desks for funds transfer, many merged the queues for both, thereby discouraging the new policy from becoming popular.

The recent effort to ensure that the policy works would have achieved greater success if publicising it and creating more outlets for its implementation had been strategically pursued from 2014 when it was first conceived.

It was therefore obvious that the decision of the outgoing government to forcefully handle the subject at the tail end of its tenure was destined to fail.

To make matters worse, the body language of the government showed that it wanted to use the policy to discourage vote buying which is the traditional way by which most elections are won in the country.

Of course, our politicians worked around the policy while the masses agonized.

As a court of policy, our Supreme Court rose to the occasion and doused the grave tension with its progressive ruling.

There are many reasons why the Apex Court and indeed the judiciary as a whole must remain standing with the people. To start with, Nigeria is not working.

At age 24, citizens who were born when democracy was restored in their country in 1999 are today grown up adults; they are no longer children. But the same cannot be said of their country in which nothing changes.

In 1999, many of the things which went wrong with our elections are still going wrong today despite huge investments made by the country to improve its election process.

Consequently, continuous failed elections have been unable to bring forth, visionary leaders that can formulate and execute good public policies for national development.

If so, how can Nigeria grow?

What the above suggests is that the judiciary must take a bold stand against election rigging in the country so that visionary leaders can emerge.

The good image which accrued to her from the forthright ruling of the Supreme Court on the naira redesign policy can be sustained if greater attention is given to substantial rather than technical justice in our clime.

The judiciary must remember at all times that it is a societal institution which should solve the problems of the people.

When it so acts, misconceived attacks on her will be restricted to selfish interest groups and not the general public.

In reality however, many people including some lawyers who are quite critical of some judicial decisions are genuinely upset about such decisions which upturn truth while adhering to forms and procedures.

The fact that it is usually the same few technical decisions that are cited by critics in their criticisms of the judiciary aptly makes the point.

Many Nigerians would be happy if the judiciary while dealing with cases would always take the same positive stand the Supreme Court has just taken on the subject of the naira redesign policy.

It is noteworthy for instance, that the Court did not stop the policy which attunes with global realities; what she did was to nullify some of its segments which made the ordinary citizen to suffer untold hardship.

It is certainly in order for the judiciary to stop government from acting contrary to its constitutional purpose which is the welfare of the people.

By so doing, the judiciary would be standing by the people. There is no better area than politics and elections where the Court can similarly act as the saviour of the people.

This is because if the reckless irresponsibility of our politicians is not tamed, they will continue to heat up the polity while side-tracking the rules of the game.

Indeed, if the judiciary is not exceedingly vigilant, they would soil that branch of government by using it to achieve their mischievous goals.

Nigerians would better appreciate the judiciary if it does not allow political parties to continue to experiment with illegalities such as organizing rouge party primaries.

Party supremacy or the so called autonomy of political parties to handle their internal matters cannot be taken to mean that a political party can breach the Electoral Act.

It was indeed to stop the parties from doing so that the law clearly provided for both the procedure and process for organizing a party primary election; and which the law says shall (not may) be monitored by the electoral body.

Time there was when the judiciary was compelled to insist that a political party must provide verifiable evidence for substituting any candidate.

In other words, each time a political party plays its usual game of unjust and fraudulent transactions, the party should not only be chastised, a huge penalty should be placed on it and its principal officers to discourage recurrence of such acts.

Although everyone knows that the charisma of a candidate plays some role in the victory of the candidate in an election, the position of the law in Nigeria is that it is political parties that win elections.

In fact, Nigeria does not have room for independent candidates and no one can contest an election except sponsored by a political party.

For this reason, political analysts have remained unhappy that some governors were able to forcefully donate the votes won by one party to another party through defection.

While the argument that the defection of a governor to another party is not one of the legal grounds for sacking a governor, it did not make sense that such governors were allowed to confiscate the votes that they do not solely own.

In which case, the defections would have been nullified leaving the governors in office on the banner of the party through which they were elected.

They should not have been allowed, on the guise of freedom of movement, to defect before leaving office, thereby stopping unhealthy political defections which increased the work-load of the judiciary

The complaints which last Saturday’s presidential and national assembly elections generated have since been presented to the judiciary for resolution.

At this point therefore, it would be inappropriate to comment on them until the judiciary makes a ruling.

However, in line with the thrust of today’s article, it would not be out of place to plead with the judiciary to deal with the subject as it has done in the naira case.

This point is in recognition of the fact that the purpose of an election is for people to be elected into office; it does not include as it has become in Nigeria for some other citizens to die in the process.

Those responsible for such anomaly should neither be spared nor treated with kid gloves.

Another major issue before the court is the possible breach of the rules laid down for the contest.

Again, if any such breach is proved, the court should not be lenient with the perpetrators so that Nigeria can begin to follow the path of free, fair and credible elections.

The judiciary is no doubt best positioned to stop Nigerian elections from being continuously described as below international standards.

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