Olusegun Adeniyi: The Assault on Supreme Court


Following the recent Supreme Court judgement, which upheld the election of Mr. Nyesom Wike as Governor of Rivers State, some leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and their supporters have taken to the media not only to criticize the ruling they have not bothered to read, but indeed to lampoon justices of the apex court. Some have even gone as far as making reckless allegations that question the integrity of the justices.

First on the block was the APC National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun. “I still find the judgement on Rivers State governorship elections astonishing. There is something fundamentally wrong in the judiciary. We have lost very important resource-rich states to the PDP. No matter how crude oil prices have fallen, it is still the most important revenue earner for the country,” said the APC chairman.

So, going by Oyegun’s logic, the Supreme Court should have awarded victory to the APC simply because, as the ruling party at the centre, it was entitled to control such a “juicy” state as Rivers! I bet, if any other political leader had made such a Freudian slip, the APC propaganda machine would have torn to shreds the reputation of the person with their standard refrain, “corruption is fighting back”–and it doesn’t matter that the people attacking could be as morally bankrupt as they come.

Interestingly, there were four judgments by the Supreme Court at about the same period, all of them very significant. On the one involving the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, there has been no protest from any APC leader or their supporters. That, I guess, “is a good judgement” apparently because it conforms to certain expectations. The next three are for the governorship of Rivers, Abia and Akwa Ibom states.

Let us begin with Abia, where most of the people from the state that I have met tell me the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Dr. Alex Otti, indeed scored majority of the validly cast ballots in the election that was rigged against him. Incidentally, Otti is the man I also supported because I believe he would have helped to clear the mess in that ill-governed and grossly mismanaged state. Even though Otti won at the Appeal Court, the judgement was upturned at the Supreme Court. Yet as disappointed as he may be, Ottti has not attacked the eminent jurists. But where the APC leaders seem unconcerned about Abia for obvious reasons, they are fighting the “uncommon malpractices” that attended the Akwa Ibom gubernatorial election and the manner in which that of Rivers State went.

Before I go further, I want to put it on record that I am also of the opinion that what transpired in Rivers and Akwa Ibom states in April 2015 was nothing but a sham process marred by orchestrated violence and this much was attested to by reports from the local and international observers. So, cancelling the election, as the tribunals ruled, and the Appeal Court affirmed, would have been the correct thing to do. But the point one should not also miss is that even what happened last year was an improvement on what used to be called elections in those states (right from the Second Republic in 1979) where some mandarins would just sit down to allocate votes. The problem this time was simply that the houses of rigging in both states had been divided against themselves.

However, while I believe that the so-called elections that produced Governors Wike (Rivers) and Udom Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom) were not credible, no matter how many “thanksgiving” church services the duo hold, I don’t think it is right to question the integrity of Supreme Court justices on the verdicts, except of course we have evidence of malfeasance. And so far, I have seen none.

To date, the only person who has supplied any “evidence” of wrong-doing against the Supreme Court is the Rivers State APC gubernatorial candidate, Dr. Dakuku Peterside. In his statement last week in Port Harcourt, Peterside said: “credible information confirmed that Nyesom Wike had earlier confessed to some persons of having met one of the justices of the Supreme Court in Mbaise during an important burial, another at Owerri in a hotel and yet others in Dubai and Saudi Arabia respectively. These justices were in the panel that decided the matter in Wike’s favour”.

According to Peterside, “the most striking revelation by Nyesom Wike is contained in his account at the thanksgiving service”, which he argued, proved that the apex court verdict was predetermined. “For the records, in his speech at the church service, Wike probably forgot that he was on live telecast when he stated: ‘Let me thank our former governor, Dr. Peter Odili (husband of Supreme Court Justice, Mary Odili). He will call me midnight to tell me what to do….I took all his advice, and here we are today.’ This shocking confession needs no further explanation except for you and other decent Nigerians to further make your fair conclusions.”

Here, we are dealing with “evidence” that is based on some “confession” tales and the fact that a Supreme Court justice, married to a supporter of Wike, has a workplace advantage to advance the political interest of her husband. Peterside is my friend and he was my choice for the Rivers governorship but I feel disappointed in this line of argument. Odili, as a prominent PDP man, could jolly well be Wike’s technical adviser on how to capture Rivers State for which he must be an expert, given his political history. But is it fair to assume that his wife (Mary Odili, JSC) is not capable of taking independent, rational and objective decision of her own, even if she were on the panel that tried the Rivers case, which incidentally she was not?

I pose the question because that was the kernel of a case decided in the United States Supreme Court on 18 March 2004, involving Justice Antonin Scalia whose death, last Saturday in West Texas, has sparked a hot debate in America (with some Republican extremists asking President Barack Obama not to nominate anybody to fill the vacancy because he is leaving office next January). While I concede that there is enormous rot in our judiciary, as there is in several other areas of our national life, impugning the integrity of our men and women on the bench without any shred of credible evidence would have far-reaching consequences for everyone, as the case under reference points out.

In December 2002, the late Justice Scalia went to the duck-hunting camp of a friend in Louisiana, in company of the then American Vice President, Mr. Dick Cheney on Air Force Two. But at that period, Cheney had a case before Justice Scalia. That was what prompted the Sierra Club to file a petition asking Justice Scalia to step aside from the case.

The core of Sierra Club’s argument is as follows:
“Sierra Club makes this motion because… damage (to the integrity of the system) is being done right now. As of today, 8 of the 10 newspapers with the largest circulation in the United States, 14 of the largest 20, and 20 of the 30 largest have called on Justice Scalia to step aside….Of equal import, there is no counterbalance or controversy: not a single newspaper has argued against recusal. Because the American public, as reflected in the nation’s newspaper editorials, has unanimously concluded that there is an appearance of favoritism, any objective observer would be compelled to conclude that Justice Scalia’s impartiality has been questioned. These facts more than satisfy Section 455(a), which mandates recusal merely when a Justice’s impartiality ‘might reasonably be questioned.'”

In dismissing the petition and refusing to step aside from the case, Justice Scalia’s judgement was as interesting as it was entertaining and this was the way he started: “The implications of this argument are staggering. I must resign because a significant portion of the press, which is deemed to be the American public, demands it. The motion attaches as exhibits the press editorials on which it relies. Many of them do not even have the facts right. The length of our hunting trip together was said to be several days (San Francisco Chronicle), four days (Boston Globe), or nine days (San Antonio Express-News). We spent about 48 hours together at the hunting camp. It was asserted that the Vice President and I ‘spent time alone in the rushes, huddled together in a Louisiana marsh,’ where we had ‘plenty of time to talk privately’ (Los Angeles Times); that we ‘spent quality time bonding together in a duck blind’ (Atlanta Journal Constitution); and that ‘there is simply no reason to think these two did not discuss the pending case’ (Buffalo News)…”

After highlighting the various inconsistencies in the editorials attached to the motion, the late Justice Scalia now said most memorably, and this is what those who are attacking the Supreme Court Justices in Nigeria without any evidence should consider: “while the political branches can perhaps survive the constant baseless allegations of impropriety that have become the staple of Washington reportage, this Court cannot. The people must have confidence in the integrity of the justices, and that cannot exist in a system that assumes them to be corruptible by the slightest friendship or favour. The question, simply put, is whether someone who thought I could decide this case impartially despite my friendship with the Vice President would reasonably believe that I cannot decide it impartially because I went hunting with that friend and accepted an invitation to fly there with him on a government plane. If it is reasonable to think that a Supreme Court justice can be bought so cheap, the nation is in deeper trouble than I had imagined…”

To extrapolate from that summation: If it is possible to imagine that justices of the Supreme Court in Nigeria can give a judgement in a high-profile case on the basis of “paddy-paddy”, then we are already doomed. Yet any dispassionate observer of the last 16 years will come to one inescapable conclusion: while our apex court is not perfect, it has on several occasions helped to save our democracy at critical moments. And I can list several cases–from Peter Obi to Rashidi Ladoja and many others.

At this point, I must stress that I do have my own misgivings about the verdicts of the Supreme Court in the cases under consideration. For instance, common sense and empirical observations suggest that there were no credible elections in Akwa Ibom and Rivers States and that Alex Otti won the majority votes in Abia State. The lower echelons of our court system even upheld these conclusions. But the Supreme Court, as the final arbiter on matters of law and legal justice in the land, obviously applied the more arcane technical legality by delivering judgements that, many would argue, do not advance the course of justice in our country.

However, we should also not lose sight of one fact. In most climes, the Supreme Court often weigh in on the side of order, especially in situations where justice could feed the ogre of violence and bloodshed and may cause more problems for the people. That then explains why those who sit at the apex court sometimes go beyond the law as was the case in the United States in Gore versus Bush. But whatever the situation, and no matter how dissatisfied we may be with their verdicts, critical stakeholders should strive to protect the sanctity of the Supreme Court given the perilous times in which we live.

To the extent that political cases have a way of igniting prejudice against even the most exalted institutions when doubts are created, people should be circumspect about throwing around damaging allegations against justices of the Supreme Court, especially when they have no proof. The point being made here–and very strongly too–is that even when our judiciary is not insulated from the social ills that plague this society, including that of corruption, nobody should be allowed to tarnish the reputation of Supreme Court justices, just because they lost a case.

Again, I want to stress that I am not saying that justices of the Supreme Court are beyond reproach or that there could not be some among them who are on the take. What I am saying is that those who want to impute motives or impugn the reputation of these Justices must do so on the basis of iron-cast evidence and in the appropriate quarters; for the sake of the system and in the interest of all of us.

Indeed, nothing exemplifies the critical role of the Supreme Court in a constitutional than the ongoing controversy in the United States where Republicans, who control the Senate, say Obama should put off naming a replacement for conservative Justice Scalia, by leaving it to the next president to decide. And the campaign is understandable. At a time the court is set to decide some landmark cases on such issues as voting rights, abortion and immigration, Scalia’s death has created a situation in which liberal and conservative justices are now of equal number; and in that case, a replacement by Obama, given his ideological predisposition, would then tip the balance in favour of the former.

However, with the American president apparently bent on filling the vacancy, White House spokesman, Mr. Eric Schultz, said Obama is looking for a nominee who believes in adherence to precedent and someone who would bring his/her own ethics and moral bearings to decisions of the court in which the law is not clear. “The president seeks judges who understand that justice is not about some abstract legal theory, or a footnote in a casebook, but it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of peoples’ lives,” Schultz said. That message will serve our Supreme Court Justices here in Nigeria too.

All said, for our nation not to descend into anarchy there has to be a final arbiter when dispute arises, and that critical institution must be beyond reproach if its decisions are to be of any value to the larger society. Therefore, it is incumbent on our politicians and their lawyers to work towards preserving the sanctity of the judiciary by not making reckless statements, especially when they have no proof, against justices of the highest court in the land. There must be a limit to dirty, and patently desperate, politics.

Ita-Giwa @ 70

Because of the way she has kept herself, aging rather gracefully, it is difficult to believe that Senator Florence Ita-Giwa will enter the club of the septuagenarians tomorrow. And even though I have not been in touch with her for several years now, I cannot forget those days in Apapa when, anytime she was in town, I would simply drive (or sometimes walk) from THISDAY Creek Road headquarters to her Apapa residence for lunch, usually served with Calabar delicacies.

Without any controversy, the Bakassi-born Ita-Giwa­­–a United Kingdom trained nurse, who set out early in the world of business by representing some multinational pharmaceutical firms in Nigeria–is a remarkable woman. Even when she does not carry the banner of feminism, she has, in her own quiet ways, broken many glass ceilings in promotion of the rights of women and in defence of the vulnerable of our society who, as it would happen, have included her own kinsmen in a peninsular we surrendered to Cameroon under some unfortunate circumstances that are peculiarly Nigerian.

Elected into the House of Representatives during the ill-fated Third Republic under General Ibrahim Babangida between 1992 and 1993, Ita-Giwa was also elected Senator for the Cross River South constituency in April 1999 on the platform of the now-defunct All Peoples Party (APP). Although she left the Senate in 2003 after which she served as Special Adviser on National Assembly Matters, first to President Olusegun Obasanjo and then to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Ita-Giwa has retreated to the political background in recent years, especially since her daughter, Koko, got married. This is therefore to wish a very wonderful woman with incredible sense of humour all the best that tomorrow can bring.

Happy birthday, Mama Bakassi!

…And Sowore @ 45

“…A United States-based citizen journalist friend of mine in analysing my decision wrote: ‘You should understand that you are in a tight spot, but then you put yourself in it so you would have to deal with all the consequences that come with the turf. Certainly, you are going into power – raw naked power – as bad as it can get. I guess you have started already and any advice really at this point is belated. You have written about power and what may be wrong with it a lot and as such you need not borrow any lesson from ‘The Prince’ by Niccolo Machiavelli. All you need do is go back and read your own writings as far back as when you were still very angry with the system; there lies what needs to be done to make a difference. I must, however, say that you have a difficult task. As a cabinet level communication person, it is your duty to arrange all the lies that need to be told as long as you hold that position…”

The foregoing is from my column, “Leaving My Comfort Zone”, published on 13th June, 2007, two weeks after I assumed duty as spokesman to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. Although I didn’t put a name to the journalist friend who sent me the mail in the piece, he is none other than Omoyele Sowore, the publisher of ‘Saharareporters’.

I still cannot remember how it all happened but Sowore and I became friends about 15 years ago and even while he made my life very difficult in the course of my work in Aso Rock, our relationship has endured, perhaps because it is based on mutual respect, not to mention mutual distrust—especially when             I was in government! However, nobody would deny Sowore his place in the promotion of democracy and good governance in Nigeria—right from campus as president of the University of Lagos Students Union to his days as a pro-democracy activist before fleeing the country during the late General Sani Abacha era.

It was in the United States that Sowore’s activism found form in citizen journalism. Interestingly, I remember when he was parting ways with Jonathan Elendu of ‘Elendu Reports’ to birth ‘Saharareporters’, Sowore came to my office in Lagos for a long discussion on his ideas. And for weeks, after he returned to the United States, we were in constant communication as I followed the progress of the new publication for which he was, at the initial stage, always seeking my advice. And today, I feel proud that he has made a huge success of the online media outlet that has not only become a global brand but has indeed earned the respect of many critical stakeholders in the Nigerian project.

On a personal note, Sowore has also been kind to me. When I visited the United States on holiday in 2006 at a time I was editor of THISDAY, he went out of his way, and without my solicitation, to put together in New York, at his cost, a big ceremony where several journalists and people in the arts were invited for me to do a reading of my book, ‘The Last 100 Days of Abacha’. That night, I was treated like a celebrity by the audience as I fielded questions about Nigeria. Ever selfless, that is the kind of person Sowore, who clocked 45 on Tuesday, is. I wish him all the best in the many decades ahead.

Happy birthday, ‘Oloye’!


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