Saraki and A’ Ibom North East senatorial seat. By Desmond Orjiakor

“The judiciary is under threat”– Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen (CJN).

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IT is very worrisome that the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki has refused to obey a court order to swear in the valid and bona fide candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, who won the 2015 general election for the Akwa Ibom North East senatorial seat, Senator Saraki has, in total disregard for all laid down procedures. A Federal High Court sitting in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, had removed Mr. Bassey Albert Akpan from the National Assembly having found out that Akpan was not the valid and bona fide candidate of the PDP for the Akwa Ibom North East senatorial seat. In a judgement on a pre-election dispute between a former member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Bassey Etim and Mr. Akpan over who was the authentic candidate of the PDP in the election, the court specifically held that Akpan had wrongly and illegally represented the Akwa Ibom North East Senatorial District in the National Assembly for 628 days out of the 1,460 day lifespan of the current Senate having been inaugurated on June 9, 2015 and to expire on June 9, 2019. In fact, it is on record that the said Mr. Albert Akpan was actively contesting for governorship and not senate. It was when it became glaring that his principal had someone in mind that he was now drafted to interlope in the senate contest just to usurp the victory of the the valid candidate, Hon. Bassey Etim. Besides, the Federal High Court ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to immediately retrieve the certificate of return earlier issued to Akpan and issue a fresh one to the newly declared senator-elect, Hon. Bassey Etim, to enable him proceed to the Senate for his swearing in. INEC had since complied with the court order and has issued the certificate of return to Hon. Bassey Etim. But, quite strangely, the President of the Senate, Dr. Saraki has bluntly refused to inaugurate Etim to commence his legislative functions as the duly elected representative of his people. Advancing excuses for him not to respect the rule of law, Saraki has said: “There is a process to this, and when I get this, I always get informed. There are always two sides to a story. I have a senator who says, this is the case. I refer the case to the legal unit to give me a clear advice on this, and once they advise me, I will comply. I have explained that to the Senator that I have no interest. I want the people of Akwa Ibom, which Senator Akpan represents, to have a representation. I don’t gain anything in it. I will follow it and I will make it happen.” For crying out loud, what is the Senate president Saraki talking about? What legal advice does he need after a court of competent jurisdiction has delivered judgement on a case? Reacting to Saraki’s position, former Chief Justice of Lagos State, Hon. Justice Samuel Omotunde Ilori has said that it was unbelievable that the nation’s Senate President would say that he needed legal advice before he could obey a positive judgment of a court. Justice Ilori said that he would not believe that Dr. Saraki actually put up such defence for refusing to swear in Hon. Bassey Etim. Justice Ilori’s words: “With due respect, the court has made its order. The next thing is for the order to be obeyed. Courts orders are not made in vain. The Senate President does not have any recast to wait for any legal advice on court judgement. Assuming the legal advice he is waiting for is contrary to what the court judgement says, are you saying Saraki will now go by mere legal advice and drop the court’s judgement?” “Legal advice cannot take precedence over court judgement. You don’t need to be a lawyer to know that. I will expect somebody occupying that exalted seat to know better. Which is why I do not believe that the nation’s Senate President would say that he is waiting for legal advice of an individual to decide whether or not to obey the judgement of the court, a judicial institution. It is like a Nigerian citizen saying he would need to take legal advice of an individual before he could obey the laws made by the National Assembly. It is ridiculous. In a nutshell, Saraki has no option. He has to obey the judgement of the court. If he does not, then he is courting contempt of the court. He should obey the judgement. Period!” The Senate which Saraki heads is no doubt a hallowed organ of governance. This now imposes on him a responsibility to rise above demeaning anti-social preoccupations and conduct himself in a manner commensurate with the weight and reputation of his office. Also, Mike Ikhariale, erudite scholar, a distinguished professor of constitutional law and one of the few blacks who had taught in the law faculty of Harvard University, USA, responded thus on the subject: “ I think it is lawlessness for Saraki to have embarked on such evasive shenanigans. The Rule of Law is being undermined once again.” Also, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), had in a letter dated March 17, 2017, advised Saraki to swear in Etim without further delay. The letter reads in part: “The fact that there is no order of court staying the execution of the aforesaid judgement and on further ground that an appeal does not operate as a stay to the judgement being appealed against in a pre-election matter, the Senate of the National Assembly is therefore required by law to comply with the judgement and swear in Hon. Bassey Etim as the Senator representing Akwa Ibom North East senatorial district.” It is a rude shock that a properly constituted Senate would undermine the order of a Federal High Court and substitute whimsicality for objectivity in the process. This is a confirmation of fears expressed by analysts in certain critical quarters that today’s crop of politicians are not playing the game of politics according to the rule. It is said in certain quarters that Hon. Bassey Etim is facing this ordeal because of his preference for politics of principles to politics of personality cults. Because of his refusal to worship a certain senator, Saraki would not obey the court order so that he would be frustrated from becoming a senator. That is a clear manifestation of the exclusivist proclivities of the present political order. It is unthinkable that this open and flagrant disregard for court order is coming from a man who is currently standing trial and who is also seeking justice. The human rights community, civil society organizations, constitutional lawyers and lovers of democracy, must rise in defence of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary to avoid anarchy taking a toll on this country. That key public figures and institutions continue to degrade democratic practice through wanton disregard for core values and norms is a sad reminder that this country is in a deep mess and unlikely to improve on the standards of performance that have stalled material progress for decades. The Senate President should hold aloft the highest ideals of probity, altruism and statesmanship before the nation which expects nothing less from anyone holding the highest law-making body in the land, which must equally be seen taking sufficient umbrage at all forms of lawlessness rather than indulging in any. Hon. Bassey Etim must be sworn in as the valid and authentic senator representing Akwa Ibom North East Senatorial District without further delay. Anything short of that is an open declaration of war with the Judiciary headed by Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen who has zero tolerance for disobedience of court orders. Nigeria must be made governable by law.

*Mr. Orjiakor, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Abuja.

 

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