From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
The Director General of the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF), Dr Salihu Moh Lukman, has warned that the trend of political parties being seemingly managed by court processes is endangering Nigeria’s democracy.
He further noted that the need to insulate the Nigerian judiciary from the partisanship of individual judges is an important requirement for both the development of democracy and nation-building.
In a statement he issued in Abuja on Thursday entitled “Nigerian Democracy and Challenges of Nation Building”, the PGF DG lamented that Nigeria is fast becoming a nation built with a negative attitude and primordial sentiments, warning that it is polarising the country.
He said though both President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC must be held accountable, it is wrong to reduce issues of accountability to interpreting challenges in the country to mean evidence of failure.
On the threats judiciary posed on Nigeria democracy, Lukman said: ‘Once debates about the failure of leaders are not substantively about policy choices, it highlights manifest weaknesses of democracy. The fact that Nigerian democracy is not able to overcome the manifest weaknesses of inability to debate policy choices, is responsible for why, for instance, candidates for elections at all levels continue to campaign for the offices they contested even after results are declared, and notwithstanding that they may have lost the election.
‘Immediately results are declared, the electoral contest moved to courts and the media. Victorious candidates and their parties and INEC, at best become respondents. And defeated candidates and their parties become the appellants. In this circumstance, the judiciary is then made to pass judgements almost coloured in partisan robes.
‘As things are, Nigerian democracy is imperilled to the extent that even the routine issue of the day-to-day management of political parties in Nigeria has moved to the courts. Conflicting court orders are flying all over the place given by court judges.
‘This has made the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, to exclaimed that the situation of conflicting court orders ‘is compounded by cases on the leadership of political parties, thereby making the exercise of our (INEC) regulatory responsibilities difficult.
‘In other words, what Prof. Yakubu was drawing attention to is the apparent looming danger of judicial anarchy in the country with respect to the management of political cases. This is not a matter that should be taken lightly. The positive development is that the leadership of the judiciary in the country are already alert to this danger given that the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad has given queries to many of the judges in the country involved in giving these conflicting orders.
‘However, beyond these conflicting orders, the need to sanitise Nigerian judiciary should be broadened to cover issues of ensuring that judges with underlying political interests don’t preside over political cases in which their interest’s conflict with their judicial responsibility.
‘Once judges with underlying political interests are allowed to preside over cases in which their interests are already in disagreement with their judicial responsibility, their decisions can be predictable. Just review most of Supreme Court Judgements on electoral matters since 2019, for instance, including minority judgements. There are judges whose political leanings can be confirmed by merely looking at the judgements.
‘The need to insulate Nigerian judiciary from unethical influences of partisan commitment of individual judges is an important requirement for both the development of democracy and nation-building,’ he warned.
Speaking on nationhood and negative attitude, the PGF DG said: “From all the public debates in Nigeria, leaders are already condemned, which weakened capacity of citizens to influence decisions they take. The conclusion, therefore, is that leaders are already bad.
‘This is the reality. A nation cannot be built with a negative attitude. Sadly, the preponderance of negative attitudes further polarised the country. Even when problems of insecurity in the country reached the frightening reality whereby every part of the country is threatened, with grave danger to lives and property, public debate is reduced to passing negative judgements about actions or inactions of political leaders especially President Buhari and APC, both real and imagined.
‘No doubt, both Buhari and APC must be held accountable. But when issues of accountability are reduced to interpreting challenges to mean evidence of failure, it can only re-enforce the conclusion that leaders are bad, which may make it attractive for the campaign to remove leaders out of office.
“Most times, the debate about changing leaders is influenced largely by the frustration of getting leaders to meet expectations of citizens, often imaginatively constructed with hardly much clarity.
‘So long as the determining factor in judging leaders is driven by the frustration that leaders are not meeting citizens’ expectations, prejudiced conclusions against leaders will be the case. What is it that needs to be done to ensure that leaders meet citizens’ expectations?
‘The gap between the theory and practice of democracy will always be determined by the extent to which democratic leaders meet the expectations of citizens. Part of the indicators of weak citizens capacity to influence decisions of leaders should include the issue of whether the debate about the failure of leaders is oriented to produce options in terms of policy choices,’ he emphasised.
Lukman further added that ‘the challenge of nation building in Nigeria must be broadened beyond just the simplistic approach of merely passing negative judgements on political leaders in the country. It is important that citizens recognise the need to prioritise initiatives to influence the decisions of leaders at all levels. For instance, regarding the challenge of insecurity, what actions do Nigerians want the APC-led government of President Buhari to do?
‘Is the security challenge facing the country persisting because the government is failing to initiate the required actions? The encouraging thing about both President Buhari and APC leaders is that they are not in denial about the security challenge facing the country. This wasn’t the case under PDP especially when the problem of Boko Haram came up around 2010,’ he stated.