Fallouts from the 2019 general election in the country may not end anytime soon going by feelers from the nation’s judiciary that Justices may have resorted to dodging briefs over alleged fear of intimidation by security agencies, Sunday INDEPENDENT investigations have revealed.
Another area of concern for the growing apathy towards the once ‘lucrative’ briefs, sought by most judges, is the heightening tension in the polity over growing restiveness in the oil rich Niger Delta region due to what some analysts regard as an ‘over militarization of the area’ over election matters, as well as on the inconclusive elections in six states of the federation, which are preparing for the supplementary elections March, 23.
The justices are not alone in the ensuing nightmares as some politicians are equally gripped by anxiety over their alleged roles in the irregularities and violence that marred the 2019 general elections, with particular reference to Rivers State and other troubled states were many lives were lost.
In fact, it was further gathered that the US has been gathering information on these individuals whose actions have led to the death of dozens of people before, during and after the elections, with the aim of placing visa restrictions or outright ban on them as it had earlier threatened.
The US on Tuesday, March 12, had said that it is compiling reports on the elections that were marred by irregularities and violence, especially during the March 9 Governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections across the country.
Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of African Affairs, Tibor Nagy, said this during a telephone conference in Abuja on Tuesday, stressing that the US Government will give appropriate response to the issues surrounding the elections.
He said that the US Embassy in Abuja and the Consulate in Lagos led by Ambassador, Stuart Symington, have been active in providing “phenomenal guidance” to Washington on how the government should and should not respond to the election-related matters.
However, speaking on the alleged resentment of judges to the election briefs, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, who will be handling an election petition brief on one of the tribunals said, “The peace of the country and the entire sub-region rests squarely on how the judiciary performs during the election tribunals. But how is that to happen when the judges are under constant watch by security operatives?”
By the ethics of their profession, judges are seen not heard when they are not rendering judgment in court. This fact, according to the SAN, is why the public has not been made aware of the ordeal of some tribunal judges in the last three months as election tribunals begin sitting after the acrimonious 2019 general election.
As further gathered by Sunday INDEPENDENT, some of the judges on the list of the election petition tribunals have allegedly been visitors to the EFCC’s offices over some suspicious financial transactions. “They were individually summoned by Economic and Financial Crime Commission, EFCC, over details in their banking transactions which couldn’t have been obtained by valid court clearance,” said the SAN who had to represent one of the judges on this matter.
Following the travails of Walter Onnoghen, Chief Justice of the Federation, CJN, and chairman of the country’s principal judicial regulatory body, the National Judicial Council, NJC, at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, opinions majorly favours the sentiment that the trial was specifically targeted at the judiciary with a view to intimidating them and possibly to influence on the general elections matters, which they say, support the claim that judicial officers may have come under target surveillance.
For instance, Dennis Aghanya, a former aide to President Muhammadu Buhari, submitted the non-asset declaration petition to CCT. But the details of the allegations against Onnoghen in the petition were private account matters that could only have been sourced by financial security agencies like the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU, EFCC or from the CCB itself. Contents of asset declaration at the CCB are private, non-accessible by public. But the specifics of Aghanya’s petition revealed that an insider with access to the CJN’s financial dossier which, if it were in CCB should be private, by law, made it available to Aghanya. “Such assault on the number one judge of the country can’t, but put other judges on edge and raise fears of executive interference in judicial matters,” explained Barrister Abraham Pius, Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, secretary, Sango Ota branch, Ogun State.
The Coalition of United Political Parties, CUPP, a group of opposition parties, had early last week put flesh to that spectre of fear raised by Pius, when it raised the alarm alleging that some of the judges on the panel to hear the petition of Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), are working for President Muhammadu Buhari.
Ikenga Ugochinyere, spokesman, CUPP, said his group had seen the names of those on the five-man panel. He listed them as Zainab Adamu-Bulkachuwa, president of the court of appeal; Abdul Aboki; Peter Ige; J. S. Ikyegh and S. C. Oseji. He said authorities at Aso Rock endorsed the list which will soon be made public.
There hasn’t been any official response by government on this claim. “The approved list which was intercepted by our credible insider informant during conveyance from the Villa back to the Court of Appeal was drawn from a list of eight justices submitted to the Villa for approval,” claimed Ugochinyere.
“Nigerians will recall that we had earlier raised the alarm over the donation of a Senatorial ticket to the husband of the President of the Court of Appeal by the APC. We had questioned the rationale behind such donation when he did not participate in the primaries if not to secure the assurance of his wife, the President of the Court, to constitute with the approval of the Presidency the Panel that will hear any petition challenging the outcome of the elections.
“It was also a failure to secure similar assurances from the Chief Justice of the Federation that led to the onslaught on him by the Federal Government as the Honourable Chief Justice had insisted on doing only justice and nothing else.
“The list is drafted in such a way that without any matter properly being before the Justices, the Panel has been rigged and skewed with three of the Justices on the list having been approached and commitments secured from them that no matter the evidence put before them, they were going to rule in favour of the President.
“They are now agents and officers of the President and not officers in the temple of justice,” CUPP alleged, while asking Bulkachuwa, Aboki and Ige to recuse themselves from the panel.
Currently, the Niger Delta, home of Nigeria’s oil riches and economic mainstay of the country is seething over what observers term ‘excessive militarization’ of the region. The Nigerian law doesn’t allow the military to play lead role in elections. But credible accounts from observers, especially foreign ones, show, that army were largely involved in what appears as election irregularities in Rivers, Akwa Ibom and other places in the region.
The deployment is believed to be causing disquiet in the region. Earlier in the week, Interim Steering Committee of the Ijaw National Congress, INC, raised concerns over the matter. In a news release which was accessed by the newspaper, INC condemned what it termed ‘large scale militarization of our communities in various parts of Rivers and Bayelsa States’.
According to the ethnic group, the military worked hard to exit the oil-rich Ijaw ancestral lands from the days of militancy, almost 19 years ago. “We call on the Federal Government to take heed and urgently bring to order, the state of military siege on these two states.
“The Ijaw Nation especially condemns the unwarranted intimidation and flagrant show of disrespect for its traditional institutions,” the group said.
Maria Arena, European Union Election Observer Mission, EU EOM, also condemned the violence and intimidation against election officials and voters, and also made a report of what they referred to as the obstruction of citizen observers by the military and security agents on election day – observers, including EU observers, were denied access to collation centres in Rivers, EU EOM said.
“As the 2019 elections in Nigeria have demonstrated, there are important improvements to be made. Elections can always be better. The systemic problems evident in the 2019 electoral process show the need for an inclusive national discussion on reform for greater electoral integrity and participation,” Arena said.
Responding to the development, an ECOWAS official said that other African countries are watching developments in Nigeria with unease. “Most African countries watch Nigeria for direction on democracy and participatory politics. If bad examples are laid with the 2019 general election, you can almost expect other African countries to copy suit,” said the ECOWAS official.
The US and the British Government had before the polls issued a joint statement, threatening to impose visa restrictions and other forms of punishment on those who perpetrate election related-violence.
“We and other democratic nations will be paying closer attention to action of individuals who interfere with the democratic process or instigate violence against the civilian population before, during or after the election.
“We will not hesitate to consider consequences including visa restrictions for those found to be responsible for election -related violence,” the US had warned.
The United Kingdom had also condemned the alleged action of the military in disrupting elections in Rivers State and called on the army authorities to fish out the culprits. However, the army in a statement by its spokesman, Sagir Musa, denied military involvement in the alleged violence, stressing that the hoodlums were thugs in military uniforms.
The European Union Election Observation Mission (EUEOM), the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) on Monday issued statements to condemn the alleged military involvement in election violence.
The EU Mission Chief Observer Arena specifically pointed out that they were denied access to some collation centres by the military in Rivers State.
– Daily Independent