Dr. Umar Ardo was the Special Adviser on Strategy and Documentation to former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar and three gubernatorial aspirants in Adamawa state. His case against the ineligibility of President Goodluck Jonathan to contest the 2015 presidential election was recently struck out by the Supreme Court and took time off to speak on how the courts have failed to deepen Nigeria’s democratic practice. Assistant Editor, Patrick Andrew brings you excerpt.
The Supreme Court recently dismissed your ineligibility suit against President Jonathan’s candidacy. Anyone who read your argument would have thought that you had raised a fundamental constitutional issue, what happened?
The truth is that the Supreme Court did not dismiss my case. The court just refused to hear it, and so no judgment or ruling was entered. The suit was struck out after the justices forced a withdrawal of it on my lawyer. From the start of the proceeding to its end, seven Justices of the Supreme Court, led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria himself, descended on my lawyer in the most injudicious manner. He was never given a hearing. The proceeding lasted between 30 and 40 minutes, and throughout he was attacked left, right and center. All they wanted was for him to withdraw the suit, and he was so harassed that he accepted a forceful withdrawal without even seeking my consent. But I have accepted his decision in good faith and I commend him.
It was clear to all who were present that the Justices entered the courtroom with a mindset of not hearing the suit. That was why other than announcing their appearances the respondents’ lawyers didn’t utter a single word throughout except to thank the court. The entire advocacy was done for the respondents by the Justices themselves. Instructively, one of the Justices even said to the president’s lawyer in the open court ‘we have done your job for you’. Justices on the Bench doing the job of one litigant against the other! I have never heard of such thing before, and never thought it would ever be possible until it happened to me. It elicited a thought in my mind that ‘if you want to see injustice then attempt to seek justice in court’.
But what was the argument of the Supreme Court?
There was no argument. The court just made up its mind that it wasn’t going to listen to me and it didn’t hide it. As a citizen, I went to the Supreme Court to seek justice on an issue that I believe is vital to me and to the wellbeing of our country, but it was brutally denied hearing.
As a PDP member, when I realized that the party was preparing to adopt the president Jonathan as its sole presidential candidate to the exclusion of all for the 2015 presidential election, I raised an objection and reiterated my long standing position to the party that the president was ineligible to contest another term in office. I believe any of the excluded members has right to raise objection. I did.
It was the PDP Legal Adviser who pointed out to me the subsisting judgment of the FCT High Court affirming that the president can contest, and that the party was acting on the basis of that judgment. As the party seemed determined to go ahead with its plan, I reasoned that even if I went to another High Court and per chance got a contrary judgment the party can still pick which of the judgments to accept. The only reasonable thing to do was to appeal the subsisting judgment, which was what I did. In its ruling, the Court of Appeal said I had no business appealing, that I was a busybody.
I disagreed with the Court of Appeal, and so appealed its ruling at the Supreme Court. I also went ahead to pray to the Supreme Court that if it found my appeal successful, it should then determine the substantive issue altogether. I filed my processes and paid the necessary fees.
My lawyers did a good job. The Supreme Court then gave me a date to move my motion. On the appointed date, I moved my motion and the respondents opposed it and the court ordered that all processes be filed and served and gave us 16th December for definite hearing. All processes were accordingly filed, served and ready for hearing. The least I expected was for the court to determine the arguments before it, one way or the other.
But on the appointed date, there was no hearing. In a complete turnaround, the court insisted that it won’t hear the matter and that I should withdraw the suit. After about 40 minutes of struggle, my lawyer realized it was fruitless to continue, so he took to the Supreme Court’s position and withdrew the suit whereupon it was struck out.
The appeal was thus refused hearing and it was not heard on its merit. The Supreme Court simply closed its doors on me as a citizen, which is the height of injustice. Unwittingly, by closing its doors on political practitioners like me, the courts have made our democracy tasteless. It is a great pity!
Why do you think the court did what it did?
Maybe the matter was too sensitive for the court to handle, or maybe I was not worthy to be heard by the court, or maybe that was the way of the court. A close friend of mine with TAN assured me that no court in the land will sit and determine the president’s eligibility matter; and where it does it will give a verdict against my argument. I didn’t believe him then, but with the turn of events now, I think he knew his onions after all. But whatever it was, by refusing to hear the matter, the Supreme Court has failed the nation by allowing a constitutional limbo in our democratization process that is capable of creating political crises of serious proportion for the country.
With the refusal, the judiciary foisted on Nigerians, rightfully or wrongfully, a fait accompli on the candidacy of President Jonathan for the 2015 presidential election. This indicates diminishing prospects of ever getting justice from our law courts by ordinary Nigerians. If the judiciary is the last hope of the common man, then woe betides the common man of this country. The administration of justice must not be an impediment to the dispensation of justice, or else the courts lose their essence.
But is it fair for you on the basis of a single case to come to such a conclusion on our law courts?
Don’t you know of a saying that one error of a judge is a general calamity on the innocent in the society? This case is a typical of this saying. Besides, in the last four years, I directly instituted seven cases in our law courts, all on political/constitutional issues: 1 in FCT High Court, 2 in Federal High Courts, 2 in Courts of Appeal and 2 in the Supreme Court. Of these seven cases, judgments were entered in five, while no judgments were entered in two, including this recent one of 16th December in the Supreme Court.
Of the five judgments entered, which were all against me, only one in my opinion was just and fair while the rest were glaringly unjust, unfair and fundamentally faulty; and they all occasioned huge miscarriage of justice. I think I have a fair enough data to even write and publish a book on these cases in order to lay bare in details how I see our judiciary failing. Suffice it to say now, I am convinced our judiciary is still a long way off the mark in the discharge of its constitutional responsibility to the nation.
In every case, ideally, the court is supposed to bring out the truth upon which judgment is delivered. But in one of my cases, specifically that of the 2011 PDP Gubernatorial Primaries in Adamawa State, the court brought out a lie upon which judgment was entered against me in addition to denying me locos standi to sue on an election where I had 100% interest and in which I was 100% cheated.
In that most unkind miscarriage of justice, the Supreme Court contended that I did not pay for my party’s Expression of Interest and Nomination Forms. This is a manifest lie first made by the PDP in its defense brief. But that document was later withdrawn by counsel and struck out from the court records. But it surreptitiously resurfaced in the judgment. It is now reported in our law books as gospel truth, already being quoted against me now and for eternity.
But even if the offensive document was not withdrawn and struck out, it would still have been easy for any judicious reader of the processes, especially at that level of adjudication, to detect the false claim of the party after seeing attached copies of my UBA payment receipts and Clearance Certificate. It would obviously dawn on him that this claim must be false; it just couldn’t be true. But most regrettably, the Nigerian Supreme Court found this manifest lie as true. So, not just denying me locus where I self-evidently had one, the court added upon me the weight of a visible lie that will remain a dent on my person and my public record now and long after my death.
This, I cannot accept as it is an eternal miscarriage of justice on me. The Supreme Court is supposed to be a court of justice, but to me, in that case, it is clearly a court of injustice. Although I am per forcefully bound by the judgment, I certainly do not admit it. In fact, I have the mind to sue the Supreme Court itself against this unkind injury inflicted upon an innocent citizen. But given the hierarchy of our courts and the finality of the judgment, I don’t know whether I can do so within our operating judicial system. If there is no way to upturn it in our courts, I will then have to write a book to put the record straight as a lasting rectification of the court’s miscarriage of justice against me.
Do you agree with the PDP Legal Adviser’s submission that courts don’t determine winners of elections?
Initially, no they don’t, but ultimately, yes courts do determine winners of elections. It did in my contest with Gov. Nyako in Adamawa. Even though Nyako didn’t win fair and square at the polls, the courts decided in his favour.
Party primaries have just been completed and nominees submitted to INEC for the general elections. Having contested for governorship yourself three times, how would you assess the exercise?
It is evident that there is a complete collapse of party nomination process in the country presently, not just in the PDP but in all political parties. Although the APC has tried a bit but I think is because it is a new party going into its first election. It, therefore, needs to create a first impression to Nigerians of being democratic so as to curry their support. But in the ruling party and other older ones, nomination process has completely collapsed. If I am to put the blame on any institution for this, I will put it squarely on our judiciary. It is the court that empowered and emboldened political parties by its pronouncements that they have absolute powers in nominating candidates, but are bound by their constitutions and guidelines.
But the parties disregard their laws with impunity and tell whosoever is unwilling to accept to go to court. And there is no court to go to because the courts’ doors are closed. If the courts had listened to my case on the PDP primaries in Adamawa and treated it on its merit, I assure you the party nomination process wouldn’t have collapsed as it has today, rather it would have been strengthened.
Judges don’t go to the polls, and therefore do not see how the processes are subverted. It is politicians like me who do. But when we take to the courts the flaws of the processes and the courts take to flimsy technicalities to deny us hearing, then, of course, the courts have given the parties the license to act arbitrarily.
This is what we are witnessing today in our democracy – right of first refusal, sole candidacy, endorsements, automatic tickets, capricious substitution of names, and all manners of undemocratic conducts – all because the courts have failed to act when they ought to. That is why today two or three party ‘leaders’ will sit down in a hotel room in Abuja and draw up for the party a list of their stooges as candidates for all elective offices for a state and forward same to INEC and get accepted as duly nominated and fielded in for general elections. How far low can it get!
What is your postulation on 2015 for Nigeria?
By the will of God Almighty 2015 will usher in a new dawn for Nigeria. It will mark the beginning of a Nigeria’s renaissance towards a positive future for our country and our people.