James Ezike is a lawyer, former legal counsel to Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, MKO Abiola and Celestine Omeha. In this interview he speaks about the judgment of the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal (PEPT), why the 2023 presidential election will determine the future of Nigeria, among other issues. JOY ANIGBOGU brings the excerpts:…CONTINUE READING
Why do you think that the judges didn’t perform within the expectations of most Nigerians, are you a member of any of the political parties?
I’m not a member of any of the political parties. The only person I represented in an election petition consistently was Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu. I was his counsel when he ran for senate in 1983. I was his counsel when he ran for president twice. I was MKO Abiola’s lawyer. I was also Celestine Omeha’s lawyer. I’m used to these things. Let me shock my learned friend, Obasanjo didn’t win the South-East in 1999. It was Olu Falae who won. Falae didn’t have polling agents in the South-East. I remember the meeting we had in Baba Ayo Adebanjo’s house in Lekki, where Falae said that he didn’t know that he won in the South-East. They snatched the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from the man who formed the party, the late Alex Ekwueme. The voters in the East were angry. So, they voted for Falae. If you want to look at it practically, Falae won in the cities where they couldn’t rig. The rigging took place in the rural areas. You mentioned Omeha, the case that I did for him. I got a call from him, he said that a Supreme Court judge who is his friend said that in the judgment that gave Rotimi Amaechi victory that there was something wrong with it. He said that he couldn’t put a finger on it but there was somebody who could assist him. He came to Lagos to see me. I told him that the Supreme Court was making laws but not interpreting them. I went to court on it and the Supreme Court didn’t allow me to argue it. The law says that it is the voters who put him in power and in that judgment they said it was not the voters but the political parties that win and lose elections.
From the election petition verdict Abuja is now a 37 state. It means that everything that happens in every state happens in Abuja. There is also a part that says electronic transmission of election results is discretionary. If it was discretionary, why did INEC apologise for the glitch that happened on that day?
It was mainly fraud. If they know that they were wrong. What they would say is , “let us repeat the election. What I expect in this judgment of the Supreme Court is for the election to be repeated. Let us go and see how other countries handled theirs. Kenya had an issue and the Supreme Court ruled that the election should be repeated. Because the foundation was wrong the election should be repeated. The issue is that the foundation of that election was wrong. If I’m going for an examination and I’m told that this is the time, and I came too early and you say, “I am sorry” oh that it was actually yesterday that the examination was held, that your communication system was wrong. If it was wrong, then you repeat it. That is what is done in other places. Elections could be repeated. Secondly, this question of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) is a shame. I followed the Kenya Supreme Court judgment live. I also followed what we did in Nigeria and ironically they followed the submissions meant for the parties that lost than those that lost here in Nigeria. Rigging elections is not a new thing in Nigeria. It happened in 2011. So we have to conquer it. My prayer is that people should stop calling for military rule in Nigeria, because the history of the world shows that any country that has been ruled by the military never survives it. We’re not surviving this one. I mentioned Kenya, they never had it. They don’t have this kind of problems that we have. Look at the United Kingdom, with Oliver Cromwell that once had it. When the royal family came back, they went to where he was buried, exhumed his skeleton, hung it, which is why you have Royal Air Force, Royal Navy but not Royal Army. Look at the Soviet Union, look at China, these are the people who have fought civil wars to establish a new form of government. If you are calling for military rule, you should consider the consequences. You saw what happened when Shehu Shagari was overthrown. That was the first time Nigerians started checking out. We have recovered from it. The economy collapsed. Law and order was abused and corruption became the order of the day. The military has never been able to do anything good in terms of democracy and the economy anywhere.
What are the preliminary lessons that you think that we can draw from the findings and conclusions of the presidential elections petition tribunal, particularly with time for the hearing of election petitions?
The first lesson is with regard to the conduct of elections. When I participated in an election in 1979 I lost. I ran under the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). My maternal uncle who was a member of the House of Reps asked me to file my petitions that I will win. He said that my opponent wasn’t qualified due to his papers. I said that I wasn’t going to do it and he asked me, why? I said because he won. Due to the technicality of law, if I had gone, I would have won in court. I don’t believe in it. There are so many technicalities that should be removed. This question of whether he didn’t do youth service. The question of having been convicted. Kwame NKruma was convicted, he won election in prison. The only thing that should be done is to make debate compulsory. That way you can tackle your opponent, but to disqualify a candidate by these things that they are enumerating is wrong, because they are technicalities. I don’t believe it. Talking about opinions like Justice Niki Tobi said, doesn’t apply to elections. If the public opinion is that Atiku had won or that Peter Obi had won and the result is different, why should it be ignored? If we are talking about interpretations of laws, interpretation of documents, that is a different thing. If the interpretation is different from what the normal person will say, then there is something wrong with that interpretation. Oguntade said his own bit but look at what he did in Amaechi’s case. Amaechi’s petition was a pre-election matter. He violated the law the court says that if it is a pre-election case as they said against Atiku in his petition against Buhari, that the time had elapsed. Let us not leave the judiciary out of this mess because there are so many judgments. I’ve been involved in so many. I’ve three judgments that I made in Supreme Court and they have not been delivered, even though the Supreme Court rule says that once an appeal has been heard a judgment must be delivered. The courts that do these things should be blamed when it comes to election matters. Election matters are so vital in our lives that you cannot take them for granted. What makes a country survive economically, politically is the judiciary, the rule of law. We don’t see it. For instance, who is going to invest in a country like this? Where if you win a case all the other side has to do is to keep delaying it and the court does nothing. In other places there will be a penalty. When you are investing in a country, you will know that when you win your case, you’ll be adequately compensated. What Tinubu should be blamed for is for not taking part in debates so that people can see him and ask him questions. The third estate of the realm which is the judiciary has failed when it comes to delivering justice. If you deliver a good judgment, your name will be in international law like the one that they did on Nnamdi Kanu.
Is there any hope for the petitioners to go to the Supreme Court?
I don’t see any hope. It’ll be a pleasant miracle if there is change because the judges who are in Supreme Court most of the are not the Oputas’, they are not Justice Esos’, that will look at the case and interpret it properly I know the risk that I’m taking saying this because I go to court frequent but it is more important that we are safe than for me to flatter them. For your information I have one or two of them who I call my friends. If you say Abuja is there and you don’t want it any more, you change the law. The future of this election will actually determine the future of Nigeria because this is the first time. I noticed that young people were enthused in politics. This is after the toll gate thing. If anybody doesn’t understand history among the judges, I think I’ll recuse myself if I were a judge. If you understand history you’ll know where these things are going and that your name will be there when the history is made whether it is surviving or otherwise, will depend on this election….CONTINUE READING