Nigeria has experienced 18 years of uninterrupted democracy from 1999 to 2017. During this period , we have witnessed an increased strengthening off all tiers of government in the executive, judiciary and the legislature. Many political pundits in 1998 when we began this democratic journey predicted that the military will still intervene by truncating the process again. But successive governments from 1999 to date have proved the pundits wrong.
It would have been unbelievable if anyone had been told over the years that a government in power will lose to the opposition like in the case of a 2015 general election. There is no gainsaying in the fact that Nigeria’s democracy is not only maturing but has come of age.
However one is seriously worried about the threats to our democratic experience coming from the judiciary, reminiscent of the events of 1993 when enemies of democracy used the court to cause confusion and chaos and eventual scuttling of democratic process.
Currently, such scenario is brewing with the likes of now infamous and highly controversial Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, whose activities in the bench has become a bad testament to the Nigerian judiciary.
Just like Justice Bassey Ikpeme who was used by the Association of Better Nigeria (ABN) to scuttle the 1993 presidential election, and Justice Wilson Egbo Egbo, who was used to stir series of political crisis that nearly truncated our democracy in 2003, Justice Abang has become the greatest threat to our current democracy as he has exhibited ugly proclivity and readiness to be used to truncate our democracy unless checked.
Abang’s anti democratic proclivities are evident in his rulings on Abia and Ondo governorship elections, as well as on the leadership tussle in the PDP which is ostensibly a ploy to weaken the opposition; a vital ingredient for a healthy democracy.
On June 27, 2016, Justice Abang ordered Governor Okezie Ikpeazu to vacate his seat as governor of Abia state following alleged falsification of tax documents and ordered INEC to immediately issue a certificate of return to Uche Ogar who came second in the PDP primary, even when it is clear that Ikpeazu being in the service of Abia state had his tax deducted at source and did not generate the said tax certificate. That ruling created political crisis in the state, (a state with 2 governors). But for the appeal court and supreme court which upturned that obnoxious ruling, Abang would have created a constitutional crisis in the state and set a precedence that can truncate democracy. in fact the appeal court described the ruling as a “rape of democracy”.
On June 29, 2016, Abang delivered a judgement in which he ordered that Eyitayo Jegede be dropped as PDP candidate in the Ondo governorship election and replaced with Jimoh Ibrahim even without granting Jegede hearing in the matter. What was baffling the most in this matter was that Abang granted an order that was not sought by the counsel. The court became Father Christmas. The Ondo and the candidature of Eyitato Jegede was never brought before Abang but he delved into the matter. Chaos, confusion, protest greeted the judgement in Ondo. The electoral process was put at the brinks.
That judgement which the court of appeal described as highly misplaced and most fraudulent as well as “violent attitudinal disposition to rule of law.” derailed the electoral process in Ondo and denied the people and the PDP the stability of process to effectively participate in the election. If he is not checked he can derail the 2019 elections. From the clear antecedents of Abang, one should not be surprised if Abang frustrates the presidential primaries of political parties in 2019 by issuing controversial court orders.
The crisis in the PDP today that is caused by Abang who arrogated himself the powers of the Appeal court by upturning the judgment of another court of concurrent jurisdiction. Justice Liman of the Federal High Court Port Harcourt had already delivered judgment that the National Convention of May 21, 2016 which brought in the caretaker committee was valid and did not violate any law.
But Abang elevated himself into a court of appeal and upturned the Judgement of Justice Liman and barred the caretaker committee and imposed Sherriff thus triggering of the crisis in the PDP.
Abang is capable of being used to truncate this democracy. The way he is going, he is capable is being used to stall a presidential primary, impose a wrong candidate, or even annul the presidential polls. In the last one year, Justice Okon Abang has been greatest threat to our democracy in Nigeria. An assessment of Democracy Day 2017 will not be complete without mentioning the name of Justice Abang.
Deji Adeyanju is the Convener of the Concerned Nigerians Movement, a Civil Advocacy Group aimed at promoting accountability and transparency in government in Nigeria. He tweets from @adeyanjudeji.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.