There is a popular Hausa cliche which loosely translates as “justice is a pregnant woman, whose baby’s gender no one knows”. That saying is not entirely correct. In fact, to legal pundits, the cliche is more wrong than it is right.
Perhaps not with pinpoint precision or the similitude of, say, radiologists, capacity to detect gender of pregnancies, all things being equal, lawyers and judges could pretty much forecast the outcome of factual disputes pending before a court.
They could tell whether one has a good or bad case. It’s not magic. A big chunk of the secret lies in their knowledge and appreciation of the applicability of judicial precedent in deserving cases, founded in the age-long doctrine of stare decisis.
Now, stare decisis, a latin phrase for “to stand by things decided”, is the principle of law which demands courts of law to adhere to earlier established reasoning and decisions when subsequently faced with cases which present similar facts. The principle represents the most important feature of man-made law for its consistent application serves not only as a guide from higher to lower courts, it is a formidable measure of judges’ adjudicatory prowess and incorruptibility. Thus, stare decisis makes the art of dispute resolution and adjudication scientific and certain.
It is on the above deep seated understanding of the law as it were, that in relation to Kano governorship electoral dispute, lawyers, litigants and citizens alike were caught off guard by the Court of Appeal’s failure or refusal to align with its many consistent findings on similar or even identical issues, some of which were handed a few days before the governorship appeal verdict.
In this sense, the latest Court of Appeal position on the question of party membership and the justiciability of the claims thereon in post election disputes by members of adverse political party was delivered on Thursday, the 9th day of November, 2023 in the case of Abubakar Zakari Muhammad & Anor V Sule Kabiru Dahiru & Ors with Appeal No. CA/EP/KN/SHA/27/2023.
In the said case just about a week before Abba Kabir Yusuf’s appeal verdict, the Court of Appeal seated in the same courtroom and judicial division, held that the issue of membership of a political party and qualification of candidate in relation thereto, is non-justiciable.
The Court of Appeal, relying on its several earlier decisions as well as Supreme Court’s, held in clear terms that it is not within the jurisdictional powers of any court to determine who a member of a political party is. The law is rather settled before now that the copious prov isions in Nigerian constitution requiring one to be a member of and sponsored by a political party only seeks to legislate the nonrecognition of independent candidature in Nigeria. No more, no less.
Thus, the fact that a candidate is sponsored by a political party is invariably conclusive of membership thereof as it is unthinkable that a political party will sponsor any person other than a member for any elective position. Being the candidate’s counsel in the instant case, this was an argument we canvassed and which was upheld by the Court of Appeal.
Thus, I and many lawyers there present, including of course the APC lawyers who I believe reluctantly pushed the argument l, couldn’t hold it when seated in the same courtroom, a week later the court took an entirely different position on an identical issue. Especially because, like in Abba’s case, the tribunal in my case also found that my client’s name was not in the register of NNPP members for Tarauni Local Government Area of Kano.
Now this shock was not exclusive to me or other lawyers keenly following the issue.
To my knowledge, there has never been a time when non-lawyers became so concerned about the workings of Nigeria’s judiciary, as they recently have been. Citizens with little or no business with law courts’ system of dispute resolution became so concerned. They took time to dissect court claims, counter-claims, and high level legal documents in the likes of notices of appeal and cross-appeal, briefs of arguments, judgment ratios and etcetera.
In Kano, I saw laymen go as far as scrutinizing the Electoral Act to exhume legal provisions relative to Kano’s electoral dispute. A certain curious medical practitioner friend, went as far as researching judicial precedents and publishing quasi-legal opinion articles all because they wanted to ascertain, based on the doctrine of stare decisis, what Kano’s verdict will likely be like.
Views like these were very well circulated among Nigerians interested in Kano’s peculiar electoral situation. This sudden shift and departure from a legal position which has attained a state notoriety by the court of appeal, is what shocked not only Nigerians, but even lawyers who have recorded sustained victories and losses on the same issue in many previous cases.
While judgments of courts must always be respected by all and sundry, the constitution allows us to express ourselves and sound cautions where necessary.
Accordingly, I strongly feel that something has to change. The law must not be allowed to lose its potency which is intricately embedded in its relative certainty and predictability. Accordingly, the stakeholders of the justice sector must as a matter of extreme national interest, act to save the judiciary’s only face.
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