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Law Teachers Conference: S’Court Seems To Be Exceeding Constitutional Limit In Election Matters — Osinbajo

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, yesterday, expressed worry about judicial interventions in election matters, concurring with rising calls for interrogation of the role of the judiciary, especially, the Supreme Court, in electoral issues, specifically, whether it has not been exceeding its remits.

Osinbajo spoke at the 53rd Conference of the National Association of Law Teachers, held at Bayero University, Kano (BUK). The conference had the theme, “Law, Democracy and the Electoral Process.”

The vice president said legal interpretation must always bow to the wish of the people, citing what he viewed as the unfortunate outcome of the 2019 elections in Zamfara State.

Osinbajo visited the family of the five-year-old Hanifa Abubakar, who was killed by proprietor of Nobel Kids Academy, Kwanar Dakata, Nasarawa Local Government Area of the state, Abdulmalik Tanko. He condoled with the family and prayed God to give them the courage to bear the painful passing of their daughter.

Delivering his lecture at the conference, Osinbajo insisted that appropriate interpretation of the law should always bow to the will of the electorate, because the idea of democracy was for the people to determine their leaders.

Citing the 2019 elections in Zamfara State, he said, “The decision of the Supreme Court in the case of APC and Marafa, and that is a case, where the Supreme Court nullified the elections of all candidates of the APC and gave judgement in favour of the party, who were resoundingly defeated in the same election.

“In that election in 2019, the trouble at the Supreme Court game was that the APC primaries that produced candidates that were voted for were invalid.

“And without recourse to the elections that had in the polls rejected all the other candidates in the other political parties, the Supreme Court declared candidates of parties other than the APC as winners of the various offices that were contested, as winners in that February 23rd and March 15 general election.

“The court held that the APC votes cast by the Zamfara State electorate to select their preferred candidate to governor, senators, members of the House of Representatives, members of the House of Assembly were all, and I quote, ‘wasted votes’. Why? Because according to the court, APC did not conduct any valid primary elections and as such, had no candidates for any elections in the state.

“So, here is a situation, where the party that lost every seat, from governorship to House of Assembly, was given all those seats on judicial pronouncements. For the voter, this decision must have at best been puzzling.

“First, the voter had no idea that the candidates of their preferred party were disqualified before voting. Indeed, at least, one court had declared the primaries valid and it was on that basis that INEC gave the go-ahead to the candidates to contest.

“Secondly, rather than giving seats to those that the electorate have rejected, ordering a rerun would probably have yielded a fairer result in the opinion of many of those, who went to the polls on that day. And I agree with my brother A.B Mahmoud SAN, that there is a real issue of whether the courts have not assumed a larger duty in election cases than was constitutionally intended.”

The vice president, who maintained that the judiciary remained the pillar of democracy, said, “In other words, are our courts going beyond constitutional expectations in election cases? And it is important to emphasise this, because the whole idea of democracy is that the people determine who their leaders will be, the law, electoral processes – everything must bow to the will of the people.”

Recalling his teaching experience at the University of Lagos in 1981 as Lecturer II, with a salary of N620, Osinbajo, who is believed to be nursing presidential ambition, reiterated, “The appropriate interpretation must always bow to the will of the people. I am certain that these views will add to the deliberations at the conference.”

While declaring the conference opened earlier, Prof. Osinbajo noted that democracy and social justice are closely linked, in his prepared speech titled; The pursuit of Justice is What Helps Build a Good Society, Osinbajo stated that the cornerstone of democracy is the insistence that “our society must be governed by the rule of law and not the whim of man.”

“As law teachers and legal practitioners, we are custodians of this truth. However, democracy cannot endure without social justice,” he said, noting that “the pursuit of justice lies at the heart of the quest for the good of society.”

He continued, “This makes the legal profession one of the cardinal vocations upon which civilization rests. Indeed, law is an instrument of pacific social engineering, the end of which is justice. When it is rooted in this postulate, it follows that the law and therefore democracy, are meant to serve beneficial social ends.”

According to the VP, “a society in which an increasing number of people consider themselves alienated from legal institutions or perceive these legal institutions to be incapable of delivering justice for all cannot be stable and prosperous.”

Without social justice, legal justice is ultimately unattainable, Prof. Osinbajo stated, adding that “our idea of social justice also refers to the social and economic rights of the people.”

He said these rights, according to the Constitution, include the right to food, shelter, employment, education and a reasonable national minimum living wage, care for the elderly, pensions, unemployment benefits and welfare for the physically challenged.

“The degree to which citizens are in possession of their social and economic rights has a direct impact on the degree of their access to legal services and, thence, to justice. Our concern as teachers and practitioners of the law, therefore, must extend beyond the courtroom, beyond the precincts of our legal institutions, to the social reality in which these structures exist.”

Speaking on government’s role in ensuring growth of democracy and social justice in society, the Vice President noted that “the principle of the dignity of the human person implies that governments must be considerate, egalitarian and universal in the sense that they must serve everyone.”

Again, he stated that this cardinal principle was a major reason for the Federal Government’s Social Investment Programmes.

The VP said the Administration will continue to ramp up its efforts in social welfare and expanding universal health insurance to ensure “that our most vulnerable citizens are not abandoned to the vicissitudes of fate.”

Also speaking on the essence of democracy and the need to preserve democratic institutions in Nigeria and other parts of Africa, the Vice President noted that even as Nigeria has enjoyed 22 years of unbroken democracy, the country is still a young democracy.

“We have witnessed a series of peaceful transitions of power. This is a huge credit to the democratic sensibilities of our people. Along the way, we are learning valuable lessons that can only make us better practitioners of liberty.

“Many of our institutions are still in their infancy, and we must carefully guide them into maturity. We recognize that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance,” Prof. Osinbajo observed.

He noted that the Electoral Bill now in process is testament to the Administration’s commitment towards improving Nigeria’s electoral process.

“The Bill itself has been the subject of robust engagement between the government and civil society. While some have expressed reservations about the time it is taking to enact the new law, we should remember that a truly inclusive democratic, deliberative process often takes time. I am confident that the legislation that emerges will be one that reflects a broad consensus between all the stakeholders,” he said.

The Vice President added that “while INEC continues to improve its capacity to conduct credible elections, particularly through the deployment of technology; we recognize that democracy is about much more than voting. It is also about constitutionalism, rule of law and respect for civil liberties. We must diligently work to uphold these principles.

“Our progress as a democracy must therefore also be prosecuted in terms of the struggle to reduce the basic problems of ill-health, malnutrition, illiteracy, and famine which daily afflict our people. Where social and economic rights are unsecured, people are unable to fully maximize their civil and political rights.”

In his own speech, Governor Abdullahi Ganduje commended members of the judiciary for organising the conference at Bayero University, Kano, which focused on the role of the judiciary in the development of democracy across the country.

Osinbajo, who used the opportunity of his engagement in Kano to visit Hanifa’s family, condoled with the girl’s parents. Ganduje and other government officials accompanied Osinbajo on the condolence visit.

Hanifa was kidnapped last December by her school proprietor, Tanko, who later killed her and buried her in the school compound. He is currently standing trial along with two other suspects at a Kano court on a four-count charge. Tanko was arrested while trying to collect part of a ransom he had negotiated after killing Hanifa.

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