“It is said that the wheels of justice grind slowly, but frankly, this is ridiculous.” This remark was made on facebook by a journalist in response to the verdict of the Court of Appeal on November 9 in Benin, which annulled the election of Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan as governor of Delta state. Dr Uduaghan had been governor for more than three years, before his election was nullified. The comments of “friends” that followed the status update ranged from praising the judgment, faulting the ineptitude of INEC to demanding the prosecution of Uduaghan and all electoral offenders.
Similar responses came from all over the country as many lauded the verdict while agreeing it was ludicrous that an illegality of such magnitude was allowed to last for so long.
The former illegitimate governor now fighting for his political survival in preparation for the coming re-run election ordered by the court, is not the first person to be disgraced in this manner. In October, Mr. Segun Oni was shown the legal way out of the Ado-Ekiti Government house when the Federal Court of Appeal in Ilorin ruled in favour of his opponent Mr. Fayemi as the rightfully elected governor of the state. Mr Oni had also enjoyed an illegal three-year long reign as governor. The present governors of Edo and Ondo states also had to win their battles in court over the usurpers posing as governors who had hijacked the 2007 elections, before they could enjoy their gubernatorial rights.
While the news of these verdicts are usually greeted with approval and commendation from Nigerians, not a few people, like the journalist, decry the lengthy period of the judicial process, and the criminality of allowing a politician enjoy a stolen mandate during the time it takes the courts to reach a decision. After he assumed office, Mr Fayemi also expressed similar sentiments and said there should be some legal action taken against these political offenders in the future.
With preparations for the next elections taking place, Nigerians hope INEC will not forget to prosecute election offenders instead of letting them go free, bearing undeserving titles like “former governor.” However, there is another side to all these events that must not be ignored. There was a time when very few people believed in the courts, when the judicial system seemed incapable of delivering justice. As a country emerging from long years of repressive military rule where there were so many “untouchables” in the society who could get away with almost anything, these high profile court victories may be auspicious signs of a promising future. Is it possible that Nigeria’s decade-old democracy is now working?
Chief Bode George, a retired military man – one of the “untouchables” – former southwest chieftain of the PDP was convicted of corruption last year and sentenced to jail for two years. A short sentence no doubt, but a conviction nonetheless. The court sentence was met with surprise by many Nigerians who believed that a man of his influence and calibre would certainly be acquitted. On the day of his conviction, a crowd of supporters had gathered outside the court ready to celebrate his expected acquittal when the news came that the man would be going to prison, it was unbelievable.
Good things may be happening slowly, but Nigeria’s democracy is working and it is important to observe the little victories for our own good. There is no doubt we still have a lot to accomplish, there are still real problems that have refused to go away, and some that seem worse than ever, but in some other ways, we are making progress. The nullified elections of Uduaghan, Oni, Agagu, Osunbor, Emordi and others are not only victories of the people in their constituencies, but serve a greater purpose in showing Nigerians what is possible, that electoral reform may not be a mirage after all, that we may have a shot at good governance sooner than we think. For many Nigerians who remember what the 2007 election was like, there is certainly a collective feeling of justice won against these illegal politicians and their infamous collaborator- Maurice Iwu, former INEC chairman. These accomplishments give us the unusual confidence to expect something different not only from next year’s elections, but in other unfavourable national situations as well.
During the recent interregnum when our former President, the late Umar Musa Yaradua was unavailable before Goodluck Jonathan was made acting president, Nigeria witnessed a remarkable wave of civil activism. Angry Nigerians especially youths became more vocal than before and demanded action from the government. Several protests and rallies were organized in Lagos and Abuja, and the internet, newspapers and news stations disgorged a daily dose of fiery reports urging lawmakers and the judiciary to do something. That was when organizations like Save Nigeria Group and Enough is Enough came into the limelight as they refused to stop talking, protesting and putting pressure on the government to do the right thing. Eventually, the Senate made Jonathan acting president and allowed him to exercise the full powers of the President’s office. It was welcome and rewarding news, and further inspired boldness among Nigerians that it is possible for them to influence their leaders into action. Also, the removal of Maurice Iwu as the Chairman of INEC could be largely attributed to the protests by civil organizations all over the country. This was the best thing that came out of the activism during that period, a new awareness among the people that not only could they challenge the government if it went astray, but they can stand their ground and prevail. Until then, most Nigerians did not express interests in public activities against the government as long as they were able to continue with their daily work without disturbance. Today, that mentality is gradually changing; more Nigerians, especially youths now understand the collective duty of all citizens in enforcing responsible leadership. It seems our young democracy is beginning to work.
Democracy however has not been fair to all Nigerians. There are still controversies over election results of several public servants, including the president and the senate president, raising doubts about next year’s elections. And many Nigerians still struggle to subsist even after ten years of a democracy that promised prosperity. And PHCN continues to live up to its dark name as it holds on to power out of the reach of those who need it. And corruption is still very much a part of our national culture. So we lament our plight, curse our leaders and seek greener pastures. However, these problems should not cloud our eyes from seeing and acknowledging the little victories. It is important to remember our triumphs because they give hope and reinforce our resolve to win more battles.
Tolu Ogunlesi, a journalist with NEXT newspaper in an article on Nigeria’s fiftieth Independence anniversary, wrote: “this is a country whose biggest trade is not in oil, or in scam letters, but in Hope; a land whose true currency is not the Naira, but Optimism; one whose biggest industry is the one that recycles Resilience.” It is true that we have invested so much in hope, and traded optimism for prosperity without profit. But now, as little signs of progress begin to show, we just might have strong reasons to trade more.