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Published On: Wed, Nov 26th, 2014

A tale of two deputy governors

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The GavelThe Supreme Court has, this year alone, restored two North-east deputy governors who lost their offices. In Adamawa, Barrister Bala Ngilari‘ resigned’ in the heat of moves to impeach his boss, Governor Murtala Nyako. When Nyako was finally removed, he rushed to court, claiming that he resigned in error and should be restored to his office as deputy governor. Many people in Adamawa and beyond thought he was clowning until the Supreme Court granted him victory.

In Taraba, deputy governor Sani Danladi Abubakar was impeached by the state House of Assembly. He protested to the High Court and failed; then he moved to the Appeal Court, again he failed. In between, his boss, Governor Danbaba Suntai was involved in a near fatal air crash in which he survived – miraculously. After a long medical sojourn abroad, Suntai returned to claim his office. But there were suspicions about his mental status, enough to deny him his claims. Meanwhile, his erstwhile deputy Abubakar fought on through the courts. He lost at the High Court also at the Appeal Court. Then when everybody had forgotten about his legal battles, the Supreme Court granted a sounding victory to him.

The two deputy governors are Nigerians, entitled to their rights as citizens of this country. And when they believed those rights were abridged, they had the support of the Constitution to seek redress in the courts to restore those rights. We do not blame them for going to court to have their rights restored.

The court also has the power to entertain all cases brought before it. Section 6 of the 1999 Constitution says the purpose of the judiciary is to settle disputes between persons and between governmental authorities and any persons in Nigeria. But as the popular saying goes, ‘justice must not only be done but be seen to be done.’ In delivering their judgments, the courts must avoid being too technical so that the judgments they deliver do not sound like some statistical calculations or some archaic theory propounded by an arcane philosopher centuries gone by.

We are, for instance, disturbed that the courts of law in this country – all the way to the Supreme Court – refused to entertain some electoral petitions on the technical grounds that the 180 days allowed for electoral petitions had lapsed. The substance of those cases, which in many instances cited criminal activities against the accused, was conveniently buried in the unjust mantra of 180 days. We have not recovered from the shock of this peculiar Nigerian definition of justice, which amounts to a revocation of Section 6 of the 1999 Constitution, already cited when the Supreme Court embarked on this current crusade of restoring deputy governors in highly suspicious circumstances.

The current acting governor of Adamawa Bala Ngilari is a trained attorney, versed in law. How on earth did he address his letter of resignation to the wrong person or office? Was he in his right frame of mind when he did that? If he was not, has our Constitution not strictly forbidden men without the requisite mental capacity from holding public office? We ask this question because it will take insanity, even if it is a temporary one, for a trained lawyer who has been in such an office as Deputy Governor not to have the clerical knowledge of where to properly submit a letter.

In Taraba, everybody had forgotten that Alhaji Sani had a case against his removal. Then the Supreme Court came out with this judicial ambush. The case was in the judicial mill for two whole years! As the popular saying goes, ‘justice delayed is justice denied.’ The far reaching implication of these two cases is that the ordinary man in the street believes that the cases were procured by those who had the cash to pay. The Supreme Court, therefore, has a solemn duty to convince Nigerians that contrary to popular belief, its judgments are not out for auction.

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