A creeping ‘Judelex’ coup?
It was quite an embarrassing moment in the evolution of Nigeria’s political development. The ruling triumvirate of Generals –Olusegun Obasanjo, Theophilus Danjuma and the late Shehu Musa Yar’Adua had made up their minds that after 13 years in power, the military must quit the political terrain and hand over to a democratically elected government by 1979. Yet, in doing so, it was apparent that the incumbent military junta had made up their minds on those who would succeed them. It was not surprising, therefore, when Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the NPN triumphed over more capable, experienced, and knowledgeable contestants such as Dr Nnamdi Azikwe of the NPP, Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the UPN, Alhaji Aminu Kano of the PRP and Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim of the Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP) in the presidential election. Of course one must not discount such variables as ethnicity, religion and monetary inducements as factors that influence electoral outcomes in Nigeria.
Perhaps the most concrete evidence of the tacit support of the departing military regime for the NPN was the way in which the vacant position of Chief Justice of the country at the time was filled. The presidential election had held. Shagari had the highest number of votes but failed to meet the constitutional requirements of securing 25 per cent of the votes cast in each of at least two-thirds of the 19 states in the country then. Chief Obafemi Awolowo had filed a suit at the Supreme Court challenging Shagari’s election. Yet, the outgoing military allegedly consulted Shagari, who was then President-elect, and allowed him to choose who the next Chief Justice of Nigeria would be – a CJN who would preside over the presidential suit as well as determine who other judges to sit on the panel would be. Of course, the new CJN constituted a panel that upheld Shagari’s election and declared that two-thirds of each of 19 states is 12 2/3 and not 13. The only dissenting voice was that of Justice Kayode Eso. Apparently realizing the absurdity of their judgement, the revered justices said the judgement should not be cited as precedent in any future cases!
In an address at a retreat on 28th January, 1980, Chief Awolowo reflected on the 1979 elections and congratulated the party leadership and cadres of the UPN for having campaigned gallantly and admirably. He contended that his party was the victim of a strange type of coup, which he called a Judelex coup. This is neither a military nor a civilian coup. According to Awolowo, a Judelex coup is a ‘judicial/electoral/executive coup’. He stressed that “It was these three successful kinds of coup- the judelex coup- that brought Shagari to power”.
Well, the judelex coup may not have brought President Goodluck Jonathan to power, but it is being brazenly used in several ways to sustain his grip on power and ultimately win a second term in office at all costs. It is my view that the Jonathan presidency is the greatest danger to democracy and the rule of law in Nigeria today. The president may be oblivious of what is happening. For, there is a way that power distances those who wield it from reality and they begin to hear and see only what the sycophants and the security network want them to.
Now how does the concept of a ‘judelex coup’ apply to the Jonathan administration today? First and foremost is the on-going judicial coup. The way President Jonathan intimidated, harassed and hounded the former President Court of Appeal (PCA), Justice Ayo Salami, constitutes a grave act of executive assault on that most hallowed arm of government. The National Judicial Council (NJC), under the leadership of former Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Alloysius Katsina Alu, had written Jonathan requesting the suspension of Salami for what has now turned out to be baseless and utterly fictive allegations. President Jonathan acted fast and suspended Salami almost immediately.
When the same NJC, under the leadership of the then CJN, Justice Dahiru Musdaphar, found that Justice Salami was innocent of all charges against him, it wrote the President to lift the suspension and restore the suspended PCA to his office. The President suddenly developed cold feet. He refused to act on the matter until Justice Salami statutorily retired from service. The implications of Salami’s unjust treatment by President Jonathan are far-reaching and dangerous. Can any judge henceforth have the boldness to rule without fear or favour in electoral disputes in which the President and his party have an interest? Will any judge want to go through the torment Justice Salami was subjected to? For the judiciary, is the fear of Jonathan not now the beginning of wisdom? Is justice not then the casualty of this judelex coup?
The second leg of the ‘judelex coup’ is the electoral coup. This has to do essentially with electoral umpires like INEC who are anything but independent, transparent and objective. Dr Jonathan pulled a fast one on us when he chose Professor Attahiru Jega as INEC Chairman. We all hailed the decision because of Jega’s perceived honesty, discipline, integrity and fearlessness. With the benefit of hindsight, we were wrong. Jega is only one man. He sits up there making pious noises while his men on the field laugh at the eccentric academic who does not want money. Of course, the men on the field collude with politicians to rig elections and smile to the bank. This was evident in the travesty that the Anambra State governorship election was. At the end of the day, Jega came out to admit gross irregularities in the Anambra election and apologising to Nigerians while promising better elections in future.
It is surprising that a political scientist of Professor Jega’s stature has not seen the need to thoroughly overhaul and cleanse the INEC he inherited while completely re-orientating the staff in a new direction of probity, transparency and efficiency. It is of utmost importance that civil society groups must begin to renew pressure on the National Assembly to implement the recommendation of the Justice Muhammed Uwais electoral reforms panel that the National Judicial Commission (NJC) should recommend three names to the President for consideration as INEC Chairman. The INEC chairmen chosen this way will certainly feel no sense of indebtedness to the President and will be able to discharge their duties without fear or favour. As it is, Professor Jega has lost the confidence of a large swathe of the political class – a reason why many alleged that the election timetable released by INEC is designed to favour Jonathan and the PDP.
The third leg of the ‘judelex coup’ concept is the executive; the atrocities of this arm of government are so glaring. What is happening in Rivers State, for example, orchestrated from Abuja, is a most embarrassing form of executive recklessness. The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has practically been suspended in Rivers State. Without the President declaring any state of emergency, the lawless Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Joseph Mbu carries on as if he is governor of the state. Ex-militants are left to run amok while the police look the other way. The state House of Assembly has been incapacitated from sitting just by six minority members with the support of the police. And in the face of all this, it is all mum from the presidency. Yet, the President is supposedly the Chief Security Officer of the country and the safety of lives and property across the length and breadth of this country is his responsibility.
It appears that President Jonathan and his inner caucus are daily testing the limits of their acting with impunity without provoking anything but the proverbial ‘siddon look’ syndrome on the part of Nigerians. That is why I support the hard stance of the All Progressives congress (APC) in calling on its members in the National Assembly to block all Executive Bills until the President makes sure all acts of impunity are decisively tackled and halted particularly in Rivers State. But then this is not enough. Civil society groups must begin to organise to go back to the trenches if this presidency continues on its current self-destructive descent to fascism and tyranny.