United States Congressman, Rep. Chris Smith, a ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa and Co-Chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, says “the eyes of the world are focused on the Nigerian Supreme Court when it reconsiders next week a controversial ruling with respect to the gubernatorial election in Imo State that sacked Emeka Ihedioha as governor.
Mr. Smith, representing the city of New Jersey in the US House of Representatives, said this in a statement released on Friday in Washington by his office, “with regard to the Nigerian Supreme Court’s upcoming reconsideration of its controversial January 14, 2020 ruling which undid the results of an election in Imo State announced by Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission, and placed the fourth place finisher in the Governor’s seat.”
He expressed concern over the Nigerian Supreme Court and the danger of eroding constitutional safeguards should the apex court fail to do the right thing in the review of Imo governorship judgement slated for 2nd of March.
A Supreme Court panel of seven justices had in that judgement sacked Mr. Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as governor and replaced him with Hope Uzodinma of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who finished poorly in fourth position, and whose party did not win one seat in the State House of Assembly.
Since then the apex court had come under immense fire, with majority of Nigerians, senior lawyers and civil societies calling for a reversal of the decision seen by many as absurd.
But Congressman Smith says the United States saw the erosion of the independence of the judiciary in Nigeria coming.
He said, “Nearly a year ago both the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria and I sounded the warning that President Muhammadu Buhari’s suspension and removal of the then-Chief Justice and elevation of a handpicked successor threatened judicial independence and also undermined confidence that electoral disputes would be adjudicated fairly.”
“Next week the Supreme Court of Nigeria will reconsider a controversial ruling with respect to the gubernatorial election in Imo State. The eyes of the world are focused on whether the Supreme Court, upon reflection, will impartially adhere to Nigerian constitutional principles of federalism and the separation of power.”
Mr. Smith however added that “If it rules with integrity, the Supreme Court can reassert its constitutional role as a firewall against unbridled federal executive power, and help preserve constitutionalism and democracy in Nigeria that is in danger of being undermined.”
Recall that on January 26 civil society groups in a press conference in Abuja had also asked the Supreme Court “to take courage and recall the Imo state governorship matter and recall the error and restore Justice, peace, hope and faith in our democracy and regain the confidence of the Nigerian people.”
Dr. Manzo Abubakar of the Abuja Discussion Group, who read the press statement on behalf of the coalition of the civil society groups, said the Supreme Court is left with no option than to review and reverse this anomaly, “even if it means applying a Judicial Doctrine of Necessity. The confidence of Nigerians in the judiciary is at the lowest, and we believe that the Supreme Court can help to restore it and save the future elections.
“This is the time to apply the famous dictum: ‘Justice must be rooted in confidence and confidence is destroyed when right-minded people go away thinking: the judge is biased.’
“The Supreme Court is supreme and can creatively reinvent its own rules to do justice. It is necessary to do so now than ever to save Nigerian democracy, constitutionalism and retrieve the judicial and justice system from its present opprobrium.”