Bayelsa: The Supreme Court Baffles Everybody Again

By Idowu Akinlotan

THE latest in the controversial decisions of the Supreme Court is the judgment of the court in the pre-election case in Bayelsa State governorship election in which the governor-elect of the state, David Lyon and his Deputy, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremieoyo, were sacked on the eve of their inauguration. The apex court, in a unanimous judgment, reinstated the judgment of the Federal High Court that disqualified Mr Degi-Eremieoyo from participating in the governorship poll. The apex court held that since Mr Degi-Eremieoyo shared a joint ticket with the governor-elect, his disqualification afflicted their nomination by the All Progressive Congress (APC).

The decision of the apex court in Bayelsa governorship poll is diametrically opposed to the decision of the same court in the Kogi State governorship election four years ago, where the same court approved and sustained Governor Yahaya Bello’s election even when he contested the supplementary election without any running mate. This is, surely, inexplicable. These are two inconsistent judgments; yet, the Supreme Court fails to explain its departure from one to the other. Perhaps, it suffices to simply state here that if two decisions are inconsistent, one of them must be wrong. This has unfortunately led to many critics suggesting that the apex court is either inept or partisan.

Nigeria is passing through a most interesting but critical time in its judicial history. The attention of the whole world is focused on the nature and character of the judgments being churned out by the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Some of the decisions continue to send jitters through the spines of many people. In some cases, they are altogether shocking and embarrassing, even to the legal community in Nigeria and indeed the democratic world. These controversial judgments, undeniably, have gravely diminished the robust public image the Supreme Court enjoyed in the past.

The Supreme Court, in the past, was able to earn the respect and confidence of the people as a result of its ability to produce largely acceptable decisions. The court then was perceived as free from direct or indirect political influence, pressure and lobbying. The men that constituted the court then were characterised as brilliant, reflective, honest and industrious. They were imbued with deep learning, courage and uprightness. Their decisions were convincing even to the unlearned, and unassailable to the learned; philosophical and predictable, and in consonance with good sense and established principles. Above all, their lordships, in the past, built a concrete and impregnable wall of integrity around themselves and walked around with dignity and respect. The Supreme Court, today, regrettably, has lost some of these sterling qualities and attributes.

The apex court is the ultimate court in the land. Its decision is virtually final and can be altered only through legislative intervention or another judgment of the court. The power of finality of the court over cases derives from the fact that no appeal lies to any other body or person from the determination of the Supreme Court. It is hoped that this power of finality is not being abused. It is well known and often said that because the decision of the Supreme Court is final does not necessarily mean that it is correct. The truth remains, however, that the justices of the court are human beings capable of errors. It will amount to an exercise in self-adoration and arrogance not to accept this obvious truth.

Beyond the shockwave of controversies which the decisions of the apex court continue to engender in recent times, which are controversial even for a final court, the judgments are largely platitudinous. One inescapable impression a scholar gets from reading some of these judgments is their general tedium. There is nothing inspiring in the language of the court to suggest that they are judgments of a final court.