The Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), a coalition of 400 Civil Society Organizations, working to support and strengthen the democratic process in Nigeria, has closely observed the recently contrived crisis in the nation’s judiciary, which has snowballed into the purported suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen. In our view, the onslaught by the Presidency against the judiciary, a pillar in the democratic process, is ill advised and poorly timed.
TMG finds it worrisome that the clear interference by the President in another arm of government portends dangers for the nation’s democracy, and specifically, the 2019 electoral process. The act is capable of casting aspersion on the processes and outcomes of the 2019 polls, which are just a few weeks away.
Of utmost importance in the electoral process, is the impartiality of the election petition tribunals. The recent happenstances have placed serious credibility question on the tribunals, who will be faced with the uphill task of proving that their adjudication of election cases would not be tilted to favour the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Apart from the credibility problems, the action against the CJN has created the perception in the public that the President is not committed to standing by his promise to ensure the conduct of free, fair and credible elections. What the President has done is an abuse of power and taking advantage of his control of state apparatus to override the will of the court system.
TMG is concerned with the effect of the President’s conduct on the elections since actions of these nature are capable of causing voter apathy and anarchy as citizens can be emboldened in the resort to self help. These realities can in turn have an impact on the extent of participation in the electoral process by the people.
If the effects of the President’s draconian action are placed side by side all the other problems that have affected the preparation for the election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the outcomes will impact negatively on the democratic process at the levels of perception and reality.
TMG is of the view that the President’s unconstitutional overreach, undermines the hallowed principle of separation of power and checks and balances which are sign posts of a healthy democracy. This is therefore the time for the President to take remedial action to repair the serious damage, which has already been done.
TMG advises all stakeholders to maintain calm, while exploring all constitutional and legal processes to ensure the right thing is done in the interest of Nigeria’s evolving democracy.
Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi,
Chairperson (Endorsed by TMG Members from the 36 states and FCT)