Tribunals, Governors and State Funds – by Archilleus-Chud Uchegbu

No Comments » January 14th, 2008 posted by // Categories: Electoral Reform Project



TRIBUNALS, GOVERNORS AND STATE FUNDS

Archilleus-Chud Uchegbu

 

I have often found myself thinking aloud and also wondering what has become of reason. I know that the only distinguishing fact between man and brute is that man applies reason to what ever he does. But I have come to find it difficult associating certain practices with proper reasoning. For instance, I have asked questions as to where a convict stays while he pursues his appeal at the appellate court. What I mean here is, if someone is convicted of stealing and he has reason to argue that the judgment was wrong, where, in the interim will he stay while his appeal is being sorted out? At home? None of the persons I have asked this question wasted any time in telling me that the person would normally stay in the prison until his appeal is heard out. But when I ask where a governor or a legislator whose election has been voided by a tribunal (court) as having not complied with the rules ought to stay while his appeal is pursued, I get a different answer.

 

Some tell me that the second scenario is quite different. They simply say it is a political matter. So if Mr. A usurps Mr. B’s piece of land and Mr. B goes top court and gets judgment, while Mr. A appeals the judgment, will the land still be in his (Mr. A) possession? At least this is civil.

 

So, my grouse here is that while we go the polls with cudgels, guns, bows and arrows, we fight to create a system that only gives birth to tragedy. Today, the election or selection of five governors has been declared null and void by tribunals where they were dragged to prove that they were properly elected. They could not convince the tribunal that they were properly elected. This means that ab initio, they stole their way into office. They simply hijacked an office that ought to be occupied by properly elected person. It is not just only the governor, the election of some legislators have also been voided by the tribunals. In all, they failed to prove that they were rightly elected. Here comes the conjecture.

 

All those whose elections have been voided by the tribunals thus far are still sitting tight in office while pursuing their appeals. The question here is on whose authourity or on which legal instrument are they still in office? While the convict of theft pursues his appeal from jail, the governors and legislators pursue theirs from the same offices where they have been told by the tribunal that they occupy illegally. Besides, when elections are held, those who are declared winner generously advice those who were rigged out to take their cases to the tribunals. Wonderful. It is a mark of political generousity to counsel losers to go to the tribunal for redress. But, who pays the bill? While the challenger pays the bill of going to them tribunal from his pocket, the defender does so from government purse. Does it surprise anyone that lawyers tumble over each other to hold brief for governors whose elections are under challenge? For them, it is not just to practice law but to assess the huge war chest which the governor would normally put state treasury to. Incumbents see government treasury as personal purse and so once sworn in, see the challenge to their victory as a challenge to the state and as such puts every state machinery out in defence of what ought to be a strictly personal and party matter. In most cases, state attorney generals have been called in to assist the legal team. Almost everyone in government, appointed, employed or also elected sees the challenge not as a legitimate democratic issue but an affront on the governor, who loyalty to, must at best be blind. And for this, every single penny spent on the defence is borne by the state. This is reason most governors do not feel the heat of the rigours of the tribunals. While the challengers complain about the toll several and unnecessary adjournments take on their pockets, incumbents smile.

 

This, basically, is the basis for the ravaging corruption in government. A governor who sees the state treasury as his own, free to use for the defence of the challenge to his election, can hardly discriminate against the treasury and his personal purse.

 

Meanwhile, the governor’s election has been declared null and void. And again, on whose authority does he spend government money on a case which ought to be strictly personal or at best, a party affair? Also, when he assents to bills and carries out the functions of the same office, could he be said to have acted legitimately? Does the nullification of his office not invalidate every action he takes while still holding on to the office? If the verdict of the tribunal is against him, is it not possible that he is also barred from exercising the office until his appeal is heard and sorted out? While he waits fore the appeal, is it not possible that his office is suspended and handed over to chief judge of the state who must only act. For such a chief judge, his acting as governor must be such that he would not be allowed to open the treasury for the defence of the governor.

 

This may come across as reckless thinking but I think there is merit is the argument that once a governor’s election has been voided, he ought to vacate office and not remain there while the electoral umpires prepare to conduct a re-run. One of the problems of democracy, all over the world, is allowing incumbent conduct elections in which they are candidates. It is comfortable here to argue that incumbents have conducted elections in which they also lost, but the fact that we have cleverly devised a way of doing good deeds wrongly, it might be equally god tom devise ways of checking some of our excesses as a people.

 

Allowing incumbents pursue the defence of the challenge to their election from the comfort of their office gives then undue advantage over the challenger. They are in better position, as governors, to find their way through and bribe tribunal members. Every apparatus of state coercion is in their hands and can be put to undue use for personal ends. But more importantly, in as much as a convict pursues his defence from jail, it is reasonable to ensure that governors pursue their appeals from their private homes and not government house.

 

How this could be done is through legislation. The National assembly could be the saving grace for Nigeria in this regard. But there is no doubting the fact they will not do Nigeria this good. The reason is so simple. None of them there will be willing to append his or her signature to any such legislation. They are politicians and one way or the other, may try out the possibility of leading their various states as governors. So, they will not be in a hurry to put a legislation that will work against them in place. That is the tragedy of greed. That is also the problem of politics. Those who empathize with their societies make efforts to leave landmarks. Such landmarks make them and advance their names. Sadly, ours is on the other side of reason. Nigerian politicians look at the state only from the point of view of what it puts in their pockets and what could be saved for grand children yet unborn.

 

But seriously, Nigerians need to start asking questions as to where incumbent governors get all the money they spend defending themselves at the tribunals from. It may be silly to ask, but reason dictates that between May 29 and December 31, 2007, almost all the state governors asked for supplementary budgets that were easily approved by the House. What other reason was put forward for the budget when as at December 2006, the same states had forwarded their 2007 budgets which were approved. Is there a meaning that the 2007 budgets were made to operate only till May 29? Another issue to ponder.

 

My simple and humble take here is that if people who have been found on the wrong side of the law are put away in jail pending the outcome of their appeals, then governors who have lost their contest at the tribunals should as well vacate office pending the outcome of their appeals and in the interim, the state chief judge ought to hold government in trust for the people. That is my concern. I may be wrong and would like to be told I am.

 

Achilleus-Chud Uchegbu
News Editor
Daily Times Nigeria
Plot 3 Otunba Jobi Fele Way
Central Business District, Alausa
Ikeja Lagos,
Nigeria

 

234-8023030366, 234-1-7280418, 234-07028081710

 

E-Mail: achilleusuchegbu@yahoo.com, a.uchegbu@dailytimes-nigeria.com

 

Website: www.dailytimes-nigeria.com

 

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