Awolowo and his party had challenged the results on the grounds that it fell short of the requisite constitutional requirement for Shagari to be declared the winner. In the election case, Awolowo v. Shagari, the court was invited to interpret Section 34 A (i) and (ii) of the Electoral Decree No 73 of 1977.
The appellant (Awolowo) contested the declaration of the first respondent, Shagari, as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the grounds that Section 34 A(i)(c)(ii) of the Electoral Decree had not been satisfied, that is, winning one quarter of the votes in the two thirds of all the states of the federation.
The election tribunal dismissed the appellant’s claims and affirmed the election of the first respondent. The appellant appealed up to the Supreme Court. In its wisdom, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the tribunal and dismissed the appeal.
This, perhaps, marked the beginning of active judicial involvement in Nigeria’s political calculations in modern times.
A frightening dimension was introduced into the involvement of the judiciary in settling political disputes by Senator Arthur Nzeribe and his Association for Better Nigeria in 1993.
The group first went to court to seek an injunction to prevent the June 12, 1993 presidential election from holding but it failed to achieve this. ABN returned to court to obtain an injunction to prevent the announcement of the election results when collation and declaration had started.
This provided grounds for the then military dictator, General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd), to annul the election, throwing the nation into political turmoil and another five years of a more brutal military regime headed by the late General Sani Abacha. Since the return of democracy in 1999, many of the presidential, governorship, national and state assembly elections have been decided in the court.
According to political analysts, politicians have taken this a notch higher. Experts believe that political party administration is now being subjected to “judicial interference.”
A clash of political interests within the ruling All Progressives Congress ushered in a floodgate of litigations which led to the removal of the Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee on June 25, 2020.
Justice Danlami Senchi of the Federal Capital Territory High Court had on March 4, 2020, upheld Oshiomhole’s suspension as the APC’s national chairman on the grounds that the party wrongfully continued to retain him in office while he was serving out his suspension as a member of the party.
Oshiomhole’s Ward 10 in the Etsako West Local Government Area of Edo State had on November 2, 2019 suspended him from the party over an alleged infraction but he remained in office.
A group of aggrieved party members took him to court and got an interim injunction restraining him from continuing to parade himself as the chairman. Oshiomhole and the APC appealed the injunction but it did not sail through.
In a unanimous judgment of a three-man panel led by Justice Eunice Onyemanam, the Court of Appeal affirmed the earlier March 4, 2020 order of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory in Jabi, Abuja, suspending Oshiomhole and barring him from continuing to parade himself as the National Chairman of the party.
Acting on this ruling, a former Deputy National Secretary of the party, Victor Giadom, addressed a press conference announcing himself as the acting national Chairman. A few hours later, Oshiomhole’s loyalists named Senator Abiola Ajimobi, the then Deputy National Chairman (South), as the acting National Chairman but since he was indisposed at the time, they announced the National Vice Chairman (South-South), Hilliard Eta, as a stand-in.
The tussle went on, anarchy was looming and the ruling party was forced to invite policemen to keep watch over the national secretariat. Giadom convened a National Executive Committee meeting of the party which the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), and other party chieftains honoured on June 25, 2020.
At the NEC meeting, Oshiomhole was shown the exit door and the NWC of the party was dissolved.
Barely a few hours after their dissolution, the 18-member NWC dismissed the NEC meeting as illegal and decisions taken a nullity, stating that the meeting was not properly convened. Not satisfied with the response he received from the party hierarchy, Eta approached the court on November 26, 2020 and filed a fresh suit challenging the dissolution of the Oshiomhole-led NWC which he was part of.
He sought various orders of injunction to restrain the Mai Mala Buni-led APC caretaker committee from taking any further steps on behalf of the APC which might include planning the party’s convention.
For his moves, he was expelled from the party.
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party has also had its fair share of conflicting judicial pronouncements which threatened cohesion within its ranks.
A Rivers State High Court on August 24, 2021 granted an interim injunction restraining the PDP National Chairman, Uche Secondus, from parading himself as National Chairman. On August 26, a Kebbi State High Court granted another interim injunction ordering Secondus to return to office and discharge the functions of chairman.
It was the turn of a Cross River State High Court to issue another injunction restraining Secondus from assuming office on August 28. Within a space of six days, there were three conflicting orders from courts of coordinate jurisdictions located in different parts of the country.
The Principal Partner of The Law Corridor, Pelumi Olajengbesi, in an interview, expressed fears that if the practice of conflicting judicial pronouncements was not curbed, it would spell doom not only for democracy but also for the judiciary itself.
He, however, said the courts were not entirely to be blamed. He said, “If we continue this unhealthy parade of conflicting orders of court, it is not going to be only harmful to democracy but the judiciary itself.