…Being an Address by Gloria Mabeiam Ballason Esq, C.E.O. House of Justice, at the 8th House of Justice Summit on Friday 24th November, 2023 at Epitome Events Centre Barnawa Kaduna-Nigeria
On behalf of the Management and Staff of House of Justice, I am truly delighted to welcome you to the historic city of Kaduna for the 8th House of Justice Summit & Burgundy Ball Banquet.
This is an annual civic gathering that enables the review of the biggest challenge in Nigeria and the African continent and invites those we consider most suited to curating solutions to enlighten and teach us so we can overcome those challenges.
As a private Justice multi-door house, we realize that if human beings create problems, it will behoove some other human beings to find solutions. In the normal course of events, we would have lingered on platitudes, but there is an urgency of now to which we must review electoral accountability and democratic stability because there is a straight line that leads from one to the other.
The tell signs are in Burkina faso, Sudan, Guinea, Mali and our next door neighbor, Niger. And with the murmuring sounds in Nigeria of the overturn of popular electoral votes, there is the need to very quickly review the imperative for the peoples votes and choice to be respected.
In recent times we have seen the state of our nation in the blighting endurance of citizens who are working past exhaustion to have a better country but are constantly being hit on the blindside and subdued to choices of leaders they did not make and an economy that, according to the World Poverty Clock assessment, makes it difficult for the 133 million multi-dimensionally poor Nigerians, to breath.
No one would have imagined that between August 2022 to August 2023, the average retail price of fuel will move from N189 to N626- an over 330% increase in just a year. The word that flies is subsidy removal but the presidency seems to not appreciate that a surgery without anesthesia is just as risky as the disease itself.
There is of course, a sharp decline in productivity as a number of state governors have struggled to contain the debilitating effect of the fuel hike on their public work force and so have reduced the work days, this remedial act, is in itself a direct violation of the Constitution which puts labour and public holiday under the exclusive legislative list.
Running up to the 2023 elections, Nigerians mobilized to choose leaders they hoped will make the difference they desire. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which promised to ensure credible elections through the use of Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) to reveal results in real time on the IREV portal violated their own rules and sought alibi in system failures.
INEC had a 2015 precedence of not delivering on the promise it claimed the smart card readers would deliver. On both counts, INEC’s failure to count and account for the sweat, tears and blood that often accompanies the Nigerian vote, has not met any consequence. At the minimum, there should be a refund to national coffers the huge sum for the purchase of these electoral gadgets and an inquiry on why INEC failed on its part of the bargain.
To be clear, Nigerians are not asking for smart card readers, BVAS or IREV. They just want their votes to count however that is done.
Indeed, it has not helped that the onus to prove substantial compliance rests on candidates while INEC sadly, enjoys presumption of regularity. One clear effect of this undeserved presumption is that two successive senate presidents, who violated the Electoral Act by running for two offices at the same time, sit pretty at the National Assembly. Are there no more standards to leadership? Did they take thought on the legacy and precedence this creates?
And while we linger on that thought, the overturn of popular mandate by persons and institutions- including the Courts, has become all too worrisome. Popular votes are sometimes overturned by the Court. This flies in the face of section 14 (1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution which states that the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a state base on the principles of democracy and social justice. (2) It is hereby accordingly declared that sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom governments through this constitution derives all its powers and authority.’
Of the Supreme Court case of Hope Uzodinma V. Emeka Ihedioha, where a candidate who came first in elections was substituted with the one who came fourth, Supreme Court Justice Centus Nweze said ‘This court has powers to overrule itself and can revisit any decision not in accordance with justice…This Judgment will continue to hunt our electoral jurisprudence for a long time to come.’
In October, 2023,about a month ago,Hon. Justice Dattijo Muhammad, a Supreme Court Justice who rose to become the second most senior Justice of the Supreme Court shocked many when he, in his valedictory speech gave an insider account of corruption in the judiciary which manifests through the subversion of merit, lopsided composition of the Justices of the Supreme Court, skewed composition of the panel that decided the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s election, loss of the judiciary’s prestige and public confidence- a situation he described as an unprecedented low sink.
The situation is perhaps best described by my friend whose job description requires him to be apolitical but puts it this way:
“ Nigeria takes for granted leadership at every level and does not think about the implications on our existence as a nation. We have dropped the bar so low that governance is an all- comers game and the polity treats politics and political matters like supporting a football club with blind pseudo loyalty and no long term thought other than ‘we won’. We have normalized chaos and political debauchery and sanctified moral decadence.The corrupt are worshipped and given a place of honour, while the morally upright are ostracized”
My friend’s football metaphor resonates. The challenge however is that in the Nigerian situation, laws and rules are on suspension. There are no yellow cards or red cards, just win howsoever and whensoever. This is dreadful as we have no separate country for those politicians or government officials who violate the laws different from the rest of us. The laws must therefore be allowed to speak a consistent language so it works for everyone.
Today we are a country awakened to the danger of treating the Constitution as a list of suggestions rather than the grund norm. The pain of citizens has turned to anger and despondency but that anger needs to be converted to resolution. Whether we take leadership to standards or bring standards to leadership, we must keep on the front burner the thought that a country which has no leadership threshold and which honours its laws in breach rather than in compliance is not a country that will proceed beyond its woes.
And so for myself, for House of Justice and for our nation and continent, I want to thank you for honouring our invitation with your hope that I believe will not make ashamed. I welcome most respectfully and warmly, Nigeria’s conscience, our Keynote Speaker, the Most Rev. Dr. Matthew Hassan Kukah, the Chairman, Senator Shehu Sani, the Special Guest of Honour, Hon. Justice K.B. Akaahs OFR JSC (Rtd), the outstanding faculty of speakers and doers of the High Panel Discussion and the Professionals who will be proferring solutions and action points. I have no doubt that we shall together find a method to our challenges if we let none hear us idly saying there is nothing I can do.
Kaduna,Friday 24 November, 2023.