The appointment of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first African-American judge of the Supreme Court of the United States of America is a welcome development and should, as well, be a source of pride to the Black race. In the light of this milestone accomplishment is this important observation with regard to the judgment delivered by Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal Court of Appeals in Abuja on April 7th where he upheld the judgment passed earlier by the Federal Court of Appeals, Enugu, where defection is considered not as a constitutional ground for sacking a sitting governor and his deputy. As much as this judgment has a legal backing, which makes it constitutional, permit me to humbly submit that both the act and the attendant judgment are immoral and are, to that extent, senseless.
Regardless of the position of the law, legality cannot make immorality moral. It is possible to claim that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria never contemplated defection, and therefore failed to capture it as one of the grounds for which a governor and his deputy can be sacked. This position may be true and logical, but still remains immoral. If the Constitution indeed never contemplated defection, should we also believe that it never contemplated that the law will be interpreted and administered by humans? The humanity is superior to whatever laws and rules that are designed to govern our society.
The incident of defection of the governor of Cross River State, Professor Ben Ayade, that led to the judgment delivered by Justice Taiwo Taiwo, which upheld the earlier judgment of another Court of Appeals in Enugu, can be painted pictorially for better understanding and comprehension. Defecting from a party that sponsored a governor to get elected where there is no grounds of doing so as captured by the Constitution can be likened to the case of a professional driver and a boss that belongs to an organization. The driver definitely must have the requisite qualifications before he can be hired. The qualification of the driver and his success of getting hired notwithstanding, the boss is still owned by the organization that hired him. If there is a law that now says that the driver is free to move his services to another organization, that would make sense as long as the driver is not contemplating of moving with the boss that belongs to another organization.
The cases of the two governors who defected from PDP to APC, Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State and Professor Ben Ayade of Cross River State, who had the Federal Court of Appeals both in Enugu and Abuja setting aside the earlier judgment of a Federal High Court which sacked Governor David Umahi, his deputy and fifteen members of the State House of Assembly from their seats, are far from being closed. This is so because the pronouncements of the courts have not in any way established the immoral nature of their defections. Bear in mind that the laws of the land are expected to be evolving, and that is what makes democracy to be dynamic. Dynamism is the gateway to creativity, and where creativity is absent, stagnation sets in and debt becomes inevitable.
The Supreme Court is looked upon to serve as an agent of progress to the country’s nascent democracy making a counter-pronouncement that will enhance and encourage intelligentsia. Another similar picture in this case is that of a thief and the owner. The owner was convicted by a judge on the grounds that the owner did not protect his goods well, and the thief was released. The incident of defection in relation to the judgment delivered, which says the governor and his deputy cannot be removed from office on the grounds of defection is like helping the thief against the owner.
On a final note, in the worst case scenario where the Constitution never contemplates defection but recognizes the place of sponsorship before an aspirant can get elected, the morally acceptable judgment should be that if the governor and his deputy cannot be sacked for defection, though it is immoral, wisdom demands that they should reverse their decision and return to the status quo. With this decision, the option that will be open to the defecting and immoral governors will be either to resign their positions honorably or despise the shame and return to their parties. This is food for thought.
If the Supreme Court from Nigeria does nothing about the legal controversy and inconsistencies, then history will not spare it. We must be agents of change, and any country that disregards the place of morality will end up as a laughing stock in the committee of nations. There is just one more bridge for the Nigerian judiciary to cross in order to contribute its quota to the progress of the legal profession, not only in Nigeria but globally and that bridge is the pronouncement of a counter-judgment on the issues of the defected governors.
God help us all!
Samuel ‘Tunji Adeyanju