PATH TO NIGERIAN GREATNESS: Under the new dispensation Charter of stability and progress*

Continued from  last week

MOST of my colleagues will readily testify to this open confession that I am one of those few over-trustful elements who branded those who doubted the genuineness of those assurances as apostles of despair; and chronic peddlars of unfounded speculations. I found it very difficult to believe that the FMG and FEDECO could betray a historic assignment freely undertaken by them.

I now know better.         •

I now know that it was not accidental that there was widespread short-supply of ballot papers in practically all the polling stations which the UPN polling agents were known to be able to man so effectively as to prevent the replacement of official ballot boxes with those already stuffed by the NPN.

I now know that General Obasanjo’s eve-of-election broadcast was totally uncalled for; and that it was made so as to influence the electorate in favour of Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Four, of the five presidential candidates, Alhaji Shehu is the least qualified; and General Obasanjo did strongly advise the electorate that they did not have to vote for the best candidate.

I now know that the mass arrest of UPN Polling and Counting Agents in the northern States, in the early hours of Friday, 10 August, 1979, the day before the Presidential election, was ordered by top functionaries of the FMG, in order that the NPN and FEDECO officials might have unfettered opportunity to rig the vote tally and percentage in favour of NPN’s presidential candidate.

It is now known that the decision to appoint a new Chief Justice of Nigeria was hurriedly taken between 19 and 21 August, 1979. It is also known that two reasons were advanced for making the appointment before 1 October, 1979.

The first was the need to satisfy the requirement of the Constitution that the president should be sworn in by the Chief Justice of Nigeria on 1 October, 1979. This reason is manifestly untenable, since that duty can be performed by an Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria.

The second is that there were very important issues of law which the new Chief Justice of Nigeria would have to settle between 19 August, 1979 and 1 October, 1979. This reason is also untenable.

Surely, there were enough Judges on the Supreme Court Bench, and the present CJN was there with them, to settle any issues of law, however important, which might arise between 19 August, 1979 and 1 October, 1979.

Besides, the latter reason is exceedingly suggestive in the light of two facts. Firstly, Alhaji Shehu Shagari was consulted all the way in the appointment of the new CJN, and it was he who expressed reference for the present incumbent from among a number of canidates. Secondly, it is now well-known that the only important issues of law which could have and which had in fact arisen, beween 19 August, 1979 and 1 October, 1979, were those raised in my election petition concerning the interpretation of each of at least two-thirds of the 19 states in the Federation.

However, it is not known, and, probably, we shall never know: whether the present CJN knew the reasons for his appointment and acquiesced in them; whether the incumbent CJN knew that he was Alhaji Shehu Shagari’s own choice from a list of candidates; whether Alhaji Shagari ever talked to the present CJN in order to ascertain his wishes in the matter, before he (Alhaji Shagari) made his preference known to the then Military Head of State.

Since the two reasons which are understood to have been proffered for rushing the appointment are so manifestly and palpably untenable, it looks as if there must be other reasons. But we shall never know them, simply because such reasons may be too inconvenient for those concerned to disclose. Nonetheless, all thinking and honest people who hear of or read about the reasons for making the appointment at the time it was made will never fail to cogitate on the suggestiveness of the second reason, and on the several conclusions which are logically deducible therefrom.

It has been suggested that the reason for rushing the appointment was to give sop to the Yoruba in advance of the shock which awaited them in the event of my losing the election petition which was then pending. If this was the reason or one of the reasons, it looks naive and childish. It has not only failed to achieve its objectives, but it has also failed to enjoy any credible currency in official circles.

For the avoidance of any misunderstanding, it is admitted quite categorically that the power of the President to appoint a new CJN, in his own deliberate judgment, is not and cannot be disputed. But in August, 1979 Alhaji Shagari was not yet President either de facto or de jure. Indeed, at the time he was consulted, the validity of his election was the subject-matter of an election petition before a Tribunal from whose decision an appeal would more likely than not go to the Supreme Court. And it was certainly most untidy, legally and morally, to allow one of the parties to an election petition to choose or even to take part in choosing one of the members of the panel of Judges – and the most influential member for that matter – who were to make a final adjudication on the petition.

At this juncture, one question may be posed. And when, in the process of time, more facts are known, this question is likely to reverberate down the infinite corridor of our legal and political history. That question is: Would the new CJN have presided over my appeal, and played such a decisive role as it was his duty to play, if he had known previously that he was the choice of the Respondent who, at the time of his appointment, had no constitutional right whatsoever to take part in making it?

To be continued