By Ben Oguntuase
There is an aspect of this our democracy I wish lawyers could help me understand. It is about the attitude of the political parties, especially the All Progressives Congress, APC, to the courts.
There is some problem in Ekiti, Rivers and other States which emanated from the action of dissatisfied or aggrieved members taking their party, the APC, or the leadership of the party, to court. The Party has reacted by suspending or outrightly expelling such members.
At the national level, the Caretaker Committee led by Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State has directed that any member with any case against the party pending in any court must go and withdraw the suit from the court.
Erstwhile National Vice Chairman South South, Mr. Hilliard Eta was recently expelled from the party for not withdrawing his suit challenging the legality of the dissolution of the elected National Working Committee and installation of a Caretaker Committee.
Here is my dilemma.
There are three supposedly co-equal arm of our government – the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. Each requires a level of patronage by the citizenry to be relevant. As it were, the APC is extremely hostile to any patronage of the judiciary by its members for resolving disputes with members of the party.
In the extreme case, if all citizens adopt the attitude of the APC and there is zero patronage of the courts, would we still need the third arm of government? There can be no judiciary without patronage by various parties in dispute adjudication. The Courts don’t look for cases; cases are brought to them.
Granted that the party expressed in its constitution its preference for using internal mechanism to resolve disputes, what happens when the dispute is against the party structure itself! Besides, once a case is filed in court, isn’t it contemptuous of the court for any party to the case to impose sanction on the other party?
At worst, the case may be considered frivolous. Isn’t it the court that will determine that and award the necessary punitive damage for the frivolity? Even if it turns out to be like what was described in the US as “seditious abuse of court processes”, isn’t it for the court to determine that? I think of a village head, the Oba, before whom a dispute is brought for resolution in a case between an ordinary citizen and a chief in the village. Would the chief be showing respect for the Oba if he decides to unilaterally deal with the ordinary folk?
Then there is the issue of the aftermath. If we accept the judiciary as crucial to the survival of our democracy, should we continue with the mindset that “protagonists don’t return from the court as friends”? I believe this mindset is inherently contemptuous of the judiciary and should change. It was perhaps okay to think like this during the transition between outright genealogical feudalism and modern-day democracy. But are we still in that transition?
We must change the mind set and accept the courts as noble and desirable solicited interventionists as distinct from undesirable interlopers.
I just wonder what our lawyers, judges and all other officers of the court are doing about this! Lawyers reading this, can I please be educated?