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Scandals galore as judiciary becomes direct threat to electoral democracy

Justice John Tsoho of the Federal High Court Abuja has granted a “Garnishee Order Nisi”, (If you don’t understand this phrase, don’t worry, its not English), but I’m told it means freezing the bank accounts of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and directing them to pay 17.2 billion Naira to a company called Bedding Holdings. If INEC does not pay the said company in the coming days, the court will withdraw the amount from INEC accounts and pay the apparently important company that must be made rich even at the cost of our democracy. Currently, INEC is in the final preparations for the gubernatorial elections for Ekiti on 14th July and Osun on 22nd September and is now completely crippled and unable to function because it cannot access its funds. One would have thought that the judicial officers have to think about the implications or orders they issue that could cripple key national institutions. If they cannot, we as citizens need to make them understand that the judiciary, like other key institutions, has a responsibility to ensure that they contribute to the deepening of democracy and not to its dismantling.

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The said order is shocking on many grounds. First, the order was based on an ex parte motion, which means INEC was not even told of the case and only one side – the company was heard and INEC was not allowed to defend itself. The original case is on appeal by INEC and given the ruling by the Supreme Court, once a matter is on appeal at a higher court, the original court of first jurisdiction cannot make a new ruling on the matter and must await the outcome of the appeal. It is probably for this reason that the matter was treated in a surreptitious manner with out INEC, which would have drawn attention to the appeal process. 

Secondly, the substance of the case is even more scandalous and is the most outrageous case I have heard so far in this country. The case started in 2010 when the Jega-led INEC decided to carry out a reliable voter registration process and spelled out the processes to be followed. The said Bedding Holdings took the INEC processes, went to the Ministry of Commerce and got patents for the whole process in two weeks as their invention. They got a patent for the collapsible ballot box ordered for the 2011 elections including the national flag, INEC logo and national crest stamped on the ballot boxes. They got a second patent for the entire voter registration process including the lap top computer, webcam, finger print scanner of the direct data capture machine, which meant that the voter register and the process that produced it belongs to this company. It is inconceivable that the Ministry of Commerce would accept to give government processes including the national crest, national flag and the INEC logo as an invention of Bedding Holdings and issue them patents within two weeks. It’s the theatre of the absurd but it happened in this country. I followed the story at that time and I recall that the Minister of Commerce at that time, Mr. Aganga, was lived at such irresponsible action by civil servants and had sanctioned the officials responsible and in addition issued and gazetted a directive in 2014 withdrawing the patents and stating that no patents can be issued to individual entities on INEC equipment and processes.

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The third level of scandal was in January 2014 when in spite of the withdrawal of the patent to the company, Justice Ibrahim Auta of the Federal High Court issued the now infamous order “Garnishee Order Nisi” that INEC must pay Bedding Holdings the said 17.2 billion Naira because they illegally used their patents in spite of the fact that government had acted appropriately and withdrawn the said patents. Justice Auta’s judgement delivered on January 28, 2014 was in respect of a contract for supply of Direct Data Capture (DDC) machines, Electronic Collapsible Transparent Ballot Boxes (ECTBB) and Proof Address System/Scheme (PASS) worth N34.5 billion for the 2010 voters’ registration and the company, which had done no work on the elections should be paid 50% of the total contracts done. Had that payment been done, the 2015 elections would have been compromised. It’s that same 2014 judgment that Justice John Tsoho is trying to enforce today in spite of the fact that INEC had appealed the said judgement since 2014.  

The fourth level of scandal is the way in which Bedding Holdings was able to get details of all INEC accounts and get the banks to close them down in spite of the fact that the so-called garnishee proceedings order is interim and could only become final after the hearings fixed for 2nd July, which is the first time INEC will get an opportunity to state its case. My fear is that forces are at work to collect the money from INEC accounts before 2nd July and give the company. My lawyer friend told me “Garnishee” is a judicial process of execution or enforcement of monetary judgment whereby money belonging to a judgment debtor, in the hands or possession of a third party known as the ‘Garnishee’ (usually a bank), is attached or seized by a judgment creditor. The “Garnishee Order Nisi” issued, is however a temporary order that should not lead to immediate action. The wonder is how such a process could be applied on an important institution like INEC, how banks are rolled in to take action without a legal basis and the mad rush to empty the coffers of INEC to enrich a private company.

The judiciary must begin to learn that “raison d’état” exist and they should reflect before they take actions that could compromise the Constitution and the democratic institutions and processes it enshrines. They must begin to make the distinction between a delinquent debtor that has money and refuses to pay their debt and national democratic institutions. INEC should immediately petition the National Judicial Council for an urgent investigation of the matter and take corrective measures. 

 

Prof Mahmoud Yakubu Must Go

Still on INEC, in recent weeks I have been hearing chants from the same people who were singing “Jega Must Go” in 2014-2015, now saying “Yakubu Must Go”.  In both instances, no reasons where offered for the removal of the INEC chairs except that they look suspicious. It’s neither fair nor serious to make frivolous demands with no substance. Mahmoud Yakubu, please don’t be distracted, continue with the work of producing free, fair and credible 2019 elections, including all those coming in between.

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