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The concept of legitimacy is well entrenched in political science even though it continues to be a topic of great philosophical controversy. Typically, it is the right or acceptance of authority usually a governing law or a regime by a people. For this authority to be legitimate, it must have the right and political justification to exercise power. This captures the thesis of German Political Philosopher, Dolf Sterberger who argues that legitimacy is the foundation of governmental power, exercised, both with a consciousness on the government’s part that it has a right to govern, and with some recognition by the governed of that right.
Legitimacy is considered a sine qua non for governance, without which a government will suffer censor, deadlock and in more extreme cases, collapse for lacking what the English Philosopher and Physician, John Locke (1632-1704) called the “consent of the governed”. An example of such extreme case would be seen in the Arab Spring and how it led to the sacking of numerous regimes north of the Maghreb.
When a government is destitute of legitimacy or suffers apprehension of such, its moral authority naturally diminishes, perhaps from the knowledge that ultimate power belongs to the people from whom all governments derive legitimacy and authority to rule. Such an unpopular government falls back on the instrument of coercion at its disposal: police, military and other critical institutions of the State to extract some modicum of authority howsoever contrived, being considered legitimate only by the minority and a small, but influential elite class who run these institutions.
This represents the power dynamics in Imo State, South East Nigeria today, where the governor, Sen. Hope Uzodinma continues in what might be an endless battle for legitimacy to govern the people of the State, majority of whom believe he was foisted on them and not an expression of their will at the March 9th 2019 gubernatorial election in the state until the gambit of January 14th at the Supreme Court.
All over the state, the phrase “Supreme Court Governor” has gained currency as a statement of protest and public disavowal of the administration by the people; a somewhat carefully rehearsed phrase that summarises the manner in which the Hope Uzodinma government came to be and one of the latest additions in Nigeria’s interesting cast of political lexica.
It would appear that no amount of countervailing narrative by the governor and his retinue of media hands would help to disabuse the minds of the people who continue to view Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha who won a popular victory at the ballot as their governor. Perhaps understandably so. As it would take a robust knowledge of the jurisprudence of elections to understand how a man who came a distant fourth with scarcely 95,000 votes at the ballot suddenly becomes the governor on the basis of a judicial proclamation that however stops short at explaining away the irreconcilable numbers arising from the declaration and return of Sen. Hope Uzodinma against the run of play.
Failing, the government has expectedly resorted to use of force to crush such dissent and assert the legitimacy of the administration. For instance, earlier in the year, one Ambrose Nwaogwugwu was reported in the media to have been arrested and dragged before a magistrate court in the State for making comments on his Facebook account where he referred to the governor with the derogatory moniker which is a popular usage in informal circles in and about the State.
Also, last month, the Special Adviser to the governor on political matters was reported to have petitioned the National Judicial Council and the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami over the continuous use of the same tag to describe the governor by the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the state describing it as “a wicked propaganda and blackmail characteristically designed to incite and delude the people of the state thereby misdirecting them to disregard the judiciary”.
Apparently agitated by the same construct, which questions his moral authority to govern, the governor had opportunity to weigh in on the matter elaborately for the first time last week at a media outing. “It is the height of ignorance because I don’t know what they mean by that” making reference to the tag of ‘Supreme Court Governor’, he told the anchor of Channels Television flagship Program, Hard Core who had asked if he was unsettled by the tag.
“There is a reason for the supreme court. In the doctrine and principle of democracy, the law expected that there would be grievances and malpractices in the electoral process.
“When this happens, the only legitimate right you have is to seek redress at the court. And of course, the court determines.
“Remember that this is not the first time, so many elections had held where the candidates went to court and they got justice. So, why will mine be different” the governor querried.
No doubt, there have been previous cases of judicial intervention in the electoral process and returning leaders with the stamp of judicial gavel. But in many of those cases, it has led to jubilation in the state and generally received as the ultimate triumph of the will of the people, restored through the Constitutional process. Three scenarios stand out in this regard.
In 2006, after a protracted dispute at the Election Petition Tribunal in Anambra State which culminated in an appeal at the Court of Appeal—the then final court in disputes arising from gubernatorial elections, the Appellate Court declared Peter Obi as the winner of the election held in Anambra State on the 14th April, 2003, in a landmark decision that would alter the electoral dynamics of the State probably forever. It was clear to all and sundry that it was Peter Obi who won the election and not Mr. Chris Ngige the beneficiary of the hatchet job of some power brokers in Abuja and Anambra in those dingy years of Anambra politics. In a similar fashion the following year, but this time in Rivers State, the Supreme Court in a decision that heralded a watershed in Nigeria’s election system, declared Mr. Rotimi Amaechi as the de jure winner of the gubernatorial election held in the State in 2007 after having been unlawfully disqualified by his Political party—PDP.
It would be the first time in a long time where the judiciary demonstrated that it is capable of doing substantial justice irrespective of whether the heavens fall. Next stop in Edo State, former governor of the State and immediate past Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomohle would be declared the winner of the gubernatorial election held in Edo State on the 14th April, 2007 as against Prof. Oserhiemen Osunbor. All three decisions have one thing in common. They were popularly greeted by the people of the States and hailed across board as the triumph of the will of the masses.
And so when Sen. Uzodinma asked his interlocutor, “why will mine be different?”, he struck at the heart of the matter. As I had alluded before now, Constitutionalism is also one of the forms of legitimacy as it establishes the law as supreme over the private will by integrating notions of nationalism. The political legitimacy of constitutionalism as argued by Carl Joachim Friedrich (1901-1984) derives from popular belief and acceptance that the actions of the government are legitimate because they abide by the law codified in the political constitution. And so it can be argued that when the courts intervene in the electoral process the derivative of that would be seen as the constitutional legitimacy in action. However, such judicial process must of necessity comply with the political constitution and associated laws as Friedrich argued. But was that what happened in the Uzodinma v Ihedioha case at the Supreme Court? Popular opinion, including those of jurists and eminent legal scholars suggest to the contrary.
Perhaps the nail in the coffin of the judgment is the dissenting opinion of Justice Centus Nweze—one of the panel of justices who sat to determine the invitation by the apex Court to review and/or set aside the decision. After pointing out the gross incongruities in the case of Uzodinma, the eminent jurist couldn’t help but scream: wonders shall never end! While it is admittedly a dissenting judgment with little or no jurisprudential force, it nonetheless helped to unmask the gross error of omission of the apex Court in declaring Hope Uzondinma the winner of the March 9th election, typical of dissenting judgments.
On many levels, the circumstance of Uzodinma’s return beggars belief and leaves more questions than answers. Firstly, the so-called results from the infamous 388 polling units relied upon to hatch the jurisprudential blunder had illegality written all over them. In what would pass for the wonder of the modern world, only Uzodinma polled votes from these infamous polling units that couldn’t return candidates from his political party who contested seats in the State House of Assembly in those constituencies. Secondly, the so called results the authenticity of which remained suspect in the absence of similar copies of the results from polling unit agents or the electoral commission were put in evidence by a police officer. Arguably for the first time in our electoral history, only the police with a very notorious reputation in election management could produce copies of result sheets from polling units where only one candidate could score votes.
As if all of that was not bizarre enough, the apex Court would also fail to answer the paramount constitutional question of the extent to which Uzodinma met the geographical spread for a lawful return as nominated by section 179(2)(b) of the Constitution; a question which remains unanswered up until today. And to put the cap on it, in a gross violation of the principle of elections, a summation of the total votes ascribed to Uzodinma after the gambit of the 388 polling units, exceeds the total number of accredited voters for the election by at least 100,000 votes. A situation that is only capable of one outcome: fresh conduct of the polls.
But for whatever reason, that was not done. But not without huge consequences in terms of legitimacy for the government that came at the rump of that probably never-seen-before judicial oversight. And so when Uzodinma asks “why will mine be different”, it can be taken that he is living in plausible deniability; a state of willful ignorance to escape the judgment of reality.
It is not clear how that struggle for legitimacy will play out between the people of Imo State and the Uzodinma government for the remainder of his four-year tenure. There is however nothing to suggest that the Belarus or Malian scenario will be replicated in the State for reasons amongst others that the opposition party and the acclaimed winner of the March 9th election, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha seem to have moved on. Be that as it may, that fractious social contract in the State will continue to stick out like the proverbial sore thumb in the body politic of the State until the next round of elections which I surmise will be a referendum on the legitimacy of the Uzodinma government.
That said, the lessons from the situation in Imo State for our democratic experience must not be missed. It is that the intervention of the judiciary in the electoral process when gone about in a less thorough manner can effectuate untoward and even undemocratic outcomes. It also teaches that the Nigerian citizenry are getting wiser and more involved in the democratic process and wouldn’t stop at nothing to defend their mandate or protest when same is compromised like in Imo. This is what the derogatory moniker ‘Supreme Court Governor’ connotes in the grand scheme of things; a strong message of dissent, renunciation and repudiation from the people, from whom legitimacy comes. And it is a moral burden which Sen. Hope Uzodinma will carry even after he must have served his time as the governor of the State.
Raymond Nkannebe, a Public Interest Commentator, writes from Lagos. He tweets @raynkah.
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