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Court and Politics: Chronicling My Experience in the Nigerian Theatre

Author: Umar Ardo, Ph.D. Number of Pages: 556. Publisher: Sungai Books, New Jersey, USA. Year of Publication: 2019. Public Presentation: 24th February, 2024. Book Reviewer:…

Author: Umar Ardo, Ph.D.

Number of Pages: 556.

Publisher: Sungai Books, New Jersey, USA.

Year of Publication: 2019.

Public Presentation: 24th February, 2024.

Book Reviewer: Professor Dakas C.J. Dakas, SAN.

The book “Court and Politics: Chronicling My Experience in the Nigerian Theatre” is a riveting account of the travails – and triumphs? – of Dr Umar Ardo in the specific context of the shenanigans of the intersection of the judiciary and politics in what the author calls, and I suspect in a derisive manner, “the Nigerian Theatre.”

The book is very timely, especially against the backdrop of the outrage generated by the inexplicable, and in some cases reprehensible, decisions delivered by some judges in the context of the 2023 general elections in Nigeria, as exemplified by what I call “The Plateau Conundrum”: On the same set of basic facts and applicable laws, the elections of 16 members of the Plateau State House of Assembly (which has 24 members) and the members of the National Assembly from the State elected on the platform of the PDP were nullified by the Court of Appeal (the court of last resort in respect of legislative election petitions), while the election of the governor of the state (also elected on the platform of the PDP) was upheld by the Supreme Court (the court of last resort in respect of petitions arising from governorship and presidential elections)! In an equally bizarre and flabbergasting turn of events, the same panel of Appeal Court Justices, after nullifying the elections of some of the legislators from the state, ordered that their certificates of return be withdrawn and given to the candidates of the parties with the next highest votes, while in other legislative constituencies within the state and, again, based on the same set of basic facts and applicable laws, the Court ordered the conduct of by-elections! 

Reflecting on “The Plateau Conundrum” and the thrust of Dr Ardo’s treatise, one cannot but recall the profound dissent of Justice John Paul Stevens in the famous case of Gore v Bush in respect of the contentious outcome of the year 2000 presidential election in the United States:

“Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s Presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.”

In the ever-evolving landscape of Nigeria’s political and legal spheres, the intertwining of courts and politics forms a captivating narrative that demands exploration. “Court and Politics” explores this theme in a compelling journey into the heart of a nation’s governance, unraveling the complexities and nuances that define the relationship between the judiciary and the political arena.

In the intricate tapestry of governance, the nexus between courts and politics forms a pivotal thread, weaving the fabric of a nation’s legal and political landscape. “Court and Politics” delves into the dynamic interplay of these crucial elements, offering a profound exploration of the challenges, triumphs, and evolving contours within the Nigerian judicial and political spheres. 

In a gripping narrative, the book offers readers invaluable insights into the challenges faced by the Nigerian judiciary, the dynamics of legal interpretation in political contexts, and the delicate balance required to foster a resilient democratic system.

The book chronicles the tumultuous journey of an individual whose life has become intertwined with the complex interplay of legal and political forces in Nigeria. Dr Ardo’s experiences serve as a poignant lens through which readers can discern the intricate dynamics and challenges faced by individuals navigating the nexus of courts and politics. 

The book transcends the boundaries of conventional analyses, offering a unique narrative that unveils the personal struggles, triumphs, and setbacks of Dr Ardo within the broader context of Nigeria’s political landscape. The author presents readers with an intimate portrayal of the challenges and intrigues of navigating a political arena fraught with legal intricacies and shifting power dynamics. The legal battles and political maneuvering are laid bare, inviting readers to reflect on the broader implications for justice, democracy, and individual agency in Nigeria. 

In “Court and Politics”, Dr Ardo presents readers with a front-row seat to the dynamic and intricate intersection of legal proceedings and political theatrics. Dr Ardo’s journey becomes a microcosm through which the broader complexities of Nigeria’s legal and political landscape come to life.

Through captivating storytelling, Dr Ardo skillfully navigates through the twists and turns of his experiences, offering a nuanced exploration of the challenges, triumphs, and tribulations that bedevil the Nigerian political theatre.

Dr Ardo is relentless and scathing in his critique of the judiciary, as borne out by the following excerpt:

“In high enthusiasm, I joined party politics with the sincerest commitment and firm determination to help create stable, strong and effective institutions and processes, and attain societal development through advancing the cause of rule of law and constitutionalism in our politics. Hence, I made it a foremost mission of my political goal to help attain this feat…But as this book will demonstrate, the Nigerian judiciary seems lagging behind in time on this pedestal, and in this national democratic vision. In almost all the ten cases I instituted, and the eleventh one of the Congress for Progressive Change, the Court allowed the human elements of fear or favour, prejudice or sentiment, greed or avarice, ill-will or affection, or self-interest to out-weigh the essence of law, truth and justice in its decisions. In all but one of the cases, one emotion or the other was discernible in how the Courts treated the suits…

In the ten cases, not once did the Courts consider my substantive claims. In all the cases, justices of the courts, enthralled by emotion, either resort to one untenable judicial logjam or the other to throw out the actions; or adopt briefs but refuse to deliver judgment; or force my counsel to withdraw and strike it out on the basis of such ‘withdrawal’; or enter ambivalent judgments against me or judgments that directly conflict with previous judgments of the Supreme Court on related precedents; or on occasions even out-rightly fabricate mendacities all by themselves and enter judgments against me; or dismiss cases not on the bases of the facts in issue and arguments put forth before them by counsels(sic), but on the Courts’ imported evidences and arguments…

After going to ten courts and facing such travails, I concluded, rather inescapably, that if one wants to see and feel injustice, then one needs to try getting justice in Nigerian courts.” (Pages 18-20).

These are very serious charges against the judges that adjudicated the cases in question. Legitimate criticisms of the decisions of the courts are not only welcome, but encouraged, with a view to deepening and expanding the frontiers of jurisprudence. However, we must, of necessity, reckon with the fact that in political cases, especially in an electoral context, Judges are often at the receiving end: depending on the outcome of the case. The victors canonise and celebrate the judiciary, readily invoking the cliché that the judiciary is “the last hope of the common man” (even when it is evident that the politicians are not common people!). Conversely, the losers demonise the judiciary as “the lost hope of the common man”. With this caution in mind, I invite the readers to dispassionately make their own determination as to whether Dr Ardo’s charges against the judiciary are justified.

On page 395 of the book, Dr Ardo makes an audacious claim: 

“Without denigrating the critical roles of so many, I say with all humility that if there is any one person, Nigerian or foreigner, who can be said to be responsible for laying the foundation for Part Two [the turning point in Muhammadu Buhari’s successful election as the President of Nigeria after several previous futile attempts], it is my humble self. Having tried and failed three times and vowed not to try again, I formulated and coordinated the foundation that created the conditions favourable to Buhari’s fourth contest and his eventual victory in 2015.”

This claim is, of course, open to interrogation by other key actors and players of Buhari’s fourth presidential contest. This is a prospect that Dr Ardo should welcome with the humility, introspection, and critical engagement that scholarly tradition warrants and celebrates. After all, without alternative perspectives and a willingness to listen to the voices of constructive dissent, the danger of reveling in one’s ego chamber metastasizes.

Drawing from the analogy of a hunter’s egotistical tale of his exploits, without the benefit of his prey’s counter-narrative, a book of this nature is invariably vulnerable to the rebuttable charge that the author’s narrative is subjective or skewed. None the less, I commend the author for his candour, courage, and dedication in shedding illuminating light on the contentions and contestations in the intersection of the judiciary and politics in Nigeria. 

On the whole, “Court and Politics” not only contributes to our understanding of the complexities within Nigeria’s legal and political spheres, but also serves as a cautionary tale and a clarion call to action. As Nigeria navigates the complexities of its democratic journey, this book serves as a compass, guiding readers through the intricate intersection between legal frameworks and political realities. It stands as a testament to the overarching need to stem the astonishing tide of the politicization of the judiciary and the judicialization of politics, the imperative need to accord primacy to substantial justice over arid technicalities, and the importance of fostering an independent, transparent, and effective judicial system for the continued development and stability of Nigeria. Additionally, it prompts us to consider the fragility of justice and the role of political machinations, as well as the crucial need to strengthen internal democracy and, concomitantly, stem the tide of impunity in the operations of political parties. Furthermore, it reinforces the pivotal role of resilience and tenacity in navigating a landscape where personal conviction and patriotic zeal meet systemic challenges. 

I take special note of the fact that the acknowledgement section of the book parades a glittering array of some of Dr Ardo’s mentors, friends, and associates, and it is instructive that their ties cut across religious, ethnic, and other sectional fault lines. In this context, one recalls, with nostalgia, the profundity of the rallying cry and nationalistic fervour of Nigeria’s former National Anthem to the effect that “Though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand.” Given that Nigeria’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) are neither biological, chemical, nor nuclear, but the manipulation of religious, ethnic, and other sectional fault lines, it is heartwarming, and commendable that Dr Ardo’s network showcases a rich tapestry of Nigeria’s mosaic.

May “Court and Politics” spark conversations, inspire future research, and contribute to the ongoing discourse on the foundations of resilient and just judicial and political systems. May this book inspire thoughtful discourse, foster a deeper understanding of the intricate intersection of courts and politics, and contribute to the ongoing dialogue on the future of democracy in Nigeria. 

Without hesitation, I warmly recommend the book to students and practitioners of constitutional law, politicians, judges, and all stakeholders invested in the vitality of Nigeria’s democratic institutions, confident in the knowledge that its deep insights will enrich our politics, democracy, and jurisprudence.


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