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Undermining The Judiciary In Democracy: A Dangerous Precedent

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By Akeem Bello

In Nigeria and the rest of the world, the court system serves as a cornerstone of democracy, intended to uphold justice, and ensure the rule of law. 

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Courses under Mass Communication and Media Technology includes:
- Advertising
- ⁠Broadcasting
- Development Communications⁠
- Film and Multimedia
- Information and Media Studies⁠
- ⁠⁠Journalism and Media Studies
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BAO Felicitation

Courses under Mass Communication and Media Technology includes:
- Advertising
- ⁠Broadcasting
- Development Communications⁠
- Film and Multimedia
- Information and Media Studies⁠
- ⁠⁠Journalism and Media Studies
- ⁠Mass Communications
- ⁠Public Relations
- ⁠Strategic Communication

BAO Felicitation

Courses under Mass Communication and Media Technology includes:
- Advertising
- ⁠Broadcasting
- Development Communications⁠
- Film and Multimedia
- Information and Media Studies⁠
- ⁠⁠Journalism and Media Studies
- ⁠Mass Communications
- ⁠Public Relations
- ⁠Strategic Communication

However, a troubling trend has emerged, where the legitimacy of court judgments appears contingent on whether they align with a party’s interests. This selective acceptance of court decisions poses a grave danger to the fabric of good governance. The importance of a robust court system in a democracy cannot be overstated. 

It acts as a check on executive and legislative power, safeguards citizens’ rights, and ensures accountability.

However, when court judgments are deemed correct only when they favour a particular party, it undermines the very essence of justice and erodes public trust in the judiciary.

While acknowledging that there may be isolated instances of misconduct within the judiciary, it is crucial to recognize that these bad eggs should not overshadow the overall importance and integrity of the judicial system. 

Attempts to dismantle or discredit the judiciary based on the actions of a few can have severe consequences for the entire democratic structure. The current climate, where court judgments are reviewed based on emotions rather than facts, fosters an environment where opposition parties transfer their resentment onto the judiciary. 

This dangerous trend not only weakens the checks and balances inherent in a democracy but also jeopardizes the independence and impartiality of the judiciary. It is also a form of distraction for the opposition parties from the main issues.

In order to preserve the sanctity of the judiciary and maintain a healthy democracy, it is imperative that stakeholders, including political leaders, recognize the vital role the courts play. 

Upholding the rule of law and respecting court decisions, even when they may be unfavourable, is fundamental to fostering a democratic society where justice prevails over partisan interests.

It’s important to highlight that criticizing the judiciary extends beyond individuals; heads of government and government agencies are also engaged in such actions. 

When government officials, agencies, political parties, and selected elites undermine the judiciary in a democracy, the consequences can be severe and far-reaching. Instances from various countries highlight the potential harm to democratic principles and institutions.

For instance, in Turkey, political interference in the judiciary by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government has led to a decline in the rule of law. The erosion of judicial independence has had a chilling effect on dissent, stifling democratic practices and contributing to a more authoritarian regime. 

Similarly, in Poland, the ruling Law and Justice party’s attempts to control the judiciary have raised concerns about the erosion of checks and balances. This has strained relations with the European Union and weakened the foundation of democratic governance.

In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte’s attacks on the judiciary have undermined the credibility of the legal system. The erosion of public trust in the judiciary diminishes its ability to act as a fair arbiter and protector of democratic values. 

Closer to home, in Nigeria, the disregard for court orders and attempts to discredit the judiciary by political figures have consequences for the rule of law. Such actions weaken the pillars of democracy, creating an environment where the powerful can act with impunity.

The consequence of rubbishing the judiciary is a weakened democratic foundation, where citizens lose faith in the fairness and impartiality of legal processes. This erosion of trust can lead to increased political polarization, social unrest, and a diminished commitment to democratic ideals. 

The consequences of undermining the judiciary in a democracy are profound. Drawing lessons from countries where such actions have occurred should serve as a stark warning against jeopardizing the independence and integrity of the judiciary, a cornerstone of any thriving democracy.

I would like the concluding part of this opinion to reflect the regrettable acts of prominent figures in Nigeria, particularly former President Obasanjo, who have been at the forefront of undermining the judiciary. This not only sets a worrisome precedent but also perpetuates a narrative that courts are susceptible to external influence, damaging their credibility. 

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s legacy in Nigerian politics is marred by persistent undemocratic actions that echo through the annals of history. One glaring instance was his forceful removal of governors during his tenure, a move that raised serious concerns about the fragility of democratic institutions.

Furthermore, Obasanjo’s questionable attempt to extend his tenure after completing two terms in office raised eyebrows and cast shadows over his commitment to democratic principles. This manoeuvre hinted at an inclination to manipulate the democratic process for personal gain. His audacity to review decisions made by Nigerian judges is questionable, considering his track record of undemocratic tendencies. 

Obasanjo’s authority to speak on democratic values becomes dubious when his own practices veer away from the democratic ideals he purports to champion.

The forceful manipulation of elections during Obasanjo’s era tarnished the democratic fabric of Nigeria, casting doubt on the credibility of electoral processes. This calls into question his commitment to a fair and democratic system. In drawing parallels to the most brutal autocrats around the world, Obasanjo’s actions reveal an alarming tendency towards authoritarianism. While not equating him to the deadliest autocrats, the similarities in undemocratic practices raise concerns about the erosion of democratic values under his leadership.

In evaluating Obasanjo’s legacy, it becomes imperative to critically examine the undemocratic dispositions that persist in his political history, questioning the compatibility of his actions with the principles of democracy that Nigeria aspires to uphold. 

During his tenure as President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo presided over several electoral processes marred by violence and irregularities, as acknowledged by the late President Umar Yar’adua. These deadly elections not only cast a shadow on democratic principles but also raised serious questions about the fairness and integrity of the electoral system under Obasanjo’s watch.

One alarming instance of Obasanjo’s disregard for judicial independence was evident in the case involving Lagos and the federal government. His administration’s seizure of Lagos’ federal allocations without a justifiable reason and even after a supreme court order, showcased a flagrant disregard for Court decisions. 

This act not only undermined the rule of law but also set a dangerous precedent for the autonomy of states within the Nigerian federation. The blatant interference in the affairs of Lagos revealed a troubling pattern of executive overreach, calling into question Obasanjo’s commitment to upholding the constitutional principles that underpin the nation’s governance. The arbitrary seizure of federal allocations not only harmed the economic stability of Lagos but also eroded the trust in the federal government’s commitment to fairness and justice under the watch of St. Obasanjo.

In reflecting on these instances, it becomes evident that Obasanjo’s legacy is tainted by a willingness to compromise democratic values for personal or political reasons. The combination of deadly electoral processes and disregard for the Supreme Court raises serious concerns about the fragility of democratic institutions during his presidency. These actions, rather than contributing to the strengthening of democracy, left a dark stain on Nigeria’s political landscape. Obasanjo is unfit to assess the Nigerian judiciary.

Akeem Bello is a Lecturer in the Department of Political Science and International Diplomacy, Bamidele Olumilua University of Education, Science and Technology, Ikere-Ekiti, Ekiti State, Nigeria.


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