14 Fourteen Justices of Nigeria’s Supreme Court have written to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Tanko Muhammad, over the poor state of affairs in the court. In a first-of-its-kind protest letter in the 58-year history of the Court, the justices chronicled the operational challenges that have almost crippled the efficient adjudication of cases at the court. Multiple media sources said that the aggrieved justices led by the second most senior judge of the Supreme Court, Olukayode Ariwoola, listed the issues to include — vehicles, electricity tariff, supply of diesel, Internet services to (Justices’) residences and chambers, and epileptic electricity supply to the court. The judges felt that the protest became necessary following the refusal of the CJN to address the issues despite drawing his attention to them. According to the letter, some justices who were sworn in two years ago, lack residential accommodation at the court. Urging the CJN to take full responsibility for preserving the dignity of the highest court in the land, the justices said: “We must not abandon our responsibility to call Your Lordship to order in the face of these sad developments that threaten our survival as an institution. We have done our utmost best to send a wake-up call to Your Lordship. A stitch in time saves nine.”

In a country where institutions openly squabbling and balkanising themselves is par for the course, it is easy to chalk this off as yet another internal rift in yet another institution of the state which yet again illustrates the serial dysfunction of the Nigerian state. That would be the lazy approach as the judiciary is supposed to, and has, for the most part, been an exception to this rule. The Nigerian judiciary is in the throes of a crisis of confidence that has been simmering under the radar for a few years now. Dependent as it is on the policy and financial apron strings of the Executive and the Legislature, this ‘last hope of the common man’ has in recent years, been anything but. Politically captured at the subnational level, acquiescing to the firm shopping tactics of politicians hunting favourable decisions, labouring under a mountain load of unheard cases, a cultural resistance to the utilisation of technology to enhance case management and having the welfare of the bureaucracy (evidenced by multiple strikes by judicial administrators) and in this case, the judges themselves subject to the whims of policy managers, the third arm of government feels like it has been set in a cast and hung in a sling while recovering from a very bad accident. As if to further illustrate the point, just this week, the Attorney-General of the Federation and justice minister, Abubakar Malami, asked the National Industrial Court to dismiss a suit seeking an upward review of judges’ salaries. It takes an exceptional turn of events for justices at the highest levels of adjudication in the land to call out their boss. It is even more extraordinary that their communications have been leaked. Set within the backdrop of an election season which promises to be one of the country’s most competitive in decades (Supreme Court justices nominally do not sit on election appeals but play an important role in offering practice directions for how they are managed by the lower courts) as well as important policy decisions which may come to the courts during the remainder of the current administration, it paints a worrying picture of the state of a part of the government whose ostensible job is to keep the rest of the government, as well as citizens on the straight and narrow. As the top judges continue to squabble, millions of Nigerians will continue to discount the judiciary’s usefulness and resort to alternative dispute resolution mechanisms often dispensed by rogue state and non-state actors. This house dispute must be accorded the seriousness and scrutiny that it merits because the stakes could not be higher.

In compliance with the Electoral Law and INEC guidelines, three of the presidential candidates for the 2023 elections, Bola Tinubu (APC), Peter Obi (LP) and Rabiu Kwankwaso (NNPP), on Friday, returned their nomination forms to the commission with the names of their running mates. Tinubu chose Ibrahim Kabir Masari, Obi picked Dr Doyin Okupe while Kwankwaso picked a lawyer, Ladipo Johnson. The submission was however done to beat the 17 June deadline given by INEC for the submission of the names of parties’ running mates. The parties are at liberty to substitute the names at a later stage before the general election, symbolising them as “placeholders.” When probed on the religious identity of the nominee, Kabiru Masari, an APC member from Katsina State said that though Masari may not be very popular in the sense of being a state governor or cabinet minister, “he is very known to us in the APC” and as a young person, “he represents the youths”. For the LP, it submitted the name of the former Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Dr Doyin Okupe. Okupe who disclosed this himself on a Channels Television programme, “Politics Today”, stated that the LP would ensure it returned Nigeria to its rightful owners. An official of the NNPP who didn’t want to be named confirmed the submission of Ladipo Johnson’s name on Saturday. Kwankwaso had earlier confirmed that there is a possibility of presenting a joint ticket for the elections with Peter Obi’s LP.

The system of placeholder running mates is a technicality in the country’s electoral laws that politicians have brought on to exploit, much to INEC’s disappointment. The provision of placeholder running mate is made available under sections 31 and 33 of the 2021 (amended) electoral act. The commission denied the existence of such practice but its Commissioner for Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye, somewhat admitted to the existence of such loophole when he said that “For there to be a substitution of a candidate, the vice-presidential candidate must write to INEC, with a sworn affidavit stating that he is withdrawing from the race within the time frame provided by the law. That’s the only way there can be a substitution of candidates.” The parties resorted to this technicality given what they regarded as a rather short time frame between the presidential primaries and the deadline for the submission of names of running mates which hardly allows for enough “consultation” to be done. However, this is a lesson about legislation: the presence of any loophole in legislation can, and will be exploited by political actors. It is only a matter of when. The candidates should also consider the possibility of their ‘placeholder’ running mates refusing to agree to be substituted, which would mean that they are stuck with them until the elections. Should this happen, this would mostly be to the disadvantage of the Labour Party, as its running mate is a Southern Christian just like its presidential candidate. The APC has at least got some balance on its ticket, but more importantly, the choice of Kabiru Masari as an interim vice presidential candidate means that Nigerian voters will gradually warm up to the idea of the APC presenting a Muslim-Muslim ticket should Mr Masari be replaced with another Northern Muslim politician, or not replaced at all.

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to probe financial inducements during the Ekiti election. The organisation, in a letter, issued a one-week ultimatum to the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu to commence the probe which includes gathering information about vote-buying, undue influence, intimidation, and ballot box snatching, amongst others, while threatening to take legal action if nothing is done. The group also urged INEC to prosecute those arrested. Deputy Director SERAP, Kolawole Oluwadare said wealthy candidates and their sponsors should not be allowed to profit from their crimes, noting that impunity during elections is widely prevalent in Nigeria, as perpetrators are rarely brought to justice. The group stated that agents of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and Social Democratic Party (SDP) were reportedly involved in buying votes across the state. “According to reports, agents of the three parties in Ward 007, PU 001, Ado LGA offered voters as high as ₦10,000 for their votes. “There are also several reports of ballot box snatching, in polling units with codes 13/05/06/005 and 007 in Ilawe Ward IV, near St. Patrick’s School.” SERAP added that in several units, party agents were said to have clustered around the voting cubicle and saw how voters marked their ballot papers. The group reminded INEC that bribery and other offences undermine its ability to discharge its responsibilities under Section 153 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the Electoral Act 2022.

If the Ekiti election, as the first of two tests for the 2023 general elections, is anything to go by, SERAP’s indictment of the process casts a long, sad shadow of doubt about the ability of the state to conduct credible polls. This is as much an indictment against INEC as an electoral umpire as it is on the Economic And Financial Crimes Commission whose responsibility falls squarely within such a sphere. It simply means that both institutions were subjected to the whims of political actors when they statutorily should rise against them. Both institutions also continued their inaction during the recently concluded party presidential primaries in which the tickets were openly sold to the highest bidder with the country’s electoral finance laws effectively suspended. It is unlikely that INEC will be able to investigate, indict and prosecute those accused of vote-buying as they lack the capacity. This highlights the urgency for the passage of the bill establishing the Electoral Offences Commission, which has been languishing in the House of Representatives after being passed by the Senate in July 2021. The Commission is expected to be able to investigate electoral offences including vote-buying and prosecute offenders. It is unlikely that the bill will be passed by the House and signed into law by President Buhari before the 2023 elections, meaning that electoral offences will still go largely unpunished. The other sad picture is the circumstances that make vote-buying a possibility. It is an economic problem that may open up questions and debates about universal adult suffrage in fringe areas but the fact remains that in democracies where the economy works for an elite few, the transactional nature of representative democracy which is designed to reward short-term goals will trump any real chances of getting genuinely elected public officials.

Long queues of vehicles returned to many fuel stations across Nigeria’s commercial hub, Lagos, on Monday due to a shortage of petrol, the second time in six months. The Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) said that some of its members have ceased operations because they can no longer bear the ongoing losses associated with operating in hostile conditions. Akin Akinrinade, the chairman of IPMAN, Lagos Satellite Depot, Ejigbo, said while the government had set ₦165 per litre as the pump price of petrol, current market realities indicated that the product should sell at a minimum of ₦180 per litre. Mr Akinrinade said that IPMAN members should be receiving supplies from the Pipelines and Product Marketing Company and that they have paid over ₦1 billion since October 2021 but the products were yet to be delivered, forcing members to rely on private depots for products while also servicing bank loans for their money with PPMC. “Now, these private depot owners have raised the ex-depot price of PMS from ₦148.17 to ₦162 per litre,” said IPMAN’s CEO while debunking the claim that the union members were out to sabotage the government’s efforts. He added that the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict has disrupted the supply chain and urged the government to direct private depots to revert to the old ex-depot price for PMS or deregulate the downstream sector to allow market forces to determine the price.

Petrol subsidies in Nigeria are another relic of the military era that remains and continues to curtail the country’s capacity and economic development. Nigeria was ruled by various military regimes on and off between 1966 and 1999 and a lot of populist policies with little economic benefit were enacted to keep the masses happy while they siphoned the country’s resources. More than two decades after civilian rule returned, Nigeria has been unable to shake off many of these policies that have stuck to the country like leeches. There is no reason that meets the test of scrutiny for petrol prices to be government-fixed in Nigeria as they currently are. The only reason is the vested interests in the humongous subsidy payments that underpin the system. The NNPC, as the overwhelming majority importer of the product, has failed to supply – most likely because of the fact that it is unable to supply at the regulated price – if IPMAN is to be believed. The insistence on regulating the price of a product which we have no control over how the pricing is arrived at repeatedly shows its destructive impact on different aspects of Nigerian life, and fuel queues are only one of them. Globally, fuel prices have risen. In Nigeria, prices for diesel and kerosene, two deregulated fuels, have risen and these products are not scarce. The reason petrol is scarce is clear and requires political will, which is largely absent in this government, to be fixed. The petrol and electricity subsidies can be directly tied to the dearth of both sectors compared to other sectors like cement and communications which have been allowed to thrive with free-market/private sector participation. Currently, Nigeria spends close to 20% of its annual revenues on subsidies and the rest on debt servicing meaning that all other recurrent and capital expenditures can only be funded by borrowing. In other words, Nigeria is technically insolvent as it cannot meet its obligations without borrowing. Taking off the subsidies immediately releases some pressure and allows this important sector to grow.