from Africa in Transition

Nigeria: The 2011 Elections, Justice Salami, and Judicial Review

August 24, 2011

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Elections and Voting

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (L) on July 9, 2011. (Benedicte Desrus/Courtesy Reuters)

Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan’s recent support of the National Judicial Council’s firing of the president of the court of appeals, Justice Isa Ayo Salami, probably reduces  the credibility of the  judicial review of contested 2011 elections. As president of the court of appeals, Salami was charged with hearing all petitions regarding the presidential, legislative, and gubernatorial polls.

The Congress for Progressive Change, defeated northern presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari’s party, alleges that Salami was removed because he presides over the judicial review of  that party’s petition to overturn the results of the April presidential election.

More than the results of the presidential elections may have been involved. According to Sahara Reporters, Salami’s removal was also related to his refusal  to bow to pressure from Nigeria’s chief justice, Kastina-Alu, to throw out a petition relating to the gubernatorial elections in Sokoto state, which, Kastina allegedly argued, could undermine the Sultan of Sokoto and thereby lead to more violence.

Whether true or not, intervention by the president, whose legitimacy is widely rejected in the North, casts a shadow over the credibility of judicial review. This will contribute to continuing  anger at his presidential victory amidst allegations of bribery and vote rigging.

Understandably, civil society has also rejected Salami’s firing. The Nigerian Bar Association, the pre-eminent legal professional organization, has condemned Jonathan for supporting it, and called on its members to stay away from the swearing in of Salami’s replacement.

At a time when the country needs reconciliation between the North and South, Jonathan’s support for Salami’s removal, like his recent attempt to lengthen presidential term limits, shows a lack of political sensitivity.

H/T to Asch Harwood.