After nearly six months of hearing by about three judges of the Federal High Court, the Oni versus Fayemi case will finally be determined on Monday, December 10, at least at that judicial level. It is expected that this case is so important and fundamental that it will most likely end up in the Supreme Court for final determination. However, the opinion to be rendered on Monday will have far reaching consequences on our democratic practice and culture.
The basic question being asked is should a public officer, not being elected with a constitutionally guaranteed tenure, resign from public office before contesting an election? Very interestingly, the ruling on Monday will also clarify and answer the question “who is a public officer?” In several academic, non-legal debates, I have heard the broad and the restrictive definitions of the term pubic officer especially in the context of this case. The broad view is that a public officer is any individual who, not being elected, draws periodic remuneration on full time basis, directly or by secondary means, from the consolidated account of the federation. A narrow definition restricts public officer to civil servants. This will be abundantly cleared by the ruling on Monday and the question would be answered, hopefully. Who is a public officer?
The second fundamental issue that bothers on equity that would be determined is the extent to which public office, not being an elective office with constitutionally provided tenure, can be used to underwrite the risk of a public officer’s participation in an electoral contest. It is desirable that a level playing field be provided for all aspirants. If a public officer appointed on full time to an office retains that office while (s)he goes to contest an election and therefore can technically return to that office if (s)he fails, to what extent would this be or not be an abuse of office? Would that public office not have been used to underwrite the risk of electoral contest for the office holder at public expense? What similar risk cover is provided for other aspirants who are not holding public office in the interest of ensuring “a level playing field for all aspirants?”
By the way, I personally, as a layman believe that the requirement to resign before contesting an election should not apply to career civil servants since that is their job. That they have their career which happens to be civil service, ought not be seeing as a privilege in the same way an appointee’s job is viewed. I am a lay man. Monday will provide us the answer. We should also be able to see in fine legal details, the difference, if any, between a public servant and a public officer.
I really wish I were a lawyer at this momentous time, regrettably I am not. But as a lay man, I am anxiously waiting for the opinion that will be rendered on Monday. I am looking forward to one that will strengthen our democracy and enhance our democratic practice and deepen our democratic culture.
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