Dr. Phillip Anthony
The election tribunal finally announced its verdict on Wednesday 6th September 2023 after almost one month to the date that the final written address was presented to the court. Five questions came to mind immediately after the verdict was announced.
1) Why did this judgement take so long?
2) What purpose does the televising of this judgement serve when the proceedings of the case were not afforded the same opportunity?
3) If all the substantial evidence presented before the court were improper and inadmissible, why didn’t the court reject them during the proceedings?
4) Why would the court sidestep the Electoral Act by using the Constitution as an excuse to rape the complainants?
5) What is the whole purpose of the proceedings, if the umpire that is supposed to be neutral refused to fulfil its obligation and the court is complicit in the cover up?
It won’t be out of place to assume that these questions pervaded the minds of majority of Nigerians and this is because the people already could sense the endgame.
The people’s response to the announcement was largely that of distrust. A cursory glance at reactions that followed after the announcement revealed that the populace was not expecting anything different. People were not surprised by the ruling, meaning that they knew that the Judiciary was going to be a disaster. The court and its proceedings were seen as an extension of the government of the day. Nigerians were not expecting it to rule against itself. So the waiting game intended to distract and calm nerves accomplished nothing at last. The people had seen it all before. Therefore, while hoping for the best, they were indeed ready for the worst.
The idea of televising the reading of the court ruling was suggestive of a deliberate attempt to convince the people that they are not being manipulated by the government. It was a tyrannical attempt to confuse the public that they had a standard procedure that was violated by the complainant and then nullified their claims. It is such a blatant violation of the public trust of the court of law. The people knew better and they were not going to suffer the wrathful and painful loss. Rather they took the verdict in their own stride and put it in the dustbin of history.
Nigerians also recognized some other publicity stunts exhibited by the government, aimed at assuaging the people’s nerves, one of which was the Nigeria Labour Congress conveniently going on a two-day warning strike.
For such a ruling that was made in favour of the ruling party, one would expect massive jubilation on the streets, after all, the ruling was in favour of the party that claimed to have won the last presidential elections with over 8 million votes. Why are the 8 million plus voters not on the streets jubilating? This is simply because although the public is exhausted by government’s ineptitude and lack of transparency in the process, they continue to demand that justice be served, asking that INEC should be held accountable for its impropriety.
The people are tired of the jungle atmosphere and the corruption in high places. They want answers to this election problems and many more. They are aware that unless there is a closure to this and many other lingering questions about the current situation, they will continue to live in a vicious cycle. This verdict did not shift the support for legitimacy either way. Contrary to the impression that the judges were being harassed by the people’s call for their ruling in favor of sustainable democracy in delivering the verdict, despite the eyes on the Judiciary slogan being chanted by the people, these judges appeared to not have been ruffled by these statements going by the ruling delivered. It was more or less a status quo judgement. They were busy all through the course of their rulings ticking off the “boxes” and nothing outside ofthese“boxes” was acceptable to them. The ruling was delivered without any recognition or any attention paid to the facts surrounding the alleged assault on democracy by the ruling party; and even much less attention was paid to the public opinion. Just like INEC’s decision to declare the results of the election in a particular way irrespective of whether it had any impact on the outcome, so did the judges who delivered the Judgement.
This government and its propaganda peddling machine, which started spreading lies that some groups were harassing the Judiciary by nudging them to do the right thing, can now rest easy. This judgement has nothing to do with the fact-finding with a view to delivering justice. It is about protecting the status quo. This is more or less like the case of a boss being arrested for a violation and then having to be held accountable. The soft-landing is immediately preserved by the institution to ensure that the boss is not guilty. Only that, in this case, we are dealing with the issue of legitimacy and not any misconduct by the authorities. The defendant in this case couldn’t be regarded as the boss until the election result, which is the result that is on trial for a total breach of the law, is resolved.
The ruling by the Judiciary further buttressed the point made by the people that they of the Judiciary have a very thin record of playing a crucial role in revolutionary political changes. A case in point is that of the complaints and setup of Jesus Christ. Those who convicted Jesus Christ didn’t believe he was guilty; however, they still convicted him because they had their preconceived biases upon which they carried out the dirty job. And, as we all know, Jesus was crucified.
The standards proclaimed in those days are still obtainable by the courts today and that was what we just saw in the presidential election rulings of the election tribunal. The electoral laws, designed to prevent fraud and corruption, are set aside, not because they violated the Constitution, nor because they contradicted the Constitution, but they were conveniently set aside to provide the latitude for the umpire have a free passage.
Excusing the umpire, INEC, from complying with the electoral law, reduced the opposition to serfdoms, while the ruling party enjoyed freedom to get away with murder.
Those of the ruling party knew clearly that the currency change was a fluke; and they became opposed to their own government. They even went to town, telling the people that it was going to be reversed after their victory at the polls. This was telling that they were playing with the minds and the emotions of the people who were trying to survive.
Finally this same party, which succeeded in using the Central Bank to manipulate the economy and INEC to rig the elections, is now using the Judiciary to justify INEC’s ineptitude, corruption and incompetence. Now again, the election tribunal virtually challenged the notion that the electoral law has no role to play in the determination of the election process. It said, “INEC is not compelled to use IREV or BVAS to collate results.”
My question is this: Why then did we spend so much money getting the BVAS technology?
How low did the Nigerian Judiciary go compared to other international law practices in the world? Again, in the process of hearing a case, in the cause of cross-examination, supporting evidence presented were inadmissible evidence because it should have been presented in the first instance when pleading the case. So what proportion of the cross-examination evidence is comparable to the actual testimony? As a layman, I have always thought the testimony under cross-examination carries more weight. But I know better now, going by the ruling of the PEPT.
However, the suggestion that all material evidence submitted to the court under cross-examination will not count because they were not admissible is not sufficient to deliver justice.
Justice cannot have been served until it takes into consideration all evidence presented during the proceedings.
Furthermore, the tribunal was mistaken when it chose to rely on the autonomy of INEC to decide whether it was necessary or not to use BVAS or IREV to collate the results of the elections. The latitude INEC gave itself on the 25th of February and it failed woefully to achieve. Many of the election cases that are being reversed in court today are typical examples.
But those cases that attest to the fact that INEC was complicit with the ruling party and therefore it is in no shape or form to conduct credible elections are the cases of Adamawa, Ogun and Katsina and other governorship elections. In all these instances, the INEC commissioners blatantly violated the norms, and (just like the national INEC displayed on the day of final collation and declaration of results) side tracked the implementation of the guidelines and the procedures.
Another case is that of the Central Bank, now being tried for violations of the law. Like INEC it is also an independent organization as stipulated by the law. The INEC commissioners in the above cases ignored the collated results and went ahead to announce different persons who were not the true winners of the election by the results collated. The same goes for the National Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, who completely ignored the process stipulated by the Electoral Act, when he derailed from his initial commitment to the process, which was a commitment to Nigerians that he would deliver the results to us as a true reflection of the votes cast by the people. However on E-Day, it was noticed that he wasn’t keeping to his commitment and he refused to listen to any objections raised by complainants from the opposition parties. Even when they stood their grounds, he brushed aside their concerns and offered no explanation.
When election collations were in progress, the snobbery displayed by the INEC Chairman was seen replicated in many states on both the 25th February and the 18th May elections by INEC Election Commissioners, when the complainants complained against INEC’s violations of its own rules and the election in sdtates like Adamawa, Ogun, Katsina, Sokoto, Yobe and many others. This attitude, which constituted an abuse of authority, is a replica of the same attitude displayed by the INEC National Chairman.
Despite this, the tribunal, in its rulings, says that their complaints must be signed and certified by the INEC authorities. Which INEC? The one that refused to accommodate their complaints on the spot?
And this is the same INEC that was in court throughout the case only to defend its actions that were in clear breach of the law. This is the same INEC that became the appendage for the ruling party throughout the courts process.
So the question now will be whether or not justice can be served in this way? Well, the matter has moved to the Supreme Court in the hope that the true spirit of the law can be evoked. We can only continue to keep our fingers crossed and keep faith in God as the Ultimate Judge.
DR ANTHONY PHILLIPS WRITES FROM LAGOS