It’s exactly a week today that the Supreme Court delivered judgement on appeals filed by the opposition: the presidential candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, and Labour Party, Peter Obi, both seeking the overturning of President Bola Tinubu’s election victory. The Allied Peoples Movement filed an appeal against Vice President Kashim Shettima’s purported double nomination.
For the legal fireworks which lasted for almost six months, we are convinced that there are lessons to learn.
And we should also use the same to set standards for the country’s electoral process in the future. Among the issues that call for serious concern was the distraction from petitioners and appellants.
The amount of energy dissipated while legal redress lasted was not worth it. The same goes to time wasted, persistent deceits, rigmarole, twists, lies and abuse deployed by the opposition and deliberate attempts by the same to blackmail the Courts sitting on their petitions/appeals. This was calculated to attract undeserved sympathy, inciting and feeding the public with false information, with the aim of causing disruption and mayhem in the country.
For instance, the APM ground of appeal was totally mischievous. The party had earlier presented the same grounds before Justice Haruna Tsamani’s panel, but without success. Then, the Presidential Election Petitions Court held that the petition of the party was “devoid of any merit”. Consequently, the PEPC ruled that it lacked the jurisdiction to hear or determine an issue bordering on qualification or non-qualification of a candidate. Justice Tsammani held that the alleged double nomination against Shettima has no substance, having been settled by the Supreme Court. He said no one has the right to litigate on it again.
The Tribunal held that the issue of qualification or non-qualification was a pre-election matter that should have been ventilated at the Federal High Court within 14 days after the conduct of a primary election. The PEPC also held that APM lacked the locus standi to challenge the qualification of a candidate in another political party, adding that it was only an aspirant who took part in a primary election could challenge the outcome of such election.
Ultimately, PEPC referred to the judgement of the Supreme Court delivered on May 26, 2023, where it dismissed an appeal filed by the Peoples Democratic Party. This informed why the apex Court ahead of its October 26 verdict dismissed the APM appeal, saying that it had no valid ground to do so in the first place.
The same was the position of the Supreme Court on the status of the FCT in a presidential poll. The decision was settled before now by the country’s apex court.
So also was the move by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to inject new evidence into the case at the level of the Supreme Court. This bothered on the controversy surrounding the certificate of Tinubu from a university in the United States of America. Though it was not an entirely bad idea to test the position of the law, there has been no precedent where the Supreme Court admitted new evidence in political cases.
Indeed, before the final verdict, we were seriously bothered, like many others, about the abuse of Court process in the hearing of just ended presidential election petitions and appeals.
It’s very sad that the action by the opposition in the name of seeking legal redress was sheer waste of time. Their conduct was frivolous. And this happened despite the fact that the Courts had to shelve many litigations which have been on the queue for long and which some parties involved are no more.
In order to stop the repeat of what was experienced in the country recently, we recommend that the Court should slam heavy fines against the politicians found to have abused the court process. In addition, payment of the fines should be made a condition that would be attached to participation in active politics in the future.
For Lawyers who feed fat in frivolities, we call on the relevant professional bodies such as the Nigerian Bar Association to redeem its image. In view of this, we charge the body to mete disciplinary actions against its erring members. This is after thorough investigation is carried out.
Similarly, for a generally acceptable election, we urge the Independent Electoral Commission to be mindful of its promises to the voting public. We strongly advise the election body to say and promise only what it has the capacity to do. A good example here is the electronic transmission of results. INEC should realise that the best approach always is saying what it can do, otherwise the credibility of future elections would remain controversial.
Most importantly, we call for the return to retired ChIef Justice of Nigeria Muhammad Uwais Electoral Law Reforms Committee recommendations. Established in 2007, by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua, the Committee that paraded many eminent personalities and with wide representation in the country recommended among others: Constitutional amendments that would insulate the Independent National Electoral Commission from the political influences of the executive arm of government in terms of its composition and funding. The power to appoint INEC board to be transferred from the President to the National Judicial Council, while its funding should be a first line charge on the Consolidated Revenue of the Federation.
The functions of the police on election duty should be stated in the Police Service Commission guidelines on code of conduct for officers – to be incorporated into the Police Act. That election petition should have a time limit, even as a Special Electoral Offences Commission was to be set up to try electoral offenders. And most significantly, that no elected person should assume office until the case against him/her in the Tribunal or Court is disposed of.
Given the above, we here charge both the legislative and judiciary arms of government to put the executive arm on its toes for the country to actualise and embrace this lofty paradigm shift so as to allow a level playing field, remove doubts, ensure justice in our electoral system and, ultimately, to advance our growing democracy.
Again, we reiterate: Now that the Supreme Court has delivered the final verdict on the last presidential election disputes, the opposition should stop forthwith their distractions, be mature, purposeful and truly patriotic in their criticism.
The ruling party on its own should now focus more on the delivery of its mandate to better the lives of millions of Nigerians who struggle extremely hard daily to survive. Those in charge of affairs of this country presently should be reminded that 2027 is just around the corner, so when that time comes, they will surely reap what they have sowed!