As Nigeria is about to draw the curtain on the eight-year reign of Muhammadu Buhari, best wishers and worst wishers of Bola Tinubu would have had no option than eagerly angling in unison for fulfillment or otherwise of the “renewed hope” the former Lagos governor anchored his presidential marketisation on.
Although Tinubu’s inauguration as Nigeria’s next President is set to hold as scheduled on May 29, it would be self-denial if Tinubu and the staunchest of his admirers assert that they have not been having heartbeat as to whether the verdict of the February 25 presidential election delivered by the country’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would be validated or invalidated by the panel of jurists adjudicating on petitions arising from the election.
On April 23, there was sameness of headline in two Nigerian newspapers that have no sameness in ideological leaning. The Guardian’s editorial of that Sunday was titled “2023 Elections: All Eyes On Judiciary”. In its eight-page pull-out that chronicled history of all presidential election petitions since 1979, as well as positions canvassed by the parties in the 2023 presidential election petition, THE NATION headlined “All eyes on judiciary”. Earlier on April 19, the banner headline in The Guardian cover page was still “All eyes on judiciary”. Such repetition and similarity is not a product of paucity of vocabulary but a pointer to volume of veracity loaded in the matter. The situation confirms The Economist’s description of Nigeria as “democracy by court order”.
Apart from showing INEC’s consistent high degree of failure, the court-order electoral system has defeated the essence of constitutional immunity from prosecution on criminal matters that the Nigeria’s Constitution provided for 74 public office holders. Contrary to intention of the law, electoral litigations that have been trailing the president and vice president, governors and deputy governors before and after assumption of offices have been more distractive and expensive.
Ordinarily, there should be no jittering upon recourse to the judiciary. After all, the court is regarded as the final arbiter. But law appears complex, puzzling and sometimes ambiguous once it is subjected to interpretation in the law court. There is a school of thought that law is not what is stated but what is interpreted by the law court. Interpretation of law by court of competent jurisdiction may be different from the meaning assumed by the lawmakers. Law may not also be what the lawyers in the court of public opinion and law courts argue it to mean. In law, everything, including fact, is arguable.
With fumbling features in many facets of our national life, issues of law are worsening in Nigeria because sentiments, including proclivity to personal pecuniary interest, has been made to rule the ruse. How made in Nigeria laws are executed and interpreted, has had hands in making the nation and its nationals the butt of the rest of the world. That has contributed to loss of confidence by potential investors in Nigeria’s economy.
Worst still, adversarial system of dispute resolution in court is often full of deployment of technicalities.
Such technicalities are euphemisms for shenanigans, gimmickries and sophistries set out to obfuscate, and possibly, divert attention and decisions of court from the gravamen of the matter. In his column in The Guardian of May 4, a lawyer and teacher of a very high repute called Chidi Odinkalu gave a damning observation of what technicalities does in Nigeria’s legal profession: “a country in which the richest lawyers make their billions from inventing technicalities to justify crooked election results.”
From the beginning of the world, both written and unwritten laws are often presented in simple terms for understanding of all. If simplicity and straightforwardness embedded in law have not been influenced by sophism sprinkled in adversarial procedures of legal interpretation, anyone that can read and comprehend could incontrovertibly conclude that the presidential election of February 25 that INEC announced Tinubu the “President-Elect” was unlawful because of the refusal of the electoral management body to stick to its guidelines of uploading the results of the election from each polling unit in real time into its dedicated viewing portal.
If any appropriate authority posits that INEC was not bound to stick to the rules it instructed participants in the election to adhere to, a guiding rule INEC officials mentioned over hundred times in all corners of the world as basis for everyone in the world to believe that the electoral exercise would be credible, it implies that the guideline was a decoy to deceiving the world. It means the election was a game without rules – an anarchistic exercise, which is a slur on a country practicing constitutional democracy.
Those in the Nigerian temple of justice should note that although law is a specialized profession in the contemporary world, given the lucidity of its nature and the fact that laws are made for all, their interpretation of law should not be an esoteric matter, understood only by the SANs and other luminaries at the Sanhedrin.
Again, it should also be acknowledged that making allegation may be as simple as mentioning A, B, C … but proving it could be as tasking as knowing the value of x and y in mathematical equation, because knowing the right answer is not enough, but convincing a jurist or an examiner on how the answer is arrived at is where lies the crux of the matter. Since the core congregants at temple of justice include priests and apostles, it must be equally noted that pronouncement made by priests are not in isolation to prayers offered by apostles. It follows therefore that positions canvassed by lawyers representing litigants at the Presidential Election Tribunal should extensively explore the law to enable the jurists in taking decisions that conform to literal meaning intention of the law, and which would neither be repugnant to natural justice nor good conscience.
Precedence of political expediency is at the expense of justice and should, therefore, not count in judiciary interpretation. Priority of ensuring justice, where wrongs of the present are righted for greater hope for Nigeria and Nigerians, should count in quantum. In view of what has been characterising almost all elections in Nigeria, the precedence that no presidential election in Nigeria is yet to be upturned in court is not worth referring to, not to talk of acceding to. After all, the Supreme Court’s inaccuracy in arriving at exactitude of 2/3 of 19 in its decision on the 1979 presidential election remains a precedence that history keeps pillorying. President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s admission of flaws in 2007 general elections that brought him into power remains celebrated in history, while the simple majority judgement of the Supreme Court that upheld his election will continually be questioned by present generation and posterity.
Owing to apparent intractability in many facets, Nigeria’s chequered history is replete with loss glory, snowballing into loss of hope. Thousand of instances abound. Because of hopelessness he saw in Nigeria’s medical facilities, Yar’Adua spent a chunk of the time of his three-year illness-impaired presidency in foreign hospital. Buhari tops the list of Nigerian public officers hospitalizing abroad, even though he had hitherto frowned at such act. Upon El Dorado that Tinubu is said to have caused to happen in all sectors of life in Lagos, he sees no hope in healthcare facilities and resort centres that abound in the “centre of excellence” let alone other places in Nigeria, hence his frequent trip to foreign land for a renewed life.
The renewed hope promised to be installed in Nigeria is now jumbling in the judiciary. But must we continue to dwell in badness so that grace of silly stability may be sustained? With constant exoneration and toleration of illegality in Nigeria’s electoral processes, our democracy will always get bad and will never get by. It would be ruination of hope if hope of righting wrongs in accordance with the law does not commence with pronouncement from the jury panel sitting on the presidential election petition matter.
•Ekanem sent this article through firstname.lastname@example.org