By Nnanke Harry Willie
Nigeria’s democracy is in a ‘make’ or ‘mar’ situation. No thanks to the shambolic, even suspicious handling of the Presidential elections by INEC when it made a volte-face and decided to go against its well-publicised policy of real-time electronic transmission of results with the untenable claim that it was caused by a glitch on the server.
No doubt “All eyes are on the judiciary” in Nigeria as boldly stated by an audacious (some say vexatious) advertising campaign.
The reason is of course because of the impending judgement on the petitions filed by Peter Obi and the Labour Party (LP); Atiku Abubakar and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); and Allied Peoples Movement, (APM) at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) against INEC over the contentious results that declared Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) the winner of the election.
To be clear, the 2023 general elections was originally intended by President Muhammadu Buhari and the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) to be the best elections ever conducted in Nigeria because of the introduction of cutting-edge technology that would virtually make it impossible to rig through multiple voting by politicians or the usual ballot box snatching and results-falsification at the collation centres.
The jury is now out on what really happened that made INEC expose Nigerians to the undue pains and anguish of eventually going through an obviously tendentious path.
As of February 7, 2023, just days to the presidential election, the Chairman of INEC, Prof Mahmood Yakubu stated in clear terms the commission’s official media handle, @inecnigeria: “let me once again reassure Nigerians that there is no going back on deployment of BVAS for voter accreditation. There is no going back on the transmission of results to the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV) in real-time on Election Day.”
“The commission will also upload Polling Unit level results (Form EC8A) and the accreditation data to the INEC Result Viewing Portal. This is also a mandatory provision of sections 50,60, and 64 of the Electoral Act 2022.”
Strangely Yakubu’s INEC abandoned these avowed technologically reliable paths, thus opening the doors to the uploading of some patently dubious results. This dubious path was, however, nonetheless stoutly defended by INEC at the tribunal by claiming that it was not mandatory for INEC to follow its own guidelines. Thankfully, we shall get the verdict of the PEPT on Wednesday.
President Buhari had even introduced a sudden Naira redesign policy that was mainly intended to deny money-bag politicians from vote-buying and compromising electoral officials. The Naira redesign policy was however truncated by a combination of factors which included massive mopping up of the new notes from banks by privileged politically exposed persons which set off a cash crisis in the country.
Aside the alleged dubious figures, another ground for the petition against Tinubu is that he did not score 25% of the votes in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) as required by the constitution.
The petitioners insist that INEC erred by declaring him winner since he did not meet the critical constitutional requirement.
Substantial non-compliance with the Electoral law, the INEC guidelines for te 2023 elections and the constitution are therefore major grounds for the petition.
Other grounds include the ineligibility of Kassim Shettima, Tinubu’s running mate in the elections. This is due to his double registration as senatorial candidate and also vying as a vice-presidential candidate.
Tinubu’s unclear educational records, his undeclared citizenship of Guinea thus being accused of perjury, his drug-related forfeiture of $460,000 in the U.S. and even his true identity are all up for determination by the PEPT.
Meanwhile, members of the Tribunal have come under immense overt and covert pressure. One of the most obvious ones have been the “All Eyes on The Judiciary” and the “All Eyes on the PEPT Judges” billboards which sprouted in several parts of Abuja and amplified by millions of Nigerians on social media.
While the protagonists saw this move as necessary, the critics considered it an overreach and an attempt to surreptitiously blackmail the judiciary.
However, in a recent development a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Mary Odili threw her hat in the ring as she made some very ominous and what some consider as insidious comments.
Mary Odili strangely alleged that those who filed petitions against the declaration of President Bola Tinubu as winner of the 2023 presidential election are trying to cause chaos in the country.
Mary Odili claimed that the 2023 general elections generated a storm, particularly from losers, who feel cheated by the elections’ outcome and have since resorted to making incendiary remarks that could plunge the nation into anarchy.
Mary Odili said at a colloquium which had many members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in attendance: “There seems to be moves to throw the nation into chaos or conflagration. This may be brought about by some individuals and groups who fanning the embers of hatred, bigotry and tribalism fail to see the possible outcome of the utterances without caution that are being thrown around.”
Interestingly, Mary Odili concluded that Wole Olanipekun and Attorney General of the Federation, Lateef Fagbemi, were well grounded in electoral disputes, thus implying that their representation of Tinubu was bound to ensure victory for the latter at the tribunal.
Not a few Nigerians believe that Mary Odili crossed the line in denouncing petitioners who are seeking reprieve from the courts but even worse seemingly endorsing electoral fraud so long as the perpetrator had been sworn into office.
Whichever way the pendulum swings on Wednesday, the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal judges will do well to not only serve the petitioners ungarnished justice but also ensure that Nigerians receive true justice that is blind to personalities, threats, inducements, and blackmail.
Wednesday, May 6, 2023, will indeed be a very consequential day. The nation has been deeply divided and the situation has been made worse by years of misgovernance and decadent leadership.
It is our hope that somehow, the judiciary will provide the needed springboard for Nigeria to leap out from the doldrums by providing justice that is transparent, unambiguous, and constitutional.
Nigerians are waiting with bated breath to see if the judiciary would serve them the justice they truly deserve and, possibly, succeed where the politicians and INEC have failed.