|Thursday, September 7, 2023|
he miscarriage of justice was monstrous that one does not know where to start in spurning the spitting on the face of Nigerians by the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal in a bizarre judgment that was mainly a cocktail of technicalities, misapplication of the law, inconsistencies and defective legal reasoning.
On Wednesday, the court – the last hope of the common man - dashed the expectations of the majority and that of the opposition parties to upturn the disputed results of the February 25 Presidential Election, as declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The people, who ostensibly voted for a new, fair country, where modest dreams could be realized without having to know anybody, had cried foul. Likewise the opposition parties, who had alleged, among other things, massive rigging in favour of Bola Tinubu, the candidate of the ruling party, All Progressives Congress (APC).
But Justice Haruna Tsammani led tribunal, in one-sided decisions, unprecedented in Nigerian jurisprudence, crushed those hopes, embracing technicalities rather than the need to serve justice, and struck out all the three petitions challenging the controversial declaration of Tinubu as the winner of that election. In so, doing, the learned justices, who sadly failed to make history for themselves, renewed the slavery of the masses by an insatiable elite, whose legendary greedy is a case study in psychiatry.
The petitions were brought by Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP), Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Allied Peoples Movement, APM.
The court held that the petitioners failed to prove their cases and that they lacked merit or were incompetent. Interestingly, despite all that was documented that happened during the election, all that was alleged, and all the legal questions raised, there was not one dissenting voice on all the issues among the panel of five judges. They found nothing meritorious in all the pleadings of the petitioners. This is astonishing, to say the least.
Actually, if someone stumbled on the reading of the judgment by flipping through the channels on his or her TV, without knowing that a court of law was giving a ruling, the person might think that the media team of the APC was defending Tinubu's election victory. Except that if he or she did not immediately change channel, the person would notice that the judges struggled in reading their own written judgment – as if it was given to them to read by the hyenas who stormed the court to witness the affirmation of their election heist by the court. This did not help in quashing the rumours going around that the judges had been compromised and under some sort of blackmail from Tinubu's government to stamp a legal seal of legitimacy on his controversial election.
Perhaps the most shocking of the decision was on the legal requirement to score 25% of the votes cast in Abuja before a candidate could be declared a winner of the presidential election. Because all through the judgment, the tribunal had said that where the words of a law are unambiguous, a literary rule of interpretation should be followed, so that the court simply looks at the words of the statute and apply them as they are written, giving them their ordinary and natural meaning - so as not to defeat the intention of the lawmakers. But despite the clear provisions of Section 134 (1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended), the court went on a fishing expedition to “find out the real intention of the lawmakers”, saying the provision must be read in conjunction with other provisions of the constitution. Just like INEC did during the election, the court also in the middle of the game abandoned a rule it had clearly spelled out.
It is trite law that when the provisions of a statute are express and understandable, the courts are duty-bound to apply them, and not to go into the merits and demerits of the provisions, unless by way of obiter dictum. It is for the legislature to repeal laws that are seen to be absurd and not the duty of the Judiciary.
For the avoidance of doubt, Section 134 (1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution stipulates that a presidential candidate must secure the majority of votes cast in a presidential election, where two or more candidates are involved, and at least 25% in two-thirds of the 36 States and FCT to meet the constitutional requirement to be declared as duly elected as President of Nigeria. With due respect to the learned justices, Abuja is not the 37th state of the Federation, it enjoys a special status as the federal capital territory, and it is a “center of unity”, with a mix of every ethnic group in the country. Which is why the law made scoring 25% of the votes there mandatory, so that a sectional person cannot be president. You must enjoy some measure of acceptability across the country.
The court was also dishonest when it said that the petitioners failed to prove its case when they had repeatedly complained to the tribunal that INEC had refused to give them the electoral materials they needed to prove their case in court, as mandated by law, and the judges condoned such impunity by the characters at INEC. But later turned around to blame the petitioners for being unable to prove their case.
The next conundrum was when the court held that because Tinubu enjoyed “unrestricted “ingress and engress” to the United States of America, he had no criminal record in that country. They also relied on a letter once written by the American Embassy to the effect that there was nothing to show that Tinubu had a criminal record while he lived in the U.S. To put it mildly, this is a demonstration of ignorance on the part of the judges on how the criminal justice system functions in the United S and the West, generally. First, it is not every crime someone commits that operates to make him or her a persona non grata in that country. And secondly, as it is typical in the West, most criminal records are expunged from the central register after the effusion of some years. It varies from 10-15 years, depending on the country and the offence committed. Therefore, a mere letter from a consulate cannot override certified true copies of a court of competent jurisdiction in Illinois, which had in fact showed that the APC flag bearer forfeited close to half a million US dollars in a drug-related case.
Furthermore, the court erred when it held that INEC is under no obligation to follow the guidelines it made pursuant to the Electoral ACT, with respect to an election, saying that it was not bound to transmit results electronically. This is grossly misleading, as the Supreme Court had held that electoral guidelines are part of the Electoral Act and that the electoral umpire shall not deviate from them in the middle of the game.
Furthermore, this view is not in conformity with Section 64 (4a and b) of the Electoral Act of 2022. It states: “A collation officer or returning officer at an election shall collate and announce the result of an election, subject to his or her verification and confirmation that the –
(a) number of accredited voters stated on the collated result are correct and consistent with the number of accredited voters recorded and transmitted directly from polling units under section 47 (2) of this Act;
(b) the votes stated on the collated result are correct and consistent with the votes or results recorded and transmitted directly from polling units under section 60 (4) of this Act.”
This apart, it would be utopia to say that INEC, a creation of law, can be lawless or at liberty to do as it pleases. No! This is fallacious. Because there must be some extent of accountability. That was why billions of Naira was spent on BVAS - to checkmates against electoral fraud, which history had shown is mostly impossible without some form of collusion with INEC officials.
Interestingly, Nigerians have not poured onto the street to celebrate this judgment, bereft of justice – just like the day Tinubu was declared winner of the election by INEC. Their expectations had not been met. They were looking for justice, instead they got judgment. And as far as they are concerned, justice has not been served.
Fate threw on the judges of the presidential election tribunal an epical moment to change the way things are done in this country forever, unfortunately, they cowardly failed to rise to the occasion. Curiously, they chose technicalities over the paramount need to uphold the wishes of the majority. But like a disappointed Chris Uche, SAN, the chief counsel to Atiku Abubakar of the PDP rightly pointed out after the ruling, “The struggle is not over.” It is now: All Eyes On The Supreme Court.