By Emeka Alex Duru
The judgement by the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) on Wednesday, September 6, on disputations from the February 25 presidential poll, has added to the argument on the future of democracy in the country. It has also added to the question on the role of the judiciary in deepening the democracy culture in the land. The details of the PEPC verdict are already in the public domain and attracting various comments, hence no need rehashing them here. We can only look at some salient ones that may have serious bearings on future elections in the country.
Among the striking points raised by the Court was in dismissing the allegations by the Labour Party (LP) and its presidential candidate in the February 25 election, Peter Obi, that the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu was arrested or had criminal records in the United States of America. Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), raised similar charges against Tinubu.
The five-man panel led by Justice Haruna Tsammani ruled that no record of criminal arrest or conviction was established against Tinubu by the petitioners. It specifically maintained that both the LP and Obi, failed to prove that Tinubu was convicted for money laundering in the United States.
The Court also stated that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), was not statutorily required to transmit election results electronically. It equally dismissed LP/Obi’s Petition on 25 per cent needed to win the presidential election in 24 states of the federation including the FCT. According to the court, FCT residents have no special privileges as the petitioners claimed. The court also rejected the European Union (EU) report on the polls, arguing that it was not tendered by an official of the body. The allegation of Tinubu’s dual nationality, his breezy credentials and double nomination against his running mate, Kassim Shettima, were equally discarded by the court. At the end, Tinubu was given a clean bill of health and his election for the presidency, affirmed.
Now, these are clearly legal matters which those substantially informed in the field can properly situate. But they have far-reaching implications to even the man in the street. The PEPC verdict brings to mind this particular brand of wrestling, referred to as ‘free style’, in which combatants are free to employ any strategies to dislodge their opponents, including unconventional tactics. What matters is who comes tops at the end of the exercise and not how he manages to do so. That, perhaps, is the most elementary way of explaining the Court’s affirmation of the Tinubu victory. It tilts considerably to what economists refer to as the end justifying the means.
Our politicians are smart, in case the justices of the PEPC do not know. Knowing them and their antics, the judgement in favour of Tinubu, would provide basis for wholesale rigging and other electoral malfeasance in subsequent elections, of course, convinced that they will have their way after all.
Tinubu seemed to have read this beforehand. At a forum with APC chieftains before the election, he was overheard telling them that victory at the polls was not a matter of playing by the rules, urging them, rather to snatch it and run with it. That was precisely what he did in cahoots with the INEC. There is no self-respecting Nigerian or organisation with a modicum of integrity that does not know that the election was slanted in Tinubu’s favour by INEC. The PEPC may have given its verdict on the basis of facts and presentations by the lawyers before it or any other consideration. But Nigerians knew better.
The danger in the judicial seal to the Tinubu presidency is the obvious assault on the growth of democracy in the country. The last general election was a particular exercise that Nigerians of all ages and classes, especially the youth, saw as one that would change many narratives in the country. It was one which the organisers – the President Muhammadu Buhari administration and INEC, had pledged to execute in a manner that would repair the country’s ruptured repute in electoral matters. Buhari, in fact, boasted that the success of the election would stand as a legacy and point of reference for his regime. INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, equally assured the whole world of conducting an election that would mark a radical departure from the past that was characterised by manipulations.
That, unfortunately did not happen. The outcome was rather unexpected and quite demoralizing. It is thus not surprising that millions of Nigerians who had queued to vote, especially the youths, many of who had not voted before then, have remained in shock more than six months after.
They had thus, looked up to the courts to make a final say on the election. In the hashtag; “#AllEyesOnTheElectionTribunalJudges#, they saw in the judiciary the last hope for their efforts. It was for them, a reminder that all was not lost after all; that the errors of the presidential election could still be remedied. But as it is, that hope may have been dashed, except the Supreme Court comes to the rescue.
In affirming Tinubu, the winner of the presidential election, what has been given unintended endorsement, is the rule of the thumb or survival of the fittest by candidates in future elections. Former Senator for Imo West (Orlu) Senatorial District, Imo State, late Francis Arthur Nzeribe, had uncanny ways of running over his opponents at the polls and daring them go to court. Contesting the position from the point of a victor gave him edge over them. Till he was forcefully retired, unconventional practices hallmarked his electoral engagements. And the impacts still resonate in the senatorial district. Our elections at the national level and indeed all segments, may be tailored along that odious direction, subsequently, if care is not taken.
The beauty of electoral democracy is freedom it accords the voters in making their choice in elections. That freedom presupposes that the choice should not be compromised or encumbered by extraneous considerations. The moment that right is taken away from the electorate by force or someone stealing himself to victory outside their consent, democracy dies.
It becomes more challenging when the presidency is involved. Issues concerning the office are not matters to be determined on grounds of technicalities or extreme legalism. The President of a country is the manifestation of its sovereignty. He is like a glass house in a market square which everyone sees through. The day the office is appropriated or compromised by someone through subterfuge or whatever manner clearly outside the free will of the people, the occupier of the office remains a usurper, in the mind of the people.
Bola Tinubu may have scaled all the hurdles – electoral and legal in his determined march for the presidency. But beyond the PEPC controversial judgement, he still needs to convince Nigerians on the genuineness of his mandate. That remains a burden he may have to live with.
*DURU is the Editor, TheNiche Newspapers, Lagos