It was Bishop Godfrey Onah of the Catholic Diocese of Nsukka who said our justices were not from Singapore. They are Nigerians and are prone to the foibles and corruption associated with the Nigerian system. The bishop was only trying to prepare our minds not to expect too much from the judgement of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT). A priest friend of mine was so pissed off with the judgement that he quipped: “With what happened in the tribunal today, cut-off mark for studying law in the university should be 50.” That judgement day, September 6, 2023, was supposed to be a happy one for me being the day I turned 55. But the PEPT spoilt it for me with its ruling. It was not as if some of us expected anything different. But I never envisaged that the petition of the petitioners would be brazenly dismissed in its entirety.
In arriving at their ruling, the judges relied on technicalities which they had earlier warned against. The presiding Judge, Haruna Tsammani, had cautioned lawyers to avoid unnecessary technicalities in the case so that everyone would be satisfied that justice had been served. But was justice served? It depends on who is assessing the judgement and his interests. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had sworn that the results of the election would be transmitted real time to the INEC portal. It failed to do this because it needed to give room for the manipulation of results that followed the presidential election. And the tribunal did not see anything wrong with it because the commission is not bound by law to transmit results electronically. Not being a lawyer, I don’t want to go into the legalese of this case. My interest is in the sustenance of our wobbling democracy.
I know what many Nigerians, including me, went through to get their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs). I know what they suffered to even cast their votes on the election day. There was this particular woman who wanted a change in her country. She came to vote, but some hoodlums suspected to be working for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) attacked her and some others because of the perception that these voters would vote for the opposition. Being resolute and tenacious, she came back to still cast her vote after treating her wound. Now, how will this woman and other wounded Nigerians feel with this judgement? Will they ever consider coming out again to vote? What do we do to protect our democracy gradually being tainted by bloody civilian coups? Good enough, the era of military coups appears to be over in Nigeria. We have not also experienced constitutional coups.
This type belongs to some African countries like Cameroon, Uganda, Rwanda, and Equatorial Guinea where the President manipulates the constitutional provision on term limit to remain in power. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo almost attempted it in Nigeria. He failed woefully as attacks came from different quarters against his secret third term bid. Today, what Nigeria contends with are judicial coups. This is a situation where judges rather than voters determine who becomes our President or governor or legislator as the case may be. People will struggle to exercise their civic duty by voting for a candidate of their choice. At the end of the day, the election is rigged and those cheated are asked to go to court. At the courts, the judges deploy legal technicalities to legitimize the rigging.
This is what happened in the last presidential election held on February 25, 2023. The election was massively rigged in favour of the ruling APC, especially in some parts of the North and in Rivers State. That of Rivers State was too brazen. The evidence was overwhelming. I don’t need to recount them here again. It is possible that if the votes the Labour Party lost in Rivers, Plateau and Benue States, for instance, were added to its overall results, its candidate would have won the election. But the judges did not reckon with that. They knocked off the evidence of the petitioners on technical grounds. The shameless manner in which Ahmad Lawan and Godswill Akpabio came back to the Senate is also disgusting. These former and current Senate Presidents respectively did not contest the senatorial election in their constituencies.
They contested for the presidential primaries of their party. They lost. Then, they went to court to claim they were the authentic senatorial candidates of their party in their constituencies. They won and are now in the red chambers making laws for us. Sorry is the name of a country where characters like these are at the helm. This is partly why the much needed judicial, political and electoral reforms Nigeria desperately needs may remain a tall dream for now. Those who profit from the loopholes in our laws will never move for any serious reforms. They will always leave a loophole they can exploit when necessary and dare you to go to court. The presidential candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, and the Labour Party, Mr Peter Obi, have expressed their intention to approach the Supreme Court. But, this will be to fulfill all righteousness.
The Supreme Court, as presently constituted, will not upturn the verdict of the tribunal. It is the same water boiling in the pot. But we shall not despair. We must continue to shout against the evil called politics in Nigeria. We must continue to demand that right things be done at all times. We must continue to push our lawmakers to look into our laws and amend nebulous provisions that have set our democracy backwards. I had wanted to destroy my useless PVC. I, like many other Nigerians, had muted the idea of not coming out to vote again so as not to put a stamp of legitimacy on rigging. But who loses? If we despair and fail to come out, evil will continue to triumph over good. Citizens of countries that are enjoying genuine democracy today did not go to sleep when they were faced with bad governance. They struggled. They fought the powers that be and regained their freedom. It happened in France in 1789.
The Arab Spring was a recent phenomenon. Starting from Tunisia in 2010 and moving later to Egypt and Libya among others, citizens of these Arab countries revolted against their rulers who made life unbearable for them. Erstwhile strongmen like Muammar Gaddafi of Libya and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt became history after the revolution. What worked in the Arab countries may not work in Nigeria though. There are ethnic and religious differences which politicians exploit to their advantage, leaving the poor masses to continue living in agony. Ironically, some of the same poor masses who gain little or nothing from the government are schooled to believe that it is their turn and that any protest against the poor turn of events in the country is against their interests. We shall not relent in educating our people to always follow the right path. As Mr Peter Obi would say, the cost of bread or fuel is not cheaper in Osogbo or Maiduguri than in Lagos or Jos.
What affects one affects the other. Bad governance, ultimately affects all of us. The only people who appear to be enjoying it are the few who are privileged to be in one political office or the other. We must continue, therefore, to hold our leaders at all levels accountable. Those who do not measure up must be fired. The best way to fire them is through election. One day, our votes will count and our PVCs will no longer be permanent voter curse. One day, we will have upright judges who will dispense justice rather than technicality. And one day, we will have lawmakers who will amend our laws to engender judicial independence; to make it mandatory that we must conclude electoral petitions before any winner is sworn in.
• Casmir Igbokwe is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, NewsProbe.