PRIOR to the commencement of the 2019 election season, Nigerians had thought that the poll will profit from the enduring lessons of the 2015 exercise. They also believed that this year’s poll will be an improvement on 2015. They also thought that all the evils associated with our previous elections will never recur in this election season. Alas, they were totally wrong in all counts.
The electoral violence escalated to levels never before seen in the history of elections in the country. Many Nigerians were killed in this election cycle than those before it, including first time voters. This election witnessed high scale thuggery, vote buying and intimidation of political opponents and their supporters. Hate speeches and incendiary comments against some ethnic groups in some parts of the country reigned supreme even though we profess one Nigeria. The 2019 poll season witnessed so many inconclusive elections to the extent that some Nigerians are seriously doubting the desirability or otherwise of supplementary elections via inconclusive polls. This is viewed against the backdrop that most of the inconclusive elections occurred where the opposition PDP is leading. Our poll is becoming like magical theatrics, the more you look, the less you see.
Both the local and international observers condemned the many lapses of our polls and urged for more electoral reforms. To them, our polls fell below international standards. They even fell below our own standards. They condemned the militarization of the exercise in some states. All these shortcomings underscore the need to overhaul our electoral system and bring sanity and order into it before more harm is done to our democracy.
Therefore, the shoddy conduct of the 2019 general election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is beyond the expectations of many Nigerians. This failure on the part of INEC makes it imperative that the outcome of many of the disputed results will be determined by the courts as almost all the candidates that felt aggrieved are headed to the courts to seek redress. And it is their right to do so. Nobody should intimidate any candidate because of his decision to approach the courts for justice. The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, is already in court to retrieve his mandate despite being advised not to do so. But Atiku is not doing what nobody before him has not done. It is on record that incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari has not always challenged his many electoral defeats.
In fact, going to the tribunal to seek for justice is part of the electoral process. Since 1999 when the present democratic system came into force, politicians have used the tribunals to get justice. Former Governor Peter Obi and the vice presidential candidate of the PDP in the 2019 election is a classical example. Many other politicians have followed Obi’s example to retrieve their stolen mandates. They included the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole, Dr. Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State and Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State.
So, Nigerians will be thrilled with the usual court drama that will soon follow as the tribunals start sitting. Nigerians will, no doubt, be thoroughly entertained with revelations on what transpired on February 23, March 9 and March 23 polls.
No doubt, some of the cases will reach the Supreme Court, whose judgment cannot be appealed. And if the initial outcome of the Osun State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, which gave victory to Senator Ademola Adeleke of the PDP, is anything to go by, Nigerians will expect more judicial volcanoes in the next couple of months to ostensibly right the wrongs of some of the polls where intimidation, vote buying, ballot snatching, militarization, violence, killings, collation frauds and other electoral infractions were the order of the day.
In the majority judgment delivered by Justice Peter Obiora, the tribunal set aside the rerun poll of September 27, 2018 and declared Ademola Adeleke of the PDP the winner of the September 22 governorship poll in the state. The tribunal averred that the election conducted in the seven polling units is unknown to law because INEC has no power to conduct it.
Therefore, it is the duty of the courts to ensure that the rule of law prevails and that might is not right. It is only justice that can preserve and sustain our nascent democracy and the Nigerian society. In the absence of justice, we will be descending to the Hobbesian state of nature where life is ‘nasty, brutish and short.’ In spite of how some people see and interpret Adeleke’s victory, this is indeed a season of good tidings for the senator, who is known for his acrobatic dance style. It is never a surprise that the ebullient senator described the tribunal’s judgment as a landmark. To Senator Ademola Adeleke, a Daniel has really come to judgment and the judiciary still remains the last hope of the common man. The senator has every right to savour his victory even though the incumbent Governor Gboyega Oyetola of the APC has vowed to appeal the verdict. Oyetola has every right to do so. As it appears, the last has not been heard of Osun gubernatorial poll.
Also, the ruling of the Court of Appeal in Sokoto, which set aside the judgment of the Zamfara High Court, allowing the APC to field candidates in the 2019 election, has demonstrated that the last is yet to be heard on some of the elections. I have no doubt that many of the gubernatorial polls will go the way of Osun.
In our democratic march, the judiciary must remain firm in dispensing justice without caring whose ox is gored. The temple of justice should not be trivialized in any form whatsoever. For us to remain a democracy, justice must not only be done but seen to be done. The brigandage that passed as election in some parts of the country must be arrested so as to avoid a repeat performance. Nigerians must play the political game according to its rules.
The rigging and thuggery that characterized the 2019 election season are anathema to democracy. The judiciary must therefore rise to the challenge and correct the anomalies of the polls. Nigerians are looking up to the judiciary to rescue our democracy and restore public confidence in our electoral system. The black people and, in fact, the entire world are watching Nigeria to see what we can do to put our act together.
We must practise our democracy the way other countries do and respect all democratic ideals and ethos. Nothing should be peculiar about our democracy. We must abide by the global standards in the practice of our democracy.