The independence of the judiciary is guaranteed where genuine democracy is practised in any part of the world. In such places, people view the judiciary as the last hope of the common man and see it as an institution that can protect the rights and privileges of individuals in the face of abuse and denial. It is not for nothing that the judiciary has a sacred reputation across the world.
This can also explain why the judiciary is revered, respected and venerated. It follows, therefore, that whenever a serious issue of national or even global significance goes before the judiciary, people expect a level of truth, probity, and fairness. This is the prevailing situation in Nigeria right now following the verdict of the presidential election tribunal which heard the petition brought before it by the PDP and its presidential candidate in the last general election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
In the petition, the PDP and Atiku Abubakar alleged that the election was marred by irregularities on one hand and that the presidential candidate of the APC, Muhammadu Buhari did not possess the requisite qualifications to contest the election. It is common knowledge that the tribunal, made up of eminent judges threw out the petition and in fact ruled that the APC candidate was “not only qualified to contest the election but eminently qualified to do so”.
While some people hailed the judgement, others criticized it. But because the PDP and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar had gone to the Supreme Court, Nigerians now await its final verdict on the matter. In as much as one will not pre-empt the judgement of the apex court, as social commentators and concerned citizens, Nigerians are at liberty to x-ray most of the issues leading to the presidential polls, the merit of the PDP petition after the polls, and the verdict of the distinguished five-member panel of the tribunal. This is because no conscious effort was made to critically engage the items of petition at the level of merit.
First, the APC recorded humongous votes in many parts of Northern Nigeria where bandits and terrorists had made life and peaceful existence almost impossible. It therefore, begs the question that in these areas that people will troop out in millions to cast their votes for the APC. The implication is that even if elections do not take place in anywhere in Nigeria due to any form of uprising or insecurity, we are sure to have millions of votes in such areas because it has happened before in 2019.
Of course, Nigerians were not expecting the tribunal to summarily upturn the election in favour of the PDP and Atiku, no, that will be quite pedestrian and biased. But Nigerians expected a critical engagement of the issues raised in the petition in a very transparent way and come up with a verdict that can hold its own in any part of the world.
For the tribunal to dismiss the petition in the way it did leaves a lot to be desired and has far reaching implications for the Nigerian judiciary. It is not as if the PDP and Atiku were right in all the points raised in the petition, a few things may have been exaggerated but the eminent judges who sat over the matter needed to do a thorough job to save Nigerian judiciary from global embarrassment.
The next item on the petition that has the most implication for the Nigerian judiciary is the requisite qualification to contest the presidential elections. In the petition, the PDP and Atiku alleged that the APC candidate MuhammaduBuhari did not have the basic qualification to contest the election. MuhammaduBuhari had failed to attach his ‘O’level WAEC results and certificates to the form C001, rather he attached a sworn affidavit in place of the required certificates. Although the tribunal has already thrown out the petition and upheld the election of the incumbent president, Nigerians are more concerned over the larger implications of that ruling going forward.
By that ruling, do we have a situation in Nigeria now where sworn affidavits have replaced original certificates? By that ruling, has the tribunal opened a new chapter in Nigeria’s educational system and the certification that accompanies such endeavours?
What really is the worth of an affidavit when it is presented in place of a certificate? In the coming elections, should candidates simply swear an affidavit that they possess various degrees without having to attach them to INEC forms? These are some of the weighty issues that await the justices of the Supreme Court.
Whichever way the matter goes, the parties to the dispute must accept it in good faith. But it is sad that the outcomes of most of our elections are now decided in the courts. This is an issue the electoral umpire must squarely address.
Nevertheless, the outcome of the Supreme Court ruling on the matter will surely enrich our jurisprudence and future election matters.
Okeh writes from Benin-City