It is no longer news that the presidential election petition tribunal sitting in Abuja has ratified the election of President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC). His main challenger in the elections, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar had headed to the tribunal contesting the victory of the APC candidate, citing electoral fraud and lack of academic qualifications to stand for the elections.
In the tribunal’s ruling, Atiku and PDP’s petition was thrown out and the election endorsed. However, after the conclusion of the tribunal’s proceedings, many issues have been thrown up with millions of Nigerians expecting that the PDP’s candidate will head to the Supreme Court. With the state of affairs in the country regarding the presidential elections, all eyes, both home and abroad, are focused on the Nigerian judiciary.
Although the Nigerian judiciary has upturned some elections in the past at the Governorship, Senate and House of Representatives levels, Presidential elections have never been upturned in the past. With this mindset, many people believe that the PDP will not get much justice even at the Supreme Court. This is Nigeria. It is different from what obtains in developed countries especially what happened in the United Kingdom recently. In the Queen’s own country, the Supreme Court, chaired by a woman declared that the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson was guilty when he prorogued the parliament for five weeks. Therefore, the Supreme Court ruled that the actions of the Prime Minister were illegal, null and void. In such a situation like in the United Kingdom, one can easily say that the judiciary is absolutely independent, sophisticated and no respecter of any persons irrespective of position or office. Can such a thing happen in Nigeria? Can the judiciary rise to the occasion and pronounce objective judgement over a high-ranking government official? Do we have distinguished members of the wig and gown who can uphold professionalism and discharge their duties at the merit of the case before them? Certainly, PDP and Atiku will inevitably head to the Supreme Court to challenge the decision of the election petition tribunal, let us therefore cross our fingers and wait for the outcome. However, we are at liberty to examine and interrogate most of the issues raised in the petition and how it will affect Nigeria’s electoral process in the future.
I am not a lawyer but I know that law thrives on precedent. One of the grounds which the PDP and Atiku are holding on to for the nullification of President Buhari’s victory at the polls are massive electoral fraud and discrepancies in the figures declared by INEC and the figures recorded in INEC’s sever. It is either Atiku is right that there were discrepancies and undue manipulation of election figures or he is wrong and only trying to confuse Nigerians. Atiku and PDP cannot be right and wrong at the same time with their petition.
However, the bigger picture is whether it is possible that the electoral umpire, INEC did not have a server before the general elections. Is it possible that an electoral body in any part of the world will not have a server before the conduct of elections? I remember reading in the media before the elections that INEC had spent billions of naira to build a solid, water-tight server to be used for the elections. Therefore, for INEC to say that it only used the server in two states is to beg the question. Many Nigerians see these inconsistencies from INEC as a ploy to obfuscate facts and conceal the truth and this further detracts from the credibility of the entire electoral process. Going forward, a body as important as INEC, should have a functional server for the conduct of the Presidential elections, governorship elections, Senate, and House of Representatives elections. In fact, the server should be used in all elections across the board in Nigeria. Just as it is easy to access the server of any institution, the INEC sever should be easily accessed by anybody from anywhere in the world. This will forestall any manipulations and magic, during and after the elections.
Another issue contained in the petition by Atiku and the PDP is the educational qualification of the APC candidate President Muhammadu Buhari. The petitioners alleged that the president did not attach his academic qualifications while filling INEC forms before the election. They argued that attaching only an affidavit was inadequate and prayed the court to disqualify him on that ground. In as much as I would not want to delve into the issues concerning the qualification of Mr. President before the elections, I would want to examine issues that have been generated by the judgement of the election petition tribunal.
In its ruling, the tribunal affirmed that the affidavit as presented by the president was enough evidence of his qualification. Indeed, that judgement has a lot of implications for the future of qualifications before an election, before enlistment into our security apparatuses, before employment and before enrolment in a tertiary institution. Going forward, the tribunal has set a very dangerous precedent in Nigeria regarding the certification of academic qualifications.
When Nigerians apply for jobs either in private establishments or in government parastatals, should they simply attach an affidavit in place of their original certificates? During army, police, customs or other security outfit recruitment, should they simply attach an affidavit in place of their original certificates? When Nigerian youths apply for admission to Nigerian universities, will it suffice for them to attach affidavits in place of their O’level results? These are grave implications that the judgement of the tribunal has already enunciated in a very subliminal way. Furthermore, can we say that an affidavit has summarily replaced qualifications and certifications in Nigeria?
It is indeed important to look beyond the immediate gain of the present but to look into the future where there is bound to be greater implications even for the unborn generations. In the next elections, I am sure that many academically unqualified candidates will simply attach an affidavit to their forms citing the tribunal’s judgement in 2019, Atiku Vs Buhari. It is time for every Nigerian of good conscience to stand up for justice no matter the circumstances.
Uzondu writes from Lagos.