The final determination of the 2019 Presidential Election held in February was given on November 15, 2019 when the Supreme Court adduced reasons to support its judgment of October 30. In what looked like an attempt by the apex court to make amends for its brusque and surprising decision which was viewed by many as a radical departure from its ways of doing things in the past, it set a date to give “reason” for its judgment. The apex court had tried to explain that “having gone through the briefs for over two weeks we have come to the conclusion that the appeal lacks merit. This appeal is hereby dismissed.”
Many Nigerians felt jolted on October 30, not necessarily by the substance of the decision itself but the process by which it was reached. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land. Just as the judiciary is viewed as the last hope of the common man, the Supreme Court is seen as an institution that must be above suspicion like the Shakespearean Caesar’s wife.
When the appeal was filed by Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) against the decision of the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal (PEPT), Nigerians were expecting a seven-man panel of Chief Justice Tanko Mohammed and six Associate Justices. It was thus stressful to process the fact that the Court had reached a verdict on the appeal; it appeared too sudden and unbelievable. The expected process was that the Appellants and Respondents’ Counsel would expect their addresses and submissions to be looked into and, then, there would be the usual exchanges of opinion between Counsel and the learned justices to clear up foggy areas with questions and answers, clarification of nuances and the usual final Counsel submissions. Then all of a sudden – judgment.
It is easy to contemplate many observers who probably had a headache resulting from this abrupt move and Counsel who were befuddled and speechless to such a sudden turn in the process. It made the judgment look like a done deal – a premeditated decision, which yielded a harvest of criticisms. Atiku’s lawyer, Levy Uzoukwu noted that “unless something drastic is done to electoral jurisprudence, there would be a problem because it is now becoming obvious that petitioners would always find it difficult to prosecute their cases.” The verdict was unanimous among the seven: Chief Justice Tanko Mohammed, Associate Justices Inyang Okoro, Bode Rhodes-Vivour, Olukayode Ariwoole, Aminu Sanusi, Ejemba Eko and Uwani Abba-Aji.
On the substance of the appeal, the Court “after admitting the Cambridge, WAEC certificates and group photograph of Katsina Provincial Secondary School tendered by Buhari, the Chief Justice said: “I am satisfied to hold that the court below was right to rely on the certificates…the second Respondent (Buhari) was eminently qualified to contest the election into the office of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
On the accusation against Buhari for false information, the Court found that newspaper cuttings and videos of the General Olaleye were tendered without him (Olaleye) being subpoenaed before the Court. It is not enough to make such claims said to be criminal in nature without proof. On the majority of votes, the Court observed that the Appellants claimed that results uploaded on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) server showed that they polled 18,356,732 votes against 16,741,430 votes to Buhari and the APC.
The Court ruled, however, that Atiku and the PDP failed to prove that the website “server” containing the results tendered through the Kenyan ICT expert, David Ayu Njorgu, belonged to INEC. The Court frowned at the inability of the PDP side to prove their allegations. The Chief Justice said “I am surprised that in a presidential election petition where a petitioner seeks to nullify the election, only five polling agents were called as witnesses.” The Court agreed with the PEPT that it was appropriate to accept Buhari’s certificates and photos with schoolmates, charts and other materials.
The court’s findings sound fair enough but it does not address the fact that the democratic process demands that the choice and selection of leaders must be performed directly by the people themselves through regular and periodic elections. Such elections must be clean, clear, free, fair, and peaceful and transparent, devoid of violence, artifice or conduct capable of misleading the people in their choices.
An election held with street fights at the background can’t be free and fair. An election where candidates enlist armed militias and thugs cannot be democratic. And when the umpire is incompetent as to make the exercise onerous and tedious for the voter, no free and fair results would be obtained. And when elections are not free and fair they are bound to be challenged in court. The country must find a way to take our elections out of the courts and put leadership selection where it belongs: at the ballot box.