The judgement of the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) delivered on Wednesday, September 6, 2023, elicited mixed reactions from the public and the parties involved. To the petitioners, the judgement fell far short of expectations. But to the respondents, it was a good judgement. Whatever be the case, the most important thing is for Nigerians to fashion out a system whereby our electoral processes will instill confidence in people and minimise the resort to the judiciary which has continued to receive negative perception about its role in our quest for a genuine democracy.
The fear that justice might not be served in the case engendered the campaign to monitor the judiciary in some quarters. The campaigners mounted billboards in strategic locations in Abuja and elsewhere with the caption, “All eyes on the judiciary.” The billboards were eventually pulled down and some of those responsible for approving the adverts were sanctioned.
The questions are: was justice served? Did the judges adhere to their submission before the commencement of the hearing in May, that technicalities would not be tolerated in the case? The presiding judge, Justice Haruna Tsammani, had urged lawyers representing all the petitioners to avoid time-wasting tactics and unnecessary technicalities. “Let us co-operate with each other so that everyone will be satisfied that justice has been done,” he said.
The issue of technicality and justice is a bit contentious. With what happened on Wednesday, the respondents and some legal experts believe that justice was served in the petitions. This school of thought believes that the judgement, which dismissed the petitions of the petitioners and upheld the victory of President Bola Tinubu at the polls, is in consonance with the principles of law which govern electoral litigation in Nigeria.
But, not a few people believe that justice was not served on the matter. The petitioners, for instance, believe that the learned justices appeared to have relied heavily on technicality in arriving at their judgement. For instance, they said the judges in arriving at their decision on irregularities observed on the election day, contended that the only way to prove over-voting was at the polling units. They are not also happy that the judges dismissed the report of the EU Election Observation Mission (EU-EOM) because of the process through which it was tendered rather than looking at the merit of the report. They cited many other issues which they believe were resolved on mere technicality than justice.
As divergent as the views on the judgement are, it is important to note that the petitioners have another window to appeal their case, which is the Supreme Court. Already, the presidential candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, and the Labour Party (LP), Mr. Peter Obi, who expressed disappointment over the ruling, have expressed their intention to challenge the judgement at the Supreme Court.
This is the best way to go. Injustice or perception of it during and after our elections had led to serious bloodshed in the past. In this particular case, aggrieved candidates and their supporters have conducted themselves peacefully. We urge that they continue to do so no matter the final outcome of the case at the Supreme Court. Nigeria remains our country and we must do everything possible to make the system work.
Going forward, we recommend that we embark on serious reforms of our electoral and political systems. A situation where the winners are sworn in even before election petitions are dispensed with does not augur well for our democracy. In Nigeria, it is difficult to dislodge an incumbent in power. Knowing that our judiciary is not fully independent, it will be foolhardy to expect the judges to perform magic when the executive arm has some powers over them. We need to change our electoral laws to reflect that all litigations must end before the swearing in of winners in any election.
Democracy is in peril in many African countries and we must do everything possible to guard our own jealously. In recent times, there have been upsurge in coups in some African countries. Poor leadership and defective democracy are some of the reasons given for these military interventions. Soldiers hinged their latest coup in Gabon on flawed elections. Nigeria has gone through that path before. It cannot return to it. Therefore, it is incumbent on the politicians and their supporters to do things that will only bring peace and unity in the country. As for the judiciary, we advise that justice must be uppermost in their judgements. We need to put the past behind us and move forward as a nation.
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