It is no longer news that the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal has given its verdict on the petitions challenging the INEC declaration of the APC presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, as the winner of the Saturday, 25 February presidential election, defeating 27 or so other presidential candidates, three of whom felt so dissatisfied with the INEC declaration that they challenged it at the tribunal. Last Wednesday, judgment was given and the five-man tribunal, made up of Court of Appeal judges, not only upheld the result as declared by INEC but also had sobering admonitions especially for two of the litigants, the PDP candidate, Atiku Abubakar, and his Labour Party counterpart, Peter Obi.
Dissatisfied, again, with the tribunal’s verdict, the two have given notice that they will appeal the judgment to the Supreme Court, which is the final bus stop on the matter. It is within the ambits of the law and their constitutional right to do so. It also deepens our democracy as more light is thrown on gray areas. This is to be preferred to a resort to self-help, which may let anarchy loose on all of us. So, rather than feel irritated at what some have described as the antics of the litigants and their supporters or be impatient with them, respecting their rights and patiently staying the course is a task that must be done. Ultimately, there will be an end to litigation.
For many of those dissatisfied with INEC when it declared Tinubu as the winner of the presidential election, INEC was bought; don’t ask me for how much! Of course, you know by whom! Now that the tribunal has upheld the INEC declaration, the judges, too, have been bought! Again, you know by whom! Why their opponent is buying but they are unable to buy baffles me! Is it not a free market? Ever before the tribunal announced the judgment date – in fact, while it was still sitting – social media had been awash with allegations that the judgment would be sold and bought; supporters of some of the litigants had cried themselves hoarse, threatening fire and brimstones when all that was required was for them to mobilize funds and enter the market, like the European football clubs do, chasing their preferred targets! The tribunal judges in particular and judges in general must have put up with a lot of bashing during this election cycle. One former minister who is also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria had to cry out at some point that he was not in the business of writing judgments for judges! It got that bad.
Which judge will be happy with the source or sources of such shenanigans? No one pours hot water ahead of himself and threads on cool soil. What you sow, you reap! Am I then saying that there could be no corruption in the judiciary? Far be it? A number of judges have been penalised for corruption in this country, haven’t they? Corruption has permeated every fabric of the Nigerian society and no section or sector is spared, be they churches, mosques, traditional institutions, the three arms and tiers of government, name it! But most times when we point an accusing finger at someone else, the remaining four fingers point in our own direction; that is to show how endemic corruption is here; the cankerworm has eaten very deep into every fabric of our society. Nevertheless, a blanket condemnation of judges or anyone or group for that matter is offensive, especially when there is no concrete evidence to back it up.
It was a good thing the judgment was broadcast live; it afforded everyone the opportunity to hear it from the horse’s mouth, as it were, Their Lordships reeled out so many errors made by the lawyers of the litigants that many were left with no option but to say that the lawyers were the ones that messed up their clients’ case. Were they not competent enough; yet they paraded an intimidating array of titles and credentials! Or were they themselves bought? Once again, I am sure you know who could have done the buying! Jokes apart, we must realise that election petition cases are very difficult to win, unless God is on your side and your opponent is a dunce; otherwise, the onus of proof weighs heavily against the petitioner. To discharge such and within the limited time given, is an uphill task. This is why I agree with the suggestion of my comrade, Ebun Olu Adegboruwa (SAN) that rather than the onus of proof being laid on the petitioner, it is the INEC that conducted the election in question that should respond to allegations raised against the conduct and sanctity of the election it spent hundreds of billions of hard-earned tax-payers money to conduct. Going forward, we must take this suggestion seriously.
The facts and figures a petitioner is expected to gather all over the country and marshal in a proper and convincing order is a daunting task. All manner of hurdles and obstacles confront the petitioner to slow him down; waste time; frustrate and deny him the necessary documents he needs to prove his case. He has INEC, security agencies and the respondents to contend with. His case is not helped when the respondent has also already taken office. In the case of Tinubu, for instance, he has formed his government with the appointment of Ministers, Special advisers and assistants and has also sacked this and appointed that into critical offices. He has changed Service chiefs, including the IGP, Customs CG, CBN governor, and EFCC boss, among others. World leaders have recognised him and he has even recalled our envoys to foreign countries. The dislocation that will occur if he is sent out of power is better imagined than experienced. Once everything is peaceful and the government is able to perform its lawful duty, no court will unnecessarily disturb the existing order but rather sleeping dogs are allowed to enjoy its bliss! The same unwritten rule applies on the international scene – except where powerful players decide otherwise. To maintain the prevailing peace must be uppermost in the mind of the judges; especially with the coup rage swirling around us.
We heard the judges say that the petitioners’ case stood on shaky grounds. They called few witnesses, maybe for lack of adequate time, in a case as gargantuan as a presidential contest, and many of these witnesses were found unworthy by the tribunal. The litigants couldn’t state how many lawful votes they were denied; how many unlawful votes the respondent was gifted; they couldn’t do the simple arithmetic to arrive at how many states/votes they lawfully won and how these surpassed those of the respondent. In other words, they were loud and voluble on accusations and allegations but miserably short in facts and figures to prove their case. You don’t win even a councillor’s election petition case that way. Hence, they grabbed at straws; one of which was winning at least 25% of Abuja votes. This, in my view, was the dumbest of the “jokers” trumpeted all over the place by the Atiku and Obi supporters. It was hare-brained, to say the least, that Abuja, which is not up to a state, will hold a veto, so to say, over all the 36 states of the federation put together!
Someone said the tribunal, rather than declare Tinubu as the winner of the February 25 presidential election, should have ordered a re-rerun! Again, hare-brained! Where will the hundreds of billions of Naira for another election come from? And what is the assurance that another election will not end up a fiasco? Judges usually say they rely on evidence placed before them to arrive at their verdict; the judges in this case said the same thing. My response is: Yes and No. Yes, because they often do and that is also what they will always say in public. But they do not live on the moon. They are citizens. They watch television. They read newspapers. They follow social media; otherwise, how did they know that social media tried to intimidate and blackmail them?
So, judges are not tabula rasa. When they sit on cases, they are not blank and there is no way they can purge themselves of what they knew from other sources outside of the evidence joined in their court. For instance, is it possible for judges not to have had an opinion on the last election, even if they did not vote? Did the tribunal judges get to know that they would sit on the case before, during or after the presidential election? They must have had an opinion on whether the election was free or fair. They must have followed its conduct and the discussions in the various media about it. So, when the litigants came with allegations that they were rigged out by someone, what if their Lordship also saw how these same litigants rigged in their own strongholds? He who comes to equity must come with clean hands! If you allege that you have been rigged, you, too, must not have participated in the rigging. Where you did, but was only out-rigged, then you lose your right to allege rigging.
Also, when a litigant begins to tug at the integrity of his opponent, has he forgotten that those listening to him are aware of the skeletons in his own cupboard? Who was mentioned in the Pandora papers? Who was mentioned in the Halliburton bribery scandal? Have we forgotten so soon the show of shame between a former President and his vice-president? The former called the latter a thief; the latter, rather than deny, responded that his boss was a bigger thief than himself! So, when this same pot begins to call another kettle black, will their Lordship not be amused?
B. J Neblett says: “We are the sum total of our experiences. These experiences – be they positive or negative – make us the person we are, at any given point in our life. And like a flowing river, those same experiences, and those yet to come, continue to influence and reshape the person we are, and the person we become. None of us are the same as we were yesterday, nor will be tomorrow” Maya Angelou puts it this way: “You are the sum total of everything you have ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot –it is all there. Everything influences each of us…”
I dare to say that what determines a court’s verdict is more than what is pleaded in open court. Everyone’s past will haunt them! Lick your wounds if you got caught today. Not to worry, those who escape today will have their own date with history sooner or later.
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Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspaper on Wednesdays. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.