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2023 presidential election and PEPC: Ballad of the blind men and an elephant



Who wrote the judgments of the 2023 Presidential Election Petitions’ Tribunal in Nigeria?
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Once upon a time, as the ballad goes, a group of blind men heard that a rather strange animal called an elephant had been brought to their locale. The blind men were flushed with curiosity and enthusiasm at the thought of meeting the animal, but the only way they could make their dream come true was by inspecting and knowing it by touch.

Upon being led before the animal, they started groping around it. The blind man who wrapped his arms around one stout leg screamed, “the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk.” For the second whose hand touched the trunk, the elephant “is like a thick snake.” The third person, whose hand felt an ear, shouted, amid giggles, that “the elephant is flat and wide like a huge fan.” The blind man who placed his hand on a side of the specimen interjected that “the elephant is a wall!” Another who felt its tail countered that “the elephant is like a rope.”

Many versions of the parable state that the ensuing disagreements led the blind men to suspect others to be economical with the truth, culminating in mutual distrust and exchange of blows! The morale of the ballad is that truth is relative to one’s own perspective which, however, is inherently limited by its failure to account for other truths or a totality of truth, as well as the need for deeper understanding and respect for different perspectives on the same object of observation.

Considering the awful din that was generated – and is still being generated – by the verdicts delivered by the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal (PEPT) last week Wednesday, with respect to the petitions brought by the presidential candidates of the Allied Peoples Movement (APM), Labour Party (LP) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), it’s easy to think that different versions are in circulation!

In this piece, I very much intend to point the reader to what he may know or not know and/or does not want to know within the period between party presidential primaries and the PEPT verdicts.

One, former President Muhammadu Buhari never wanted Bola Tinubu to succeed him. And the cabals within Aso Villa as well as within and without his ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) did everything possible to stop Tinubu in his tracks, but like that old-time Volkswagen ‘Beetle’ car advertisement used to gloat, there was no stopping the emi lo kan exponent.

Two, opposition party aficionados and their supporters just love to pursue shadows rather than aim for the substance. Abusing and cursing the judiciary on account of not obtaining the type of verdicts they were hoping for amounts to illogically behaving like the chicken owner who chose to berate the pot that was used to cook his chicken rather than the knife that killed it. If only Atiku and Obi hadn’t allowed self-exaltation and their larger-than-life egos to get the better of them, they would’ve easily emerged winners by a long mile, if they had contested as a tag team, making the PEPT moot.

READ ALSO: The law of judicial back to the future

Three, even at the risk of sounding pedantic, let me state for the umpteenth time that if ‘progressives’ in the North-West and their counterparts in the South-West – with a little help from the North-East – remain in their honeymoon bubble, they would continue to occupy Aso Villa ad infinitum, opposition groups can’t conjure up a countervailing stratagem like APC did in 2013/4. Disagree with this stance if you must, but it is what it is!

Four, contrary to claims by some senior lawyers, including Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) and a past president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), about the “sordid” state of electoral jurisprudence in Nigeria, the truth remains that the verdicts meticulously delivered by this PEPT significantly enrich the country’s legal framework with respect to litigating election petitions. Was it not in this same country that the Supreme Court ordered that its mago-mago verdict should never be referenced as a legal precedent?

Wasn’t another Supreme Court so split down the middle that the then-Chief Justice of Nigeria cast a deciding vote to break the deadlock – at a time when even the beneficiary of that compromised judgement publicly conceded that the electoral process that brought him to power was farcical and shambolic? What has changed between then and now that justifies calling the present-day apex court “the worst ever”?

Five, it is inconceivable and preposterous that leading lights of the bar would openly declare their “loss of faith” in the Supreme Court and even go as far as recommending that its “silly decisions” be subjected to “legislative scrutiny.” Talk of moronically cutting one’s nose in a vain attempt to spite the face! So, would that make the National Assembly the de facto highest court in Nigeria, while the erstwhile Supreme Court becomes just another appellate court?

Ain’t these fat cat senior lawyers simply being too selfish and insensitive? Why destroy the same constituency where they made their fame and wealth? Do they care a hoot about what would become of the careers of thousands of young lawyers and the long-term status of their profession if enthusiasm by potential students wanes rapidly as a consequence of their mandibular diarrhea?

Six, if those maintaining that the judiciary has been irredeemably compromised are to be taken seriously, why don’t they just demand that their principals cease and desist from appealing to the Supreme Court, or is the apex court no longer an integral part of the same “corrupt” judiciary?

Seven, the framers of our Constitution never intended that the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) should enjoy a superior status over a state. Noooo! In the United States of America – from where the constitution was copied – the District of Columbia (DC) is not at par with a State. The only perversion in the master plan is having an appointed minister preside over the FCT instead of an elected Mayor – as is the case in the USA. Please note that as against an appointed superintending minister, a State governor is elected.

A State has local government areas while the FCT has area councils. Each State has a House of Assembly while the National Assembly oversees the legislative needs of the FCT. All these only go to prove that the FCT is technically inferior to a State, and it should not hold the rest of the nation to ransom with a standalone 25 percent requirement. Let the language be amended if the letter – as opposed to the spirit – is confusing anyone.

Eight, the APM, LP and PDP simply embarked on a fishing expedition. They allege that violence occurred in some parts of the country and that their votes were deducted and added to Tinubu’s count but they neither produced any hard evidence to prove how violence would’ve substantially affected the outcome of the election nor detailed exactly how many votes were deducted and at what polling units, and how redistributing them would’ve skewed the results in their favour.

Does forfeiture of assets – even under a plea bargain – amount to a criminal conviction? Suppose, for the sake of argument, it is, does a Constitutional provision not render it time-bound (maximum of 10 years)? And although INEC appallingly stonewalled their requests for certain vital documents, it still won’t have mattered if they could produce relevant evidential materials in their possession. All that high drama of hauling more than 60 Ghana-Must-Go bags of such “evidence” to the courtroom turned out to be exactly a question of “Where then is the beef?” Truth be told, LP particularly found it extremely difficult to produce relevant signed Forms EC8A to back up their claims of over-voting simply because it lacked party agents in far too many polling units nationwide.

Nine, seeking to get US courts and the FBI to make pronouncements on Tinubu’s alleged certificate forgery and drug dealing should end forthwith. The Chicago State University has already confirmed that he graduated in 1979 and the Department of State issued a press statement through its embassy in Nigeria declaring that Tinubu has no case to answer. It also reeks of the worst type of colonial mentality. We, the Nigerian People, have the sole right to determine who governs us; and so be it if we decide to pick Barabbas the robber over Jesus Christ the Saviour.

It should be completely left to us to live with the consequences of the independent choices we make. Barack Obama reportedly dealt drugs as a youth in Ohio but subsequently served as president for an unbroken two terms of eight years. What can be said of Donald Trump – a proven narcissist, racist, rapist, corporate swindler and coup plotter who’s still very much in contention to return to the White House in 2024?

Ten, the effective solution to our underwhelming electoral process doesn’t lie in disparaging the judiciary and wrestling with each other on account of our different perspectives – just like the group of blind men – but in thoroughly eye-balling the existing laws and making needful amendments, including improving internal party democracy and re-evaluating the independence and effectiveness of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Eleven, this is arguably the first time since 1979 when there was no dissenting/minority opinion in a presidential petition; and it’s inconceivable that the Supreme Court would overturn verdicts unanimously made by the appellate court! A word should save time and multiples of millions of naira for the wise.

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