By Segun Showunmi
The road any leader chooses to walk in his pursuit of redress, with respect to what could be a clear unsatisfactory handling of issues he is involved in, especially as it concerns the desire to democratically serve the country within the best of his capabilities, must reflect the inner character of the fellow.
Looking back at his conduct before, during and after the disputed 2019 presidential elections, one cannot but attest to the fine and statesmanly character of the Waziri Adamawa, former Vice President of Nigeria, and flagbearer of the Peoples Democratic Party in the 2019 presidential election, HE Atiku Abubakar.
Most men would have betrayed inappropriate emotions and candor unworthy of the high office they desire, particularly with the poor handling of political affairs by the opposition. One only needs to research the books and comments, even from Buhari, against the ruling government, when he claimed he was rigged out, to appreciate Atiku’s civil conduct and patriotism. This has shown that it is indeed possible for dignified conduct to be exhibited by African leaders. It speaks volume of why we must, in Nigeria, now reflect on our leadership recruiting models.
The case is now before the authorities known as the presidential election tribunal panel, made up of 5 justices of the court of appeal. I watched very closely the handling of the issues that got thrown up by the lawyers to both Atiku and Buhari and, somehow, I feel optimistic and reasonably happy that with the way the trial has been handled, one can say: so far, so commendable.
I get the angst of the citizens as it concerns a disturbing pattern of messed up tribunal cases. A lot of our citizens and watchers from across the world feel a sense of anxiety as to how the independence of the judiciary will be affirmed and how justice must be done. But I plead with us all to recognize that the principle of justice does not mean any of the parties can always have their way nor does it mean that once judgment does not favour one’s position, then justice has not been done.
With profound respect, in my opinion, justice would have been done if the issues before the judges, having been considered on their merit, and against the arguments presented within the law, are reflected in the pronouncements and judgment. Judges must use every available opportunity to deepen the law and jurisprudence, especially in election cases. Our country has only been at it for 20 years, which means, at best, we have had five opportunities to bring the complex issues of leadership selection and legitimization process before a proper organ that is meant to adjudicate and interpret our laws.
For the benefit of the general public, what are the salient issues for determination here?
Issues for Determination:
- Whether the 2nd Respondent (Muhammadu Buhari) was at the time of the election not qualified to contest the election. It is strange that the very knowledgeable and well certificated Wole Olanipekun can, with profound respect, interpret Section 131 of the Nigerian Constitution to mean that there is no requirement to present any form of evidence, by way of certificate, to be qualified to run for the office of President or any other office at that. It is like saying that there is indeed no minimum requirement. The view of the court on this will have far reaching consequences going forward.
- Whether the 2nd Respondent (Muhammadu Buhari) submitted to the 1st Respondent (INEC) affidavits containing false information of a fundamental nature to boost his qualification for the said election. What will be the thinking behind telling lies and making false information of a fundamental nature, not just in the case of elections, but really in all cases, and under all circumstances? Affidavits are by their nature deposited under oath to enforce their justiciability. How this is decided will speak loudly into the future.
- Whether from the pleadings and evidence, it was established that the 2nd Respondent (Muhammadu Buhari) was elected by majority of lawful votes cast at the election. On this, the greater issue for me is how exactly we hope to improve the entire election process and what ought to be the role of a supposed independent umpire in the election process. We must be able to transparently win and lose elections, knowing well that the umpire has not taken sides nor done anything to jeopardise the right of the people to freely pick their leaders. What is democracy if not the right of the citizens to carry out this sacred civic responsibility?
- Whether the Presidential election conducted by the 1st Respondent (INEC) on the 23rd February 2019 was invalid by reasons of corrupt practices. This speaks for itself and needs no further rehash; when INEC trains its personnel to carry out functions based on its training manuals and in line with the electoral acts and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, it is expected that they comply, not only with the letter but also with the principle of the intention. And this, really, is to cause to happen, a free, fair, credible, transparent and acceptable election. It will be telling how the court will weigh in on this.
- Whether the presidential election conducted by the 1st Respondent (INEC) on the 23rd February 2019 was invalid by reasons of non compliance with the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended); the electoral guidelines 2019; and the manuals issued for the conduct of the elections.
These are the issues before the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal.
It can never be the duty of everyone in a society to fully grasp all the issues easily at first so we must, of a necessity, ask those that are better educated and informed to carry out their oversight responsibilities to the state by ensuring that interest is sustained in the matter of the presidential election and the potential fallout from the opinion of the judges.
I wonder how we can, in all seriousness, allocate the same number of days for a councilor to prove his case, the same for a House of Representatives candidate, a governorship candidate, and also go on to allocate the same number of days to a presidential candidate, not minding the total number of polling units under contention, the number of local governments, the volume of documents and the number of agents and witnesses that may be required.
Indeed, the way the presidential election tribunal panel rules in this case will have a far reaching impact on election jurisprudence in our country Nigeria, going forward, and we have Atiku Abubakar to thank for going all the way to test the laws of our great country on election.
Showunmi was spokesman of the Atiku presidential campaign