The Nigerian judiciary is nowhere these days to expect justice. There is no doubt that there may be good men and women on the bench. But the Nigerian judiciary, once the shining armour of this nation, is now largely corrupt and incompetent; and, above all, it is brazen in both its cowardice and its impunity.
I watched with extreme difficulty, and not insubstantial pain, the interview in Stellenbosch, South Africa, in which the poet, playwright and Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, very painfully, tried to subvert the truth about the Nigerian election, by claiming that the Labour Party “came third” and knew that they “did not win the election.” That the Labour Party had become a regional movement. That Peter Obi and the party leaders were trying to push young people into the streets to protest.
Here, let us reproduce Soyinka in full: “One party took over the Labour Movement and then it became a regional party…my own organization has a monitoring unit, and so I could say categorically that Peter Obi’s Party came third, not even second! And that the leadership knew it. But they wanted to do what we call in Yoruba, ‘Gba Jue!’ That is, you have force of arms, you also have force of lies. And it was gearing up to send young people into the streets to demonstrate. I’m always ready to be among such demonstrators, but only on the banner of truth, but not on lies; not on deceit!” This is retrograde Soyinka. In that interview, Soyinka tried with distinct and unconvincing elan to put eagle feathers on lies.
The voice I heard was Soyinka’s, but what lay behind the face? I have watched, with increasing alarm, the evolution, or should we now say the devolution of Wole Soyinka, or is it an unraveling shaping up, right before our very eyes? I am tempted – but I will not take issues with Professor Soyinka, just yet. I have too much respect for him. But for many of us who grew up on the “Soyinka broth,” the unfolding is a smack on the gobs. What happened to the Four Compass Points?
Against the Moribund Conventions of “Emi L’okan?” Against the “Tiwa ni Tiwa” tribalism that seems to be fueling Soyinka’s inscrutable volte face? What about the humane ideals of protecting the noblest interest of the higher commons? And what happened to chivalry, and comradeship, which sought to build generations of pan national idealists, whose task was to rescue the nation from the clutches of the forces of corruption and retrogression? I guess it all dies, with the man in us, in this very distinct season of anomie.
It is indeed a season of very cruel ironies, when Peter Obi, a billionaire merchant, became the lightning rod of truth and idealism against the battle-hardened, rampart-hugging public intellectual and sociocrat, who taught an entire generation that the “man dies in him who stays silent in the face of tyranny.” This is the real moment of horror, like that moment which Horace captures in his Odes, of Pyrrha gasping at the strange sight of “Old Proteus herding his whole sea-zoo uphill.”
But let’s leave Soyinka, for the moment, because he only drives me to tears. There will be time yet for a full treatise, someday. Let us go, you and I, dear reader, to that real moment of infamy, last week when the Election Petition Tribunal declared its verdict from hell. They dismissed the petitioners’ writs on the grounds, most strangely, that their lawyers did not file their petitions, or argue their cases properly.
In other words, the judges of the Presidential Election Tribunal did not look at the facts of the case, but at the methods of the procedures adopted by the lawyers who prepared and argued the cases before them. They, therefore, issued judgment against the lawyers in lieu of the petition and the petitioners. Here are the facts of the case: That the man who has been declared President of Nigeria by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu, did not qualify to contest because, at the time of the elections, his vice-presidential nominee, Kashim Shettima, against the dictates of the electoral laws, was doubly nominated and his candidacy was, therefore, rendered invalid.
The petitioners relied on established case law, but the tribunal threw out their argument on the grounds that, well, it was an internal party matter, and it should have been argued in court before the election and the petition, as it stood, was status barred. But the real question is, what did the law say? The Supreme Court – the constitutional court of the land – had established, in previous judgments, the grounds which this tribunal very brazenly dismissed.
The second question, this raised by the lawyers for Atiku Abubakar, was on the issue of Tinubu’s eligibility on the grounds that he was a Guinean citizen, and that more so, he failed to disclose his dual citizenship in his declaration of interest to run for the presidency. The tribunal dismissed this question not on whether or Bola Tinubu held Guinean citizenship, but on the verify premise that Abubakar did not prove his case. How else was he to prove this case? Lawyers for Abubakar on this question presented what was incontrovertible evidence of Tinubu’s Guinean citizenship.
The petitioners also raised the question of the case of forfeiture of the sum of $460,000 to the US court in Chicago on a drug related case, but the tribunal ruled that the petitioners erred, and did not prove their case. In fact, the case was a civil matter, they declared, and did not qualify as a criminal case that could disqualify Tinubu. The tribunal also dismissed the question raised about the conduct of the election, specifically INEC’s failure to transmit the election results, as they had proposed, in real time through BVAS and IREV – innovations which the commission talked up, spent billions in tax-payers money, and ultimately subverted.
A “glitch,” they claimed, prevented them from transmitting the presidential election results. But the Obi team brought evidence to bear questioning that claim, and noting that such a glitch happening in one specific instance, the presidential election, while no glitch was reported in the national legislative elections was too convenient to be true. They brought IT witnesses to show that it was not a technical failure, but a deliberate human intervention.
Indeed, Peter Obi’s case alleging that no proper result was declared based on the failures of the commission to verify millions of obscure ballots declared for Tinubu, as well as the claims, particularly in the case of Rivers State where what was on the commission’s platform, which declared Tinubu winner, very clearly showed Obi as winning Rivers State in wide margins. The tribunal dismissed this petition, and its process, as “incompetent.” What threshold of further proof, or process, did the tribunal judges demand? They did not make that very clear. They simply declared every point of the election petition as “incompetent.”
It was as if, notes Eze Onyekpere, human rights lawyer and Director of the Center for Social Justice, in a discussion on Channels TV following the judgment, that the tribunal justices only just wanted to hand down a rebuke to the lawyers, many of them distinguished in their own rights, for procedural and technical errors. They simply ignored the substantive parts of the cases. Indeed, shocking was the declaration that winning 25% of the votes in Abuja was not a requirement as Abuja has no special status, and, in the matter of elections, could be considered another state of the federation. This declaration incompetently upturned the judgment of the Supreme Court, as well as the Act establishing Abuja as a Federal Territory. The capital city of the Federation Nigeria is not a state. It is a city governed by the President through his Minister of the FCT.
Like Washington DC, Abuja operates its own city laws. Of course, the argument has been made for the establishment of the mayoralty of Abuja, with an elected Mayor of the city, and an elected city council, which should end the position of the FCT Minister, and the President’s oversight of the capital territory. Even with that, Abuja enjoys a special status, and the law establishing it is clear, as does its status under the Federation Act. Now, millions of Nigerians are outraged and shocked by this judgment which many allege is bought and paid for. We have no evidence of this, but we also have nothing to disprove it. Should we be surprised by this judgment? I confess I was personally not.
The Nigerian judiciary is nowhere these days to expect justice. There is no doubt that there may be good men and women on the bench. But the Nigerian judiciary, once the shining armour of this nation, is now largely corrupt and incompetent; and, above all, it is brazen in both its cowardice and its impunity. The growing general disdain, and increasing distrust and skepticism over the judiciary, is very dangerous. Law and order go hand-in-hand in establishing the foundational basis of every safe and prosperous society.
If Nigerians no longer expect to get justice from the courts, what we have is the enthronement of anomie, and the dismantling of the legal and moral basis of the nation. The nation will quickly atrophy and disappear. Nigerians might begin to seek other forms of dispute settlement. Increasingly, this will render the courts, and the laws of Nigeria, irrelevant and merely adjectival. Nothing will be more catastrophic than for the courts and the judges to grow in the public mind as corrupt and disreputable. Nothing drives that possibility more than this judgment from hell delivered last week to a numb and skeptical nation.