2023 Nigeria’s presidential election: Matters arising
Since the return of Nigeria’s democracy in 1999, society has never witnessed the fervour stirred up for the 2023 election due to the assent of the Electoral Act 2022 by President Muhammadu Buhari. For the first time, the masses were resolute to choose their leader, shunned personal interests for national interests. Youths laudably declined to be bystanders or only good for thuggery, overlooked carrots.
The reasons are not far-fetched; the masses have been over-exploited, shattered and remain victims of leadership fiascos – from one inept, egotistic, corrupt government to another. Thus, with the review of the Electoral Act expected to change the narrative, their high hopes that their votes would count.
Unfortunately, the first segment of the elections; the Presidential/National Assembly elections held on 25th February 2023 left them upset following glitches here and there.
International observers too couldn’t hide their discontent. Public disapproval manifested patently in the Governorship/House of Assembly elections held two weeks after through voter apathy. By the result announced by the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mahmood Yakubu who doubled as the chief returning officer for the presidential election, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu emerged the winner while Atiku Abubakar of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Peter Obi of Labour Party (LP) emerged second and third position respectively.
Among disturbing controversies, Tinubu scored less than 25 per cent votes in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) which is emphasized in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). The two runners-up firmly rejected the results despite the certificate-of-return issued to the president-elect, and accordingly, respectively filed petitions at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT).
The 25 percent votes in FCT has remained contentious with different interpretations. So, amongst the tasks for the PEPT is to objectively, and prudently give a distinct direction on Section 134 (1)(b) of the 1999 Constitution over the status of the FCT vis-à-vis presidential election. By Sec 298 CFRN, the FCT is the seat of the government of the federation with liaison offices of all the 36 states operating actively with the workforce. By this, FCT has equitable representation of all the states in the country. For instance, Section 131 (a) supra requires a person seeking for the office of the president to be a citizen by birth. In all climes, the office of the president comes with sensitively peculiar features.
In the United States of America, for instance, the Electoral College which supersedes the popular votes only exists on presidential election and doesn’t apply in state polls which show the standing to secure the office of the US President.
American leaders understood that the popular votes alone may lead to uncontainable disaster considering that people with low-intelligent quotient exist globally, and may subjectively be influenced to queue behind a de facto undeserving person. Such a class of persons exists everywhere, and shouldn’t be near public office as delicate as the office of the president in public interest notwithstanding de jure status.
In Nigeria, the population of uninformed, impoverished class who don’t understand the essence of election, yet mobilized to participate without orientation or knowing the implications is massive. Think about a situation where a moneybag crook but without conviction tag which exists everywhere or unskilled or defective brain emerged by massive votes from uninformed population? Irrefutably, there’s a difference between an economically viable population that contributes to economic growth and indolent population. Thus, curing such a lacuna is vital. De jure and de facto qualifications should exist side by side. This is the idea behind the US Electoral College in overriding popular polls.
Another critical issue that will determine the fate of Nigeria’s democracy at the PEPT is the seeming discrepancy in the massive voters that turned out and participated in the election but by the record presented by the umpire, the huge number seemingly developed wings and flew to perhaps ‘Damascus’. A question to INEC; Is it realistic to have the huge number of zealous voters that participated in the 2023 election numerically dropped below the previous elections which were marred by apathy?
This suggests that something is wrong somewhere. By the apathy encountered just two weeks after; in the Governorship/House of Assembly election, the country’s democracy is under a serious threat, and masses have apparently lost confidence again in the electoral system, which the implications are unpredictable. Their opening grievance was expressed by apathy during the Governorship/House of Assembly elections.
Now, the only hope to assuage the bitterness, hopelessness and disappointment in the air over the poorly conducted election in absence of the Electoral College as practised in America is for the judiciary to demonstrate clearly that it is indeed the last hope of the common man. Earlier, the concept of the US Electoral College was blurred but after Nigeria’s 2023 presidential election recently, the logic manifested overtly. The reason is simple – the president is the face of any country. Perhaps, Nigeria will have to borrow a leaf from America’s concept.
Thus the judiciary can remedy looming chaos by unyielding act as truly, the last hope of the common man. Furthermore, there’s a dire need for accelerated hearings on the presidential election petition. Apparently, the 2023 presidential election ridiculed the progress of the nation’s democracy, and as a redress, the dictum laid down by Lord Hart, the then Lord Chief Justice of England in the case of Rex v Sussex Justices (1924) 1KB 256 that “Justice must not only be done, but must also be seen to be done” should overtly manifest.
The judiciary is duty-bound to save the nation with the ‘national interest’ approach considering that the cardinal object of democracy is for the people to freely elect their leaders.
Umegboro is an Associate, Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (ACIArb), public affairs analyst and social advocate.