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Election tribunal and judiciary’s own trial

By Luke Onyekakeyah
08 October 2019   |   3:33 am
I was working on a piece on the raging xenophobic attacks against Nigerians in South Africa before I was provoked by the TheGuardian newspaper front-page headline of Sunday, September 8, 2019, titled: Tribunal Verdict ‘!9: D Day Scares Buhari, Atiku Camps.

Tribunal verdict. Photo: Photo: COE

I was working on a piece on the raging xenophobic attacks against Nigerians in South Africa before I was provoked by the TheGuardian newspaper front-page headline of Sunday, September 8, 2019, titled: Tribunal Verdict ‘!9: D Day Scares Buhari, Atiku Camps. I immediately changed course as I felt I should deal with a problem at home first before looking across the border to South Africa. The xenophobia article will feature next week. My people say you start from home to be good before going outside.

I am not scared in the context of Buhari and Atiku, whose worry is whether they would win or lose at the Presidential Election Tribunal. The judgment must go one way or the other with a winner and loser. There are no two ways about it. Whichever way, time will tell.

My worry, which I also think is the worry of most Nigerians is about the judiciary. Can the judiciary redeem itself and Nigeria at the same time? Nigeria is passing through very tough times. The judiciary will make Nigeria be a reference point for good or bad depending on its verdict on this important matter.

As far as I am concerned, three parties are involved in this presidential election tribunal. One is the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its candidate President Muhamadu Buhari; two is the Peoples Democratic Party and its candidate, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar and the third is the judiciary.

Both the APC and the PDP, in the last couple of months, have through their formidable legal teams, given a good account of themselves at the tribunal to the satisfaction of Nigerians, I would say. Nigerians are interested in this case and have followed the proceedings religiously over the period of the trial. Everything is in the public domain.

In the course of the proceedings, the petitioners – PDP and Atiku made allegations to buttress their case to which the APC and Buhari advanced counter-arguments.

The crux of the matter was that Atiku and the PDP had predicated their petition on three main issues namely:

First, that the number of votes declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was altered in favour of the APC and did not tally with the actual number of votes captured in the INEC’s central server.

The main contention was that Buhari’s 15,191,847 votes against Atiku’s 11,262,978 were the making of INEC, hence, the petitioner urged the tribunal to compel the electoral umpire to make available the central server where votes were electronically transferred.

Two, that Buhari lied on oath when he claimed that he had three certificates but could not produce even a photocopy to support his Form CF 001, which he submitted to INEC during clearance.

Three, Atiku and the PDP also alleged that there were irregularities, including intimidation of the electorate, as well as alteration of election results during and after the elections.

Evidence and written submissions and counterclaims were presented and witnesses called by both parties. Atiku and the PDP called 62 witnesses out of the 400 originally lined up. Buhari, on the other hand, called six witnesses. But INEC and APC did not call any witness.

Counsel to INEC, Yunus Usman (SAN), told the tribunal that it was not necessary to call witnesses, having extracted useful information from the evidence given by the petitioner’s witnesses. INEC’s lawyer, on his own, debunked the use of the electronic devices in the conduct of the election. Atiku’s lead lawyer, Livy Uzoukwu, also tendered some documents, including Form CF001, where President Buhari supplied his personal information to INEC for clearance to contest the February 23 presidential election. The legal teams had time to addresses the tribunal justices.

With the conclusion of their final submissions, the ball is now in the court of the judiciary to give an unbiased verdict. A lot has been said and written about the judiciary and its failings to which Nigerians are not happy. There have been several presidential election tribunals in the past that were won and lost on technicalities rather than law and its merit, which have portrayed the judiciary in a bad light.

Since the judiciary is acclaimed to be the last hope of the common man, it is up to the judges at the tribunal to redeem their image and at the same time save Nigeria from opprobrium by upholding justice. One good judgment that is delivered based on the law could lift Nigeria and make life better for the citizenry. The country needs redemption and the judiciary could serve as the redeemer.

As their Lordships prepare to deliver judgment on this matter, it is important to remind them of the testy nature of the assignment they have on their hands. No doubt, the justices are experienced enough in matters of law. But the case before them is about the peace, unity, and progress of Nigeria.

As people who are experienced in the bar and bench, Nigerians expect the justices to abide by the age-old tenets of the law. Legal minds have told us that the law is an ass. It is no respecter of persons. What made certain authorities great and respected in the legal profession is their adherence to both the letters and spirit of the law. The pursuit of law demands that justice should be done and seen to be done in every matter. Anything that falls short of this is anything but justice.

I am not a preacher to the justices involved in this matter. But I dare say that they must shun politics in the discharge of their duties. Justice cannot be done if those whose duty it is to dispense justice allow the corroding influence of politics to derail their minds.

Let this country for once be a reference point in jurisprudence. The other day ago, Kenya, an African country, was made proud by her legal minds when they painstakingly went through a legal battle such as the one we have on our hands and came up with a verdict that was foolproof.

Notwithstanding that it involved the cancellation of the election of a seating president; the world was satisfied with it because they saw that the justices were forthright and unbiased. Le the law be uppermost in their considerations.

In the present case, the justices have important matters to consider, which have been laid bare before the tribunal, in order to arrive at a reasoned and incontrovertible judgment. As I said earlier, politics must be taken out of it.

What should count is justice. And this justice should not be bought or procured. It should be earned. That way, whichever direction it goes, Nigerians will have cause to celebrate their courts as true temples of justice. An unbiased verdict would, no doubt strengthen democracy along with the judicial system and the country gains.