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In the pursuit of democracy through justice

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PHOTO: CRISTINA ALDEHUELA / AFP

Every day that passes in Nigeria brings the country even further lower in terms of political morals and ideals. 2018 brought the introduction on a larger scale than ever before, the “see and buy” phenomenon with votes during the Ekiti gubernatorial election and then perfected in the Osun version of it. Visiting Osun about a month to the election, voters openly admitted to me that they would be willing to trade their votes for money as had been done in Ekiti. By 2019, we saw the “show how you voted and collect your money” in the House of Representatives elections that produced the current Speaker. From the streets to the hallowed chambers of lawmaking, electoral corruption has overcome our morals and destroyed our ideals.

Despite all this, hope in the ideals of justice and democracy is what allows a nation progress, move forward, the hope that it can be better, the hope that we can exist in a “JUST” society and country. This hope is eroded on a daily basis by the very institutions created to preserve it.

In India’s most recent election, 800 million out of 900 million eligible voters, voted at 1 million polling units, for representatives from 464 political parties, yet not a single candidate went to a electoral tribunal in complaint about electoral irregularities.

In Nigeria on the other hand, the electoral process is significantly flawed and as a result virtually all candidates are aggrieved after elections and resort to the Judiciary in search of Justice. The pursuit of democratic ideals through the Judiciary has now been normalised and politicized.

The dictionary definition of democracy is a “Government by the people in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.” The ideal of democracy is the institutionalization of freedom, free and fair elections and the rule of law.

Justice on the other hand, is defined by the dictionary as “the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments”.

Politicians across the world are usually merchants of hope and in selling hope, the people come out to express their will, their hope and belief in democracy. The essence of democracy is the triumph of the will of the people. It is about the necessary assertive hurrah of the choice of the people.

Any Judiciary or electoral process that does not give the will of the people expression because of a technicality without care given to the heart of the matter or substance to the petition calls in to question the very credibility of a society claiming to be democratic.

Just like the televised voter suppression we saw happen in Okota and Oshodi areas during the 2019 elections, we all saw the same happen in the Osun state governorship election. The same electoral playbook was used and the strategy is simple: disrupt opposition strongholds with violence to cancel elections in those places and call for a rerun in said cancelled places; declare election inconclusive regardless of the leading margin scored by the opposition; unleash thugs and suppress voters in the selected polling units and then declare the ruling party as the winner.

The crowning move as we can now see is to then rely on a technicality through the Judiciary to rubber stamp the stolen electoral mandate.

We saw ballot papers burnt in front of those that voted, we saw people intimidated and warned not to come out to vote, we saw people assaulted and killed in the process of expressing their hope in democracy, we saw electoral officers assaulted and intimidated into declaring false results. And because the electoral process is grossly flawed is the exact reason why politicians run to lady justice in order to protect the ideals of democracy.

These petitioners have the uphill battle of proving their case with time constraints such as frontloading evidence, seeking INEC witnesses who for the most part act as hostile witnesses, dodge subpoenas and behave as though they are an extension of the ruling party and not the unbiased arbiters they are supposed to be. I recently saw this happen in the Senatorial election petition instituted by Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour against the declaration of Solomon Adeola as winner of the February 23 election.

But this is Nigeria where the will of the people can be sacrificed for a clerical error or over a technicality caused by the same court or tribunal to which the petitioner has come for relief. In the Senator Ademola Adeleke matter of the Osun state governorship election petition dismissed by the Supreme Court, the major reason cited for the dismissal of the petition was that the tribunal judge forgot to sign the attendance register.

The lead judgement only dealt with the issue of Hon Justice Obiora’s alleged absence from the tribunal proceedings on the 6th February (only 1day) as the sole reason for disallowing the appeal. Fortunately, the minority judgements actually addressed the substance of the case in its ruling as Justice Galinje stated that there was no reason whatsoever for the re run of the 27th September 2018 election. Section 179 2a&b of the constitution of the Federal Republic has stated the provisions for the emergence of a Governor and that the returning officer does not have the power to order such re run.

Justices Adamu Galinje and Kumai Akaahs held that Senator Adeleke scored the majority votes in the September 22 governorship election and fulfilled the constitutional requirement to be declared the winner. Galinje further held that nullifying the proceedings of the election petitions tribunal on the grounds of the absence of Justice Peter Obiorah on only the proceedings of February 6th without a certified true copy of the original record of the proceedings tendered before the appellate court is “mere conjecture”.
“The appeal is meritorious and has to be allowed. I allow the appeal and set aside the court of appeal decision,” Justice Galinje said.

For his part, Justice Akaahs held that the apex court should have narrowed its consideration on whether the appellant (Adeleke) scored the highest votes in the main election as provided “I hold that there was no need for the rerun election and declare that appellant is the winner of the election and should be declared the winner,”
Blessed be the minority judgement of Justices Adamu Galinje and Kumai Akaahs.

The precedent that has been set by the majority ruling is as follows – It is perfectly acceptable for thugs to suppress the electorate and snatch ballot boxes. It is acceptable to manipulate the elections in conjunction with INEC and then terrorise the electorate not to turn out to vote. The deaths, hopes and aspirations of all the people that came out to secure their mandate are inconsequential when compared to a technicality caused by the court itself, not the petitioners, not the lawyers of the petitioners, not the voters, but a Judge of the tribunal. Hope, not cynicism is what moves nations forward, sadly this judgement just like many contemporary events in Nigeria, has squeezed out the last gasp of hope left in our system but then again this is Nigeria where 29 days after meeting Muhammadu Buhari, the federal government withdraws charges against former governor of Gombe State and serving senator, Danjuma Goje, over allegations of corruption.
May God Deliver Us.


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