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The most important event

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I could observe yesterday that most hours of the day, the country was literally shut down. Predictably so. Many glued their eyes on their television to follow pronouncements at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal. The social media platforms were filled up with updates from the tribunal watchers. It was in growing expectation since the word went round as news flash on Tuesday that the tribunal was ready with its judgment: To be or not to be! It was the most important event in the land and not a few were wont to describe it as Judgment Day! That the enlightened citizenry were held in such bated breath dramatizes it all the more how important political leadership is in the life of any country. It could build up or pull down. It could make or break. The leadership can engender harmony or disharmony. A careless and thoughtless leadership can plunge a country into war. Another imbued with love can spread peace, harmony, joy, and happiness.

As I was rushing to press, the judgment was still being delivered by the tribunal chairman, Justice Mohammed Garba. And so, the bookmakers were at one another’s throat! For the reason of not being in possession of the judgment, I will be unable to delve into the pronouncements trickling in exhaustively and ventilate an informed opinion on the judgment. However, I am struck, indeed fascinated, by a contribution on a highly-rated platform in the social media, by a teacher of lawyers but who read philosophy in the university. He signed the submission as Adewale Adeoye. For some the contribution would be a dampener and for others tonic to uplift spirit and clink glasses. It foreshadowed what we were to expect yesterday. I seek his indulgence to reproduce it and it reads as follows:

“The final judgment on who won the 2019 Presidential election is crucial to the future of democracy in Nigeria. The Supreme Court is set to deliver the judgment which will be final. Nigerians are waiting anxiously. This will come after the Court of Appeal judgment.”
He goes on:

“The outcome of the judgment is predictable based on certain natural, historical factors and most importantly, the Philosophy of Law.

“First is the Theory of Precedence. The judges will be guided by precedence. It has never happened in Nigeria since independence that a sitting president will be asked to leave by judicial pronouncement based on legal dispute initiated by the opposition. This may happen in the future but it will not happen in 2019.

“The judges’ decisions will also be influenced by the Theory of Circumstance. What do I mean? President Buhari has set up his cabinet, he has been ruling the country for his second term since May 29 this year.

“He has met the Senate and House of Representatives. He has been representing Nigeria across the world. He has made policy pronouncements. Secondly, under the Theory of Circumstance, there are not enough public outcries to show that Buhari didn’t win the election…and no visible and quantifiable mass disenchantment targeting the president and informed by outrage over the outcome of the election both locally and internationally.

“The other consideration is the Theory of Substantial Compliance. The election was flawed in certain areas, not in all areas, so the judges will consider the fact that those areas of dispute are not substantial enough to move the pendulum in favour of Atiku. So, I see the judges pulling the rug off Atiku’s feet.

“The last is the Theory of Consequence. The judges will weigh the consequence of cancellation of the election or ordering a fresh election.

“If Buhari is declared as the loser, what are the consequences on the stability of the country, economy, ethnic configuration and above all, the cost implication or the likely impact on stocks, the National assembly and also on the psychology of the greater society.

“While considering the Facts of Law, the judges are bound by Facts of History and Facts of Political Economy which far outweigh every other consideration.”

The submission makes eminent sense and the apostles of Strict Constructionists Judiciary are likely to see it so, given the role of the judiciary essentially to promote and enhance peace even though this is hardly openly pushed by judges mindful it would seem, of judicial activists who would raise dusts. They are silent on it even when one can sense it is at the back of their minds. We will see later how the tribunal sees the petition by Atiku Abubakar. The counter argument is why set up a tribunal to look into electoral complaints if it is felt that in the end its courageous pronouncement might put law and order in jeopardy? Were Atiku’s lawyers not aware of this disposition of the city fathers and the judiciary? Of the unending brawl between the liberal and conservative on the Bench? I recall that in 1979, the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal in Awolowo Vs Shagari gave hint that the issue of peace weighed on their minds. The Supreme Court indeed said apart from substantial compliance by Shagari, the Services—the Brigade of Guards, the Air Force, the Police—were already rehearsing towards Shagari’s D-Day. The dissenting voices came only from Justice Kayode Eso and Justice Andrew Obaseki. The latter said two-thirds of 19 states was not twelve-two-thirds but 13, but said the case of rigging against Shagari was not seriously canvassed and so not proven. It was Eso who went the whole hog. I will be surprised if the tribunal deviates much from the submission of Adewale Adeoye in this case of Atiku Vs Buhari even if not much issue is publicly made of the matter of peace! A matter of this nature always opens the debate on public expectation of judicial activists ranged against the reality of strict judicial constructionists! Would the judgment be based on technicality? We would know later. From whatever angle and to whichever direction the pendulum was going to swing, the question of whether in our heart of heart the end of justice has been served invariably would remain unanswered! Would it be fair to Buhari or would it be unfair to Atiku?

All of yesterday while the tribunal was busy delivering its judgment, Buhari was confident of victory and he got on with the Federal Executive Council meeting without any air of a man who was ruffled.

Following Adeoye’s informed position, I reached out to the archives for what I wrote 29 years ago which bordered on judicial activism. It is reproduced below:


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