Who’s really on trial at the presidential election tribunal?
Permit this controversial entry. For you see, I’m one of those who ardently believe that all the democratic regimes we have had in this country suffered the same fate. Consecutively, they have been ruined by the daylight robbery passed off as rigging. I know many will disagree.
After all, Nigerians have always advertised their peculiar penchant for the unrecorded. From Adam (and Eve, perhaps), we have been more taken in by enjoyment and its multifarious accoutrements. Any wonder that, even at the best of times, all we have ever laboured to cope with is the accolade of occupying the happiest space on planet earth.
Busy quaffing away liqueur and carving up caviar all that while, we have now ended up drenched in abysmal underdevelopment. And knowing not when the rain started to pelt us, we can only end up unable to guess if it’ll ever stop, let alone where.
If anything, over all those intervening years, we have only proved good at those things that demarket us by half – if not whole. Like the crowning of nitwits whose only achievements in life are success at high treason via guns and bombs. And, of course, their successful reining in of any colleagues towing after them.
The only thing else they have proved good at since changing from khaki to agbada in retirement remains the unique ability to rig elections. Beyond reasonable doubt, this is necessitated by the need to further foist their mentees on us. And the wheel keeps turning.
Anyway, though bona fide Nigerians, some of us have managed to sustain our reading habits against all odds. To the chagrin of the others, I dare add. Books like the Ghanaian Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born. A novel set in the heady days of African independence from European colonisation, it said it all in the jiffy of its slim volume.
In that book, readers are given the glimpse of a day in the life of a sleazy government official. After an accomplice reneged on his part in an otherwise sealed deal, the former labelled the latter one of those that ‘give corruption a bad name’. Talk of there being honour even in the den thieves.
Ditto our just (un-)concluded presidential election. The soap and ballot boxes having played out their parts, the onus has since shifted to the tribunals. Yes, though a winner has since been declared, a couple of the losers have gone there to challenge it. Like has always come to pass as our earlier democratic cookies came crumbling.
On face value, election results are supposed to be sacrosanct, especially when they are conducted according to the stipulated rules. A condition generally unmet according to the usual litigants. Elsewhere, this would have amounted to nothing. Like a dog typically biting a man and not vice versa as taught in journalism schools. But not in Nigeria where dogs and men bark but seldom bite.
For the elections, voters were first registered and the list updated. This was well before campaigns were mounted by the parties in contention. But come voting day, many voters thronged to the polling booths to cast their votes to no avail. Like has become the norm, they waited out the subterfuges till votes were counted and posted somewhere near the booth.
All would have been well and fine, you’d guess. But for the results that ended up announced by the Independent National Election Commission (INEC)! Yes, this last time around, these often ended up at variance with the hand-counted totals arrived at on Election Day.
Meanwhile, with the passage of the Electoral Act just before the present election, it was believed that the case would be different. At least, according to the recent report by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on the election, the irregularities that happened in the election processes are still being aggregated.
Now there’s no doubt that governments in power have preferred candidates. The more so given that the elections are organised under their tenure. You know, following years of indulgence in all the negativities of governance, tracks need to be covered by choice predecessors.
Like happens, these select cast are then favoured to overcome their competitors at the polls. However, this cannot be achieved ex nihilo. Oftentimes, because this is not possible – mostly on account of the lack of laudable achievements by the government – they may then resort to outright rigging.
Prior to the last exercise, this was often limited to practices like late deployment to opposition areas and denying electoral officers access to strategic election material. The latter, particularly the result sheets, are then filled out as the party in power pleases to avoid the use of correction fluid on them.
But this time, it was so inexpertly done that figures were even crossed out by hand. As though – no thanks to the digital age – unmindful that further checks and balances are now in place to tackle the menace. From accreditation to announcement, it’s no longer a walk in the park like before. Like everything electronic, inputs are now verifiable for years on end.
Like transpired in the present in particular. When an electoral bill that had been hanging was at last signed into law, the people saw it as an answered prayer. Only for the electoral commission to disown its eponymous independence by reneging on its own guidelines. This after making them a singsong in paid and unpaid adverts.
Funnily enough, when these anomalies were pointed out, all the ruling party had to offer was asking the aggrieved parties to go to court. Anyway, the president was more specific by directing them to head there rather than the streets. And like everything un-Nigerian, they obeyed him to the hilt. And once again a presidential election in Nigeria is destined for the highest court in the land – the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the outcome at the lower Presidential Election Tribunal is keeping up the pace. As expected, it’s duly serving up a potpourri of the serious, meretricious, innocuous and atrocious. Nevertheless, there is no doubt the esteemed judges in charge are more than equal to the task.
They should, however, not be unmindful that, like Big Brother in George Orwell’s 1984, Nigerians are watching them. And that like a teary-eyed Justice J. R. Midha of Delhi High Court in India vouchsafed upon his 2021 farewell speech, ‘In the Court of Justice, both the parties know the truth, it’s the judge who is on trial.’
At the end of the day, it’ll be incumbent on them to do a lot more than upholding the result announced by INEC, or pronouncing the otherwise real winner. O yes, they ought to hand in a judgement that should stand the test of time. After all, like it stands, it’s the entire nation that is on trial.
Uzoatu writes from Onitsha, Anambra State