As the electoral proceedings snowball…
By Fr. Lawrence Alle
The 2023 presidential and gubernatorial elections in Nigeria have come and gone (although some would dispute that it is hardly over yet) with much hue and cry.
The pre-elections have also had its own share of finger-pointing, accusations and counter accusations by supporters of both the ruling party, the All Progressive Congress, and the opposition parties alike. The cliché “go to court” became so commonplace that it almost sounded like a street joke. But like an off the cuff joke that surprisingly becomes real, the opposition has indeed gone to court.
The cliché “go to court” became so commonplace that it almost sounded like a street joke
Petitions have been filed. As unsavoury as the plots and twists may be, electoral matters are very sensitive issues that would require careful unbundling so as to reach the crust of justice. The call of the Ooni of Ife, The Arole Oduduwa, on Nigerians a couple of days ago to “sheath their swords”, is not out of place, especially now that nerves are frayed and there are agitations in the polity.
I would like to believe that by this he implies that it is now left for the Electoral Tribunal, and if need the arises, the Supreme Court, to adjudicate on the matters at hand. Of course, the president-elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, would have to prepare for his swearing in come May 29th. And by this, I mean he would have to assemble his team to take over the reins of the most populous country in Africa when the D-day arrives. But until he is sworn in, he remains a “president elect” without the requisite Executive powers of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Surely, the Ooni does not mean that aggrieved opponents should not or cannot continue with prosecuting their grievances against those irregularities, anomalies and malfeasance which they registered were inflicted on the electoral processes at the court of Law. Neither does he mean that if the courts were to toe a different line from what has been declared by the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), then Nigerians are to willy nilly drift with the currents of the latter.
Now to the crux of the matter. The claims and rebuttals are in court. And as Rev. Fr. Professor Anthony A. Akinwale, O.P. said in his article titled “We are Faced with Two Anomalies” a few days back, “Justice now has become a piece of meat. While it is being chewed, the one chewing it asks us to go in search of it. Politics in Nigeria is hugely distant from morality. It is an open secret that our electoral process is subject to brazen manipulation from party primaries to the polls.” Permit me to employ an analogy here.
If a lion were gorging on its kill in the wild what business would the hunter have to interfere except that either the lion were of some remote ornamental or egotistic importance to him? And then, it would be underscored that the hunter was merely interested in the lion and not his kill. But if the lion were to have something precious to the hunter in his jaws, say his son, then the hunter would conscientiously be justified for trying by all means to pry his precious flesh and blood from those jaws of mischief. With eyes to the optics one cannot but agree that Nigeria has been held under for far too long. Justice has not only been delayed too many times but literally denied. Our founding fathers would turn in their graves in repudiation from the mere whiff of the many abortions and rapes of justice perpetrated within the polity.
Democracy is about the rule of law
Having been constantly battered, bloodied and ailing from incessant indignities, the floundering electoral process is once again groaning for redress. It is high time the Judiciary rose to the occasion. Let it be known that no man nor god is above the law. The sacrosanct underpinnings of the law must be protected at all cost.
The fact remains, things will never be the same. Nigerians are awake. There is a growing consciousness ushered in by the digital age and the milieu of Artificial Intelligence that has spurred the momentum for change. The earlier this is embraced and employed for good, the better. Here, it must be recalled that there was a clarion call on Nigerians to go register and pick up their Permanent Voters Card. But this alone proved insufficient.
It is therefore no news that it was the faith appended to the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) machine and the promise by INEC that electoral results will be uploaded on the INEC Result Viewing Portal in real time that propelled citizens to brave all man-made odds and inclement weathers to head out to the polls on Election days. We could philosophize or go into sophistry as to whether religion or ethnicity have their imports when it comes to the will of Nigerians to vote or be voted for. But beyond all that, I would surmise that there is nothing that would surpass technology, now or in the future, to win the trust of Nigerians back to the electoral process if there remained unanswered questions evinced by the very same process in which BVAS were employed. That is why it is “Now or Never” as sung by the Late Sunny Okosun.
The capsheaf of all rhetoric now needs to zero on neutrality. There is no gainsaying that there have been loud outcries from various quarters that money has repeatedly and indeed negatively influenced the final outcome of cases handled by those who enjoy the trust of Nigerians and to whom authority has been given to attend to such cases. So much so that faith in the process of seeking redress has been lost even before such kinds of cases arrive before the panel of justice. Could our Judicial System be said to be beyond reproach?
As we arrive at the crossroads, I would like to think that there is still a modicum of hope. There is always a last straw that breaks the camel’s back but I hope things do not go worse as predicted by the naysayers. The Judiciary has an opportunity again to prove its mettle.
Would the Electoral Tribunal step up to its responsibility or be swayed in favour of the inglorious cabal, that has since the country’s independence from colonial rule, held her on the jugular and prevailed against the will of the people and of justice? As the Electoral Tribunal sits for the hearings of petitions, should Nigerians hope for the worst or the best? As the proceedings snowball and gain momentum, will justice be served or will evidences and testimonies be glossed over, perjury enthroned and like the proverbial dog that returns to its vomit, citizens are then expected to stoop their heads and ruefully stagger off to their usual doomed state of hopelessness?
The words of Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, words etched in gold, published in TELL magazine on the 29th October, 2001 put it very poignantly, “So, for democracy to be really nurtured, we must realize that there are some democratic institutions that we must rely on for reforms, for testing some of the assumptions that we have about democracy. To me, the most critical is the Judiciary, because democracy is about the rule of law.” There can be no true reforms if there are no historical references to true and untainted verdicts emanating from our courthouses which would serve as the basis for departure.
Jesus, addressing his disciples, once said, “If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands and two feet and be thrown into Hades” (Matt 18:8). As a priest and a man of God, I have oftentimes been confronted with the burden moral tenets bring. I have witnessed its ability to humble even the best of us. So, let me say here that it will be wise for the Justices of the Electoral Tribunal not to go snug and hope Nigerians will move on. It will be wiser to let justice take its course.