The main hindrance to developing free and fair elections in Nigeria appears to be the judiciary, as highlighted by the Presidential Elections Petitions Court (PEPC). Their focus on declaring winners rather than ruling to improve processes is injurious to the enhancement of democracy. Their evident unpreparedness to consider issues relating to transparency, fairness, and justice has caused nationwide disaffection and turned Nigerians against themselves. Their pedantic interpretation of law and concentration on technicalities frustrate the development of an unimpeachable election process.
It is trite that Democracy belongs to the people, not to a compromised electoral body, a corrupt political class, or an unprincipled Judiciary all of whom have all contributed their fair share in undermining it. It’s really no surprise that the turnout for the 2023 presidential election was an all-time low of 27% as Nigerians massively declined to waste their time and money voting.
It has long been a source of concern for political stakeholders and international observers, that Nigerians firmly believe that votes cast mean nothing as results are routinely manipulated and there is nothing free or fair about their elections. This time around the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman raised false hopes that things would be better. He promised that the use of the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) and live transmission of results would guarantee results to be totally transparent and allow all interested parties to collate totals by themselves.
Despite the nation’s dire financial situation, INEC’s budget for the purchase and supply of BVAS machines which surpassed market cost by 30 percent was approved. Although the machines cost well over N100 billion, at the end of the day in a judgement that set Nigerian democracy irretrievably, the PEPC ruled that INEC are under no obligation to use them!
Nigerian judges could do well to always keep in mind a famous quote by legendary British Judge and Master of the Rolls Lord Denning. He pointed out that inscribed outside the famous Old Baily Court in London were the words “Temple of Justice” not “Courts of Law” and in compliance with this he would not permit any defendant to use the law to escape justice in his Court!
Arguments about justice or fairness involve morality and ethics, not a simplistic interpretation of legal statutes. Justice refers to giving each person what he or she deserves, while fairness refers to an ability to judge without reference to personal feelings or interests. With PEPC judges struggling to justify their conclusions by making political comments, it’s open to debate as to whether either justice or fairness was served by their judgement which endorsed INEC’s lapses and reversed the gains from the amendment of electoral laws.
By overlooking and in some cases justifying INEC’s failures, lack of cooperation with petitioners, and withholding of evidence, the PEPC undermined any pretence of impartiality, justice, and fairness spurning an opportunity to instigate electoral reforms. Nigerian Presidential elections involve three parties; the candidates, INEC, and the PEPC. Candidates cannot logically be held liable for the shambolic conduct of elections or the ills of INEC. Candidates are not responsible for counting votes, preparing results, declaring winners, or judging petitions. Even if allegations of INEC officials and judges being bribed are true, blame should be placed squarely at the doorstep of the bribe receivers, not at that of the bribe-giving candidates.
In truth, judges have opened themselves to odium and public abuse for perverse pronouncements and rogue rulings which lack integrity, rigour, erudition, and gravitas. This time around in an unduly long and tiresome judgement, the PEPC could not rise above the mundane. They focused excessively on technicalities and ignored substantive flaws and misconduct by INEC. It made no sense that while proceedings were not televised, the judgment was. If the PEPC had nothing to hide, they would not have objected to live broadcast of proceedings. Their modus operandi and final judgment merely served to confirm that openness, transparency, and accountability of public officials are of no importance in the conduct of Nigerian presidential elections.
There is little to be gained by the Supreme Court overturning the PEPC’s verdict, but a lot to be gained in the reversal of some of the illogical assertions they made. Even a first-year student of logic knows that conclusions must be supported by valid premises, yet the PEPC pronounced so many conclusions with no valid supporting premises. It is important that the apex court recommends alteration of relevant laws to ensure that the burden of proof lies with INEC which must demonstrate proper conduct of the election.
It is illogical for state election tribunals to admit irregularities and sack senators or members of the House of Representatives while the PEPC claims that these irregularities could not have “substantially affected” the results of presidential elections held simultaneously in the same areas! The decision by opposition leaders not to concede defeat should be of little consequence. Although it’s their constitutional right, it’s quite illogical for them to assert that the election was neither free nor fair, while at the same time asserting that they won!
In light of video evidence and reports by both foreign and local election observers which were ridiculously cast aside by the PEPC, they should have pressed for a re-run. All said and done it was NEC and the Judiciary that were on trial, not the candidates, and with all due respect, they are both guilty in the court of public opinion.