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Elections: Nigeria Must Go Back to Justice Uwais

I confess that last Wednesday, I feared I may be a masochist.  I do not know what else one diagnoses after he spent most of…

I confess that last Wednesday, I feared I may be a masochist.  I do not know what else one diagnoses after he spent most of 10 hours listening to the Presidential Election Petitions Court. 

I mean, I had other things to do, and I should have moved on to them the moment I learned that the five-person panel was going to give its verdict in camera (but not on camera).

Yes, they announced that the activity would be televised, except tht they neglected to say that they meant that people should listen on their radio sets because the judges lacked the courage to show their faces on the small screen.

And then they went on, for half the day, rambling not really about substance or justice, but about libraries of technicalities.  In the end, that was their way of preparing to say, first as a group and serially as individuals, that Bola Ahmed Tinubu had been fairly and indisputably elected president of Nigeria on February 23, 2023.

He was not.  Fairly and indisputably, that is.

But their lordships, in the judicial equivalent of working from home, hiding from viewers but claiming to be on television, went on the offensive, like reverse prosecutors of the petitioners.   They lured and berated them not so much about the election in question and the performance of the electoral commission—which in effect was on trial before the tribunal joined itself in the dock—but about legal technicalities.

In dismissing the petitions before them, the judges, in their free-form comments, appeared to be perched between anger and contempt for the very process of which they are a part.  For instance, they ‘prohibited’ Mr. Peter Obi, the Labour Party candidate, from affirming that the election did not comply with the 2022 Electoral Act, as if it did.

They said that INEC owed no obligation to tender election results electronically, contrary to the law and commission’s own commitment; that no allegations of anomalies, malpractice, overvoting were proved; and that despite forfeiting nearly half a million dollars to the US government, no record of criminal arrest or conviction was established against Mr. Tinubu.

Little wonder the judges wanted to ‘work from home’ on this one, in the ridiculous hope of placing some distance between themselves and their task of defending Tinubu’s fictitious victory.

INEC had one job.  That job was not to declare a Tinubu victory, but to deliver a credible election.  It was for that purpose it embarked on the expensive Bimodal Voter Registration Systes and Permanent Voters Cards and spent billions of naira to persuade the electorate to appreciate its wisdom.

It was for that purpose the 2022 Electoral Act institutionalized the use of electronic transmission of results and INEC deployed I-Rev technology for those results to be seen in real time.  “In the event of dispute arising in the course of collation, the electronically-transmitted result shall be used to resolve it,” INEC repeatedly said. “These are clearly provided for in Sec. 60 of the Act…”

The reason neither INEC nor the Appeal Tribunal can persuade Nigerians that Mr. Tinubu won the contest is that INEC did not follow the law or its own guidelines.  None of them can explain why, when I-Rev conveniently transmitted the results of parallel contests in the legislature, there was the equivalent of an electricity blackout in delivering the presidential results.

Nigerians would also remember that, according to the government at the time, INEC had proactively suspended the uploading of the data.  Information Minister Lai Mohammed told journalists in the United States that INEC feared a cyber-attack.

Hours after the polls had closed, however, INEC spokesman Festus Okoye attributed the delay to “technical hitches,” not fear of sabotage.

It is therefore something of an irony that Muhammadu Buhari, under whose abominably poor leadership Nigeria descended to the immense poverty of body and spirit which produced the election and the tribunal, ventured forth last week with a pathetic claim.

“If anybody has won today it is the democracy and the people,” he said. “With the verdict of the Court, the election period is over and it is time to put the heat and dust behind us.”

Doesn’t Buhari have admirers in Niger to go to?  If he ever had any political relevance, somebody should inform him that it has expired.  His voice is immaterial, thanks to he and Goodluck Jonathan.

What is indisputable is that the Nigerian electoral system is irretrievably broken.  We are worse than we were when President Umaru Yar’Adua took office in 2007 and asked a panel led by Justice Muhammadu Uwais, a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, “to examine the entire electoral process with a view to ensuring that we raise the quality and standard of our general elections and thereby deepen our democracy.”

Unfortunately, Mr. Yar’Adua did not live long enough to implement the Report of the Electoral Reform Committee, which comprised brilliant Nigerians and came to be known as the Justice Uwais Report.  Again and again since then, I have been one of those calling for its implementation.  Again and again, those calls have been ignored.

“Unless we have the kind of restructured and truly independent electoral system proposed by the Justice Uwais panel,” I wrote in June 2012, “elections in Nigeria will be a bigger joke every four years…”

When I welcomed APC in February 2013 as a new political party, I urged them to get the report, “which contains all the answers, off the floor, and labour to make it the basis of true electoral reform.  There is no reason to start over.”

Nigerian leaders, sadly are always long on speeches but brief on effort.  Into the hands of Mr. Jonathan fell the Justice Uwais report.  He ignored it, as he did several others, including the Okigbo Committee on Halliburton; the Theophilus Danjuma Presidential Advisory Committee, the Presidential Projects Assessment Committee, and the National Conference.

All those reports were waiting for Buhari in 2015, but he ignored them all as well as the ones he generated, including the Justice Salami report on Ibrahim Magu.  It is why, when he comments on the presidential tribunal, he makes people laugh.  After all, it was his APC that was internationally scandalized when it said in its manifesto in January 2019, “Our first priority is keeping America safe and secure…”

Perhaps there will be something in the future in Nigeria known as democracy.  That will depend on the hunger of Nigerians for a system which grants true authority to the voter and places the burden of proof on the electoral commission when there is a dispute.

Until then, 100 judges yelling their credibility off for 100 hours under their beds will not grant the legitimacy that a leader needs even if he was not flattened by Tinubu’s considerable baggage.

For 15 years, as Nigerian elections progressively deteriorated, we have lacked the motivation to put to work the meticulous and robust Justice Uwais report.  The saddest part is that this is attributable simply to the duplicity of Nigerian rulers rather than any discernible objections to it.

Tell me: will people who prefer darkness invest in light?

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