Alternative Viewpoint PEPT Judgement And Matters Arising
Flight Lieutenant Christopher Uchenna Obasi (Retired)

As the Presidential Elections Petitions Tribunal (PEPT) delivers its 13-hour judgement on the fiercely contested and disputed 2023 general elections in Nigeria, many Nigerian citizens are thrown into a state of despondency. Despite the Tribunal’s facts-based insistence on President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s victory, the political atmosphere remains uneasy. The decision of the opposition to appeal the judgement appears welcome, but does not diffuse the tension. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had declared Bola Ahmed Tinubu winner of the keenly contested elections amidst several allegations of corruption and highhandedness culminating in a highly flawed electoral process. This article evaluates certain fallouts from the judgement in relation to their overall implications for the continued wellbeing of the Nigerian state. Additionally, it examines the perception of the Nigerian judiciary from the viewpoint of apparently controversial judgements and reviews citizens’ alternative options for resolving the political and judicial impasse.

The 2023 General Elections in Nigeria have come and gone, with attendant controversies and disputations. As it is usual with almost all elections in Nigeria, the INEC-designated losers approached the Presidential Elections Petitions Tribunal sitting at the Appeal Court in Abuja, seeking inter alia to disqualify President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s candidature with a view to reversing INEC’s declaration that he won the elections. In the build-up to the elections, the Presidential Candidate of the Labour Party (LP) Peter Obi had been tipped by several local and international opinion polls to win the elections given his popularity among Nigerian youths who for the first time in the history of elections in the Country, had trooped out en masse to support their hero. Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives’ Congress (APC) was also not left out in the permutations considering his pro-Democracy credentials as well as his legendary mastery and application of deft political strategy to navigate the murky waters of Nigerian politics. Additionally, his heavy financial war chest was considered a critical factor in the elections, in view of Nigeria’s penchant for moneybag politics. Incidentally, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) was originally considered Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s greatest challenger for the Presidency given the balance of money expected to occur if both men were to deploy their financial clouts to bear on the elections. However, like Tinubu, Atiku carried the burden of a man accused of wanting to usurp the turn of the South-East which was expected in many quarters to produce the president in the interest of social justice and national cohesion. Unfortunately, Peter Obi’s “French leave” from the PDP and the subsequent revival of the #EndSars-induced Third Force vis-a-vis the “Obidient Movement” signaled the possibility of a potential upset in the political equation. To worsen matters, Atiku’s running battle with the PDP’s “G5” governors led by Nyesom Wike appeared to further suffocate his chances at the elections. Additionally, Peter Obi’s growing popularity was projected to diminish Atiku’s votes particularly in the former PDP stronghold of the South-East, and even in the South-South geopolitical zone where Nyesom Wike wielded considerable influence. This was the state of the race as the elections approached. Hence, it was therefore expected that the results of the election would be ferociously disputed. However, with the conclusion of the PEPT’s sitting and its subsequent judgement, quite a number of seemingly confusing issues have now sufficed:

The first of these issues is the apparent neo-perception of Abuja as a state of the Federation rather than a Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Thus, without prejudice to Section 299 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999  which states inter alia that, “The provisions of this constitution shall apply to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja as if it were one of the states of the Federation…,” it appears not to sit well with a lot of Nigerians that Abuja should now be conceived in many quarters as the “37th state of the Federation” by virtue of a Tribunal judgement which appeared to make a new law rather than interpret an old one, and irrespective of the official position of the Constitution on the creation of a Federal Capital Territory for the Country. The Constitutional position regarding the distinct nature of the FCT is clearly portrayed in Section 2 (2) of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 that, “Nigeria shall be a Federation consisting of States and a Federal Capital Territory.”

Notwithstanding, if the framers of the Nigerian Constitution had wanted Abuja to be a state, it would have been lucidly stated in the manner as in Section 3 (1) which outlined the 36 states of the Federation excluding Abuja. Given these Constitutional controversies, it could even be said that the application of Constitutional provisions to the administration of the FCT as provided for in Section 299 is either incomplete or in breach because if the FCT is to be treated as if it were a state, then, it should have been afforded all the paraphernalia of a state including an elected governor, commissioners for various facets of government and much more. Rather, what obtains at the FCT is a minister who is appointed by the President and given the mandate to run the FCT as if he was a sole administrator under a democracy. Additionally, the FCT has no House of Assembly as is obtainable in the states hence, under the provisions of           Section 303, the political and administrative structures of the entity and those of her area councils “shall be as provided by an Act of the National Assembly” yet, the FCT is not considered as having any special status. If the FCT is treated differently both in terms of political and administrative arrangements as opposed to the states, what then is the definition of a “special status”?

Furthermore, a comparative study regarding the appointment of judicial officers for the states and the FCT still does not support the notion of Constitutional similarity between the FCT and the states. For instance, while Section 271 (1) provides for the appointment of chief jugdes of the states’ high courts by the governors of the states on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council and subject to confirmation by the states’ Houses of Assembly, the appointment of the Chief Judge of the FCT High Court under Section 256 is not made by the FCT Minister, but by the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council, subject to confirmation by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. As if that is not enough, Section 304 provides for the establishment of a “judicial service committee” for the FCT. Yet, the FCT has no special status.

Drawing from the foregoing, it is evident that the political and administrative status of the FCT is certainly different from those of the states albeit that the PEPT’s judgement appears to compel us to believe otherwise. Unfortunately, the legal compatibility of the judgement with the Nigerian Constitution (or otherwise) is beyond the purview of this author to decide.

Our next concern regarding the judgement is in the overall implications of some pronouncements made therein to the global perception index of the Nigerian state and her government especially in the area of institutional integrity. Given the petitions, one of the PEPT’s key tasks was to determine whether INEC’s failure to fulfil the assurance it gave to Nigerians that it would transmit the results of the presidential elections to its Results Viewing Portal (IREV) in real time amounted to a breach of INEC’s own electoral guidelines, culminating in a highly flawed electoral process as being alleged by the opposition. To this end, the PEPT declared that INEC was independent and therefore, that her modus operandi for conducting elections and transmitting results was discretionary. Hence, if INEC gave certain assurances to Nigerians to boost their confidence in the electoral process, it was not obligated to live up to them. In other words, the Nigerian government (through any of her agencies including INEC) is not duty bound to respect any pact it enters into with the Nigerian people. This is in flagrant insensitivity to the plight of the common Nigerian to whom an assurance was given, and whose confidence in the electoral process was seen to have momentarily improved by virtue of that same assurance. Hence, in making that pronouncement, the PEPT seems to have downplayed the fact that building strong institutions begins with building institutional integrity, and building institutional integrity begins with gestures as little as government officials making public promises and keeping them. Hence, by absolving INEC of any wrong doing regarding the matter of making a public promise and not keeping it, the PEPT appears to have reinforced the global pejorative perception of Nigerians as a people who lack integrity either as public or private citizens. This is as dangerous to the Nigerian economy as it is to the credibility of the Country’s electoral system to the average Nigerian.

Historically, the credibility of the Country’s electoral system has never been encouraging. Where such credibility has not been diminished by widespread electoral infractions characterized by voter intimidation killing or maiming, ballot box snatching and general rigging, it has been diminished by seemingly controversial court or tribunal rulings on electoral petitions. One of such rulings is the Supreme Court’s declaration of Senator (Chief) Hope Uzodimma as the winner of the 9 March, 2019 governorship elections in Imo State where a seven-member panel led by Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun unanimously insisted that the results of 388 polling units were unlawfully excluded during collation. Following Frederick Oho’s dissenting judgement at the Court of Appeal on 19          November, 2019, Hope Uzodimma had approached the Supreme Court for a final declaration on the matter. Consequently, the panel concluded that when the results from the excluded polling units were taken into account, Hope Uzodimma ought to have been declared the winner of the elections having garnered majority of the votes in those polling units. This ruling sparked a flurry of controversies. With the benefit of hindsight, quite a number of reasons could be adduced for those controversies. The first reason is captured in Halimah Yahaya’s report in the Premium Times of 14 January 2020 in which she asserts that:

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“The judge did not provide the details of the new votes scored by each of the candidates after the addition of the results from the 388 polling units.”

Incidentally, Simon Kolawole’s article “The Supreme Court Verdict on Imo” published in The Cable of 26 January, 2020 appears to provide the reason for Halimah Yahaya’s submission:

“The first issue raised by commentators is that the Supreme Court declared a man who placed fourth as the winner. The figures released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) after the March 8 (sic), 2019 election had seen Ihedioha (PDP) declared winner with 273,404 votes, followed by Uche Nwosu (Action Alliance) who polled 190,364, Ifeanyi Ararume (All Progressives Grand Alliance) 114,676 and Uzodimma (APC) 96,458. The second issue is that with 213,695 votes now attributed to Uzodimma, total number of votes cast came to 927,000 while accredited voters were only 823,743, which would suggest that there were more votes than voters.”

Kolawole further argues that:

“Arising from this was a third issue raised by those opposed to the judgement: assuming indeed that Uzodinma’s votes in the 388 polling units that were excluded from collation were legitimate, how on earth could one candidate have scored all the votes in those units? This argument presumes that the 213,695 votes that the Supreme Court ordered should be added to Uzodimma’s tally from the disputed 388 polling units represented the entire votes cast in those units. If indeed this was the case, we can only assume that somebody sat down somewhere and played games on the calculator and probably on Microsoft Office Excel. Some primary school kid, maybe.”

Furthermore, in the article titled “Controversial Supreme Court Judgements Redirect Public Attention to its Image” published in The Guardian of 25 February, 2020, Joseph Onyekwere recounts a series of controversy-eliciting jugdements on electoral matters. He cites the example of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and 2 Others V Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo and 3 Others where the court ordered INEC to withdraw the Certificate of Return earlier issued to Mr Pereworimin Lyon and his deputy who were just hours away to being sworn in as Governor and Deputy Governor of their state. Added to this was the controversy in Osun State bordering on the power of INEC officials to cancel election results which “was unsuccessful in technical ground of the absence of one of the judges in the panel” and the case in Kogi State where Mr James Faleke, the running mate to late Abubakar Audu, was disallowed by the Supreme Court to become the APC’s flag bearer by reason of a joint ticket with the deceased.

All the aforementioned are indicative of a culture of controversy in election petition adjudications which must be obliterated from Nigeria’s politico-judicial scene in order to enhance voter confidence and participation in the electoral process. Additionally, the use of “technicalities” to justify seemingly illogical election-related judgements is perceived as a grievous impediment to justice and should be discarded by all means. As the Supreme Court of Nigeria has pointed out in Akeredolu V Abraham (2018), “technicality in the administration of justice shuts out justice.”

Given the foregoing, the centrality of the welfare of the average Nigerian in all of these is of major concern. Similarly, the pattern of government he is historically constrained to live and work under is also crucial. In this regard, the question as to whether Democracy (especially the Nigerian variant) has served and promoted the welfare of the average Nigerian becomes pertinent. Hence, the peoples’ reaction to the PEPT’s judgement and its allied matters should constitute a key factor in the political process in the period preceding the final declaration by the Supreme Court and beyond.

The first option on the part of the petitioners is to appeal the judgement before the Supreme Court of Nigeria while their anxious followers patiently await a favourable outcome. Incidentally, available information suggests that the presidential candidates of the PDP and LP have already decided on this option. However, the basic concern in this regard is whether these petitioners are prepared to stomach a Supreme Court  judgement that is similar to that of the PEPT bearing in mind the scenario in which they have been told dismissively to “go to court” as if those urging them to do so were already aware of what the outcome at the court would be. Secondly, there appears to be fears in some quarters that with the heightened tension in the Country, if the judgement at the Supreme Court is not seen to be radically different from that of the Tribunal, the advocacy for “revolution” vis-à-vis the #EndSars movement could gain fresh momentum in confirmation of Emma Goldman’s insinuation that, “progress is never within the law.”  However, whether such momentum would be sustained in the presence of a carton of noodles or a bag of rice remains to be seen. Similarly, the events that occurred at the Lekki toll gate on 20 October, 2020 and the subsequent evanescence of the #EndSars protests highlight the need for citizens’ resilience in the demand for governmental accountability or the organization for social change. Otherwise, the situation would not be different from that of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce who despite professing to confront the US government regarding its decision to open up Oregon for mining activities in the 19th Century, ended up surrendering to the troops of General Oliver Howard and making that famous declaration in his historic surrender speech of 1877 that “I will fight no more forever!”

Furthermore, the option a religion-induced fatalistic resignation which strengthens citizens’ belief in the illusion that God would come down from heaven to repair their political and socio-economic systems is also possible. In this case, it is imperative for the citizens to note that whereas thesame God had imbued them with all it takes to develop their political economy preparatory to living a better life, retreating to the cocoon of political apathy and expecting a miraculous transformation of the political and socio-economic systems would be counterproductive. Additionally, the “japa” option of citizens’ emigration to foreign lands in search of the so-called “greener pastures” is laughable, given the erroneous assumption of celestial perfection in those societies. Even if that was the case, it is instructive to note that those who built the countries currently purporting to offer promises of a better life to Nigerians were also humans. In the final analysis, citizens’ involvement in every inch of the political process is paramount, and should reflect the Gaullean notion that “politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.”

The pattern of analysis is based on the Liberal Democratic method.

The ‘Alternative Viewpoint,’ penned by Flight Lieutenant Christopher Uchenna Obasi (Retired), is a sophisticated weekly column that delves into the complex dimensions of socio-political issues. While it concentrates primarily on the African context, the column also casts a wider analytical net to encompass global affairs. Through incisive commentary and in-depth analysis, it aims to offer alternative perspectives that challenge mainstream narratives and provoke thoughtful discourse on critical matters.

Africa Today News, New York

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