Is ‘Go to Court’ Wild Goose Chase for Justice?

With the inability of any presidential candidate who lost an election to upturn the victory of the winner since the advent of democracy in Nigeria, the winners who have become confident and boastful of securing favourable judgment have always dared the losers to go to court. Could this be a signal that the desired justice may not be given? Alex Enumah asks

With the conclusion of the presidential election, the battle has shifted to the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal in Abuja.

According to the results released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Senator Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) defeated 17 other candidates who took part in the election.

Expectedly, Atiku and Obi rejected the outcome of the contest and dragged Tinubu, INEC and the APC to the tribunal. The two candidates at separate press conferences in Abuja accused INEC of reneging on its promise to deliver transparent, free, fair and credible elections.

According to observers, voters and the opposition parties, the presidential poll was characterised by the disenfranchisement of voters, alleged rigging, violence, intimidation of voters, manipulation of results, under-supply of voting materials, late arrival of materials, and ballot box snatching, among other malpractices.

 Despite these alleged irregularities, INEC announced the results and urged the aggrieved parties to approach the relevant courts.

What perhaps angered most Nigerians was the braggadocio with which INEC and members of the APC dismissed the complaints of the aggrieved political parties, asking them instead to “go to court” if they were not satisfied with the results.

For instance, in its response, the APC said it was prepared to meet Atiku and Obi in court. Its spokesman, Mr. Festus Keyamo, said Atiku’s decision to challenge the outcome of the results was welcome.

In a press statement, Keyamo said they were prepared to meet their challenge, no matter the nature of the challenge, anywhere and anytime. He added that Atiku firstly breached the zoning principle within his own party by insisting on running for president when that was clearly against the mood of the nation.

Also reacting to Obi’s claim, the Director of Media and Publicity of the APC Presidential Campaign Council, Mr. Bayo Onanuga said his principal and party would be willing to engage the former Anambra State governor only if he had concrete evidence to prove he won the presidential election.

Onanuga argued that for Obi to claim victory in an election where the Labour Party candidate emerged third was “very weird”.

He said Obi, like every Nigerian, was entitled to seek redress in court provided he was convinced his team had evidence of the electoral fraud to present before the tribunal.

The idea of going to court was first mooted by INEC when it advised the aggrieved parties to challenge results in court.

Before the declaration of the winner of the election, the PDP agent, Senator Dino Melaye, and other party agents, had staged a walkout of the National Collation Centre in Abuja over INEC’s delay in uploading the presidential election results to the election results viewing portal (IRev).

They also accused INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu of rigging the electoral process. The parties demanded that the presidential election be conducted afresh, saying it was not free and “far from being fair or transparent.”

But INEC asked the parties aggrieved to approach the court. In a statement signed by the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, the commission said the call for Yakubu’s resignation was “misplaced”. He also said the allegation by Melaye that the INEC chairman allocated scores to parties was unfounded and irresponsible.

“The 2023 general election processes are in their final stages of completion. It is only fair for aggrieved parties to allow the conclusion of the process and approach the courts with their evidence to pursue their cases,” he said.

Many analysts have frowned at the “go to court” or “we will meet you” mantra which is fast gaining traction in the country each a crime is committed or there is deliberate violation or breach of the law.

Apart from the inability of the courts to nullify or upturn the victory of a winner of any presidential election in Nigeria, the judiciary has not acquitted itself well enough over the years to boost the confidence of the aggrieved candidates and their supporters. While Atiku and Obi recalled a good history of the judiciary in their political lives, political analysts have argued that the contemporary history of the judiciary can no longer affirm it.

Although the courts are said not to be sentimental and would only adjudicate in a case based on the submissions before them, certain judgments have only exposed the partiality of the judges. This, perhaps, explains why many are not excited about the ‘let’s meet in court’ concept. 

In Nigeria now, it is common to hear people daring anybody crying for justice to go to court. To these sets of people, because of the influence they command or their wealth, they feel that they can influence judges to deliver cases in their favour.

Whether in the Rotimi Amaechi or Governor Hope Uzodimma’s case, or the Senator Ahmad Lawan and Godswill Akpabio’s cases and many others, Nigerians have viewed many decisions of the courts with suspicion.

Though Atiku and Obi have gone to court, providing sufficient evidence to prove their allegations of malpractice is a different ball game, given the difficult challenges in proving allegations of fraud in election petitions.

Already, Obi’s quest to challenge Tinubu’s victory experienced its first setback on Wednesday when the Court of Appeal, Abuja turned down his request seeking to stop INEC from reconfiguring the BVAS equipment used for the conduct of the February 25 presidential election.

The court held that granting the request would jeopardise the electoral body in the conduct of the March 11 governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections.

Many analysts had argued that INEC wanted to use the March 18 elections to blackmail the court to accept its request. There are concerns that the electoral body may wipe off or tamper with the evidence in BVAS.

The opposition parties were shocked that the court agreed with INEC’s assurance that the information on accreditation contained in the BVAS devices had been uploaded into its back up server and could be accessed at any time.

It was indeed surprising that the same INEC that gave Nigerians every assurance that it would use its improved technology to conduct the February 25, only to renege on the election day, could convince anyone that it had uploaded the relevant information into its back-up server.

Currently, many Nigerians feel that the greatest debt judicial officers owe the country is to make sure that an election rigger should not be allowed to answer the president of Nigeria. They said that since judicial officers live in the country with everybody, and hear and witness what happens in the society like every other person, it should inflame them to help the country to deliver justice that is clear to everybody, not technicalities.

The imperative of the country’s common survival compels the justices to assist in weeding out dead things and destructive politicians by the roots and quicken the growth of a new country.

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