In a situation where there are concerns over the outcome of the 2023 general elections with individuals daily losing confidence in the country and its various institutions, it behoves on the judiciary saddled with the responsibility of deciding who takes over from President Muhammadu Buhari come May 29, 2023, to make that process of decision very transparent for acceptability by all. Alex Enumah writes.
The tasks before the five-member panel of Justices of the Court of Appeal, handling the 2023 Presidential Election cases is no doubt herculean but still surmountable, if the justices can abide by one of the greatest and most relevant principles of justice as presented by Lord Hewart, one of the great legal luminary of all times who stated that, “It is not merely of some importance but is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done”.
The 2023 presidential election is the seventh election in the Fourth Republic and the 10th since Nigeria gained independence in 1960, however, the heat generated or is generating seems to have surpassed previous elections. Its tension could be compared to that of the 1993 election, although won by the late business mogul and philanthropist, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, which was declared inconclusive.
While in the instant case, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, has been declared president-elect by the electoral umpire, efforts are on to ensure Tinubu is not sworn in come May 29, until some constitutional benchmarks relating to his declaration are met.
Besides the suit filed by some aggrieved voters in the Federal Capital Territory, (FCT), Abuja, before a Federal High Court, Abuja, seeking the suspension of Tinubu’s inauguration on account that he did not score 25% in the FCT as required by the Constitution, there are three pending petitions before the Presidential Election Petition Court (PREPEC) following the withdrawal of two.
Five political parties and their presidential candidates had initially filed petitions before the court, they include the Action Alliance (AA), Action Peoples Party (APP), Labour Party (LP), Allied Peoples Movement (APM), and People’s Democratic Party (PDP). However, the AA and APP have withdrawn their petitions.
The petitioners mainly hinged their case on the alleged failure of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to comply with its guidelines as well as the deployment of the Bi-modal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) machine to upload results real-time on INEC Result Viewing (IReV) portal. They had also alleged corrupt practices and non-qualification of Tinubu to participate in the poll as well as faulting INEC for announcing Tinubu winner having not scored 25% in the FCT.
INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, had boasted with the BVAS and IReV technologies as the game changer that would produce Nigeria’s most credible, freest, and fairest elections devoid of violence, ballot box snatching, vote buying, and manipulation among others. Unfortunately, the election to some stakeholders has been adjudged the worst so far since this republic. Hence, the current petitions at the PREPEC.
However, as the PREPEC commences sittings, the PDP and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, brought an “innocuous application” as his lawyer, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, puts it before the court.
His simple prayer is for the court to permit live broadcast of the PREPEC proceedings.
The application “is innocuous, it will facilitate the hearing of the case”, Uche said while urging the court to step it down for adoption.
In the motion dated May 5, and filed May 7, the petitioners are specifically praying the tribunal for “an order directing the Court’s Registry and the parties on modalities for admission of media practitioners and their equipment into the courtroom”.
They predicated the application on many grounds including that: The matter before the Honourable Court is a dispute over the outcome of the Presidential Election held on 25th February 2023, a matter of national concern and public interest, involving citizens and voters in the 36 States of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, who voted and participated in the said election; and the International Community as regards the workings of Nigeria’s Electoral Process”.
They contended that being a unique electoral dispute with a peculiar constitutional dimension, it is a matter of public interest whereof millions of Nigerian citizens and voters are stakeholders with a constitutional right to receive.
“An integral part of the constitutional duty of the Court to hold proceedings in public is a discretion to allow public access to proceedings either physically or by electronic means.
“With the huge and tremendous technological advances and developments in Nigeria and beyond, including the current trend by this Honourable Court towards embracing electronic procedures, virtual hearing and electronic filing, a departure from the Rules to allow a regulated televising of the proceedings in this matter is in consonance with the maxim that justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done.
“Televising court proceedings is not alien to this Honourable Court, and will enhance public confidence”.
However, less than 24 hours of Atiku’s application for live broadcast, the Labour Party and its presidential candidate, Mr Peter Obi, declared support for Atiku’s application.
Speaking with newsmen at the end of Wednesday’s pre-hearing session, Obi and Labour Party’s lead lawyer, Dr. Levi Uzoukwu SAN, who noted that Atiku’s request was not novel said the current situation in the country today has made a live broadcast of the court’s sitting imperative, adding that, as such, Obi and the Labour Party, will give their full support to Atiku and PDP at the hearing of the application.
According to Uzoukwu, a live broadcast of the proceedings will enable, “Nigerians have first-hand information on the goings-on” at the PREPEC, adding that it will clear whatever doubts in the minds of Nigeria, regarding the proceedings.
He noted that the live broadcast of the court’s proceedings was initiated by the colonial masters but was later jettisoned by politicians when the country gained independence. While arguing that the reality on the ground today supports live broadcast, Uzoukwu pointed out that the courtroom is too small and can hardly accommodate 200 persons which is a far cry of a reasonable representation of the people.
If there is any time the court must restore public confidence it is now. Besides ordinary Nigerians, even a cross-section of the legal profession has also lost confidence in the judiciary. For example, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, said he has lost faith in the judiciary due to some of its recent judgments. He said, “I have lost a bit of confidence in what the courts have been doing lately”, while recalling of times when one could easily predict the outcome of a case by marrying available facts with the law.
“There was a time you could say oh, on the facts and the law, this is the likely outcome, today you cannot because there have been all kinds of silly decisions, the silliest was that concerning the President of the Senate, who in order to become Nigeria’s president rushed off to buy the presidential ticket of the All Progressives Congress and that meant he did not take part in the senatorial primary.
“Lo and behold he lost, he now ran back after the horse has bolted. Clearly to anybody who has any brain which the Supreme Court justices might have had and they say no, that the man actually should be the senatorial candidate; that is the most ridiculous decision that I have ever heard that the Supreme Court has delivered”, the former NBA President pointed out.
Besides the case of the Senate President, Agbakoba also pointed at the apex court’s judgment on Imo State, “Where everything was turned upside down”.
“So, I don’t have the sort of confidence that I used to have in the judiciary and I will not be surprised if this thing goes one way or the other; I cannot forecast the final outcome”, he added.
In essence, with its permission for live broadcast, the judiciary is being offered a golden opportunity to redeem its image and restore the hope of the people in its ability and readiness to deliver justice without fear or favour.
The question to ask is what will the opposition gain by moving against the application or what will the court say it is protecting by refusing to grant the application for live broadcast of proceedings? If the court seems intimidated by the perceived barrage of television cameras that may besiege its hallowed chambers, it needs not entertain any fear as just one camera can serve all the broadcast houses in the country and beyond and at no cost to the court or the opposition.