The validation of the 2023 presidential poll result by the Supreme Court comes with a burden on the winner, writes Monday Philips Ekpe

First, a digression. I’m not a fan of our post-election petition schedule. Both the constitution and electoral act obviously didn’t take into consideration the socio-political peculiarities of the country before setting that timetable. The practice in countries like Kenya where all relevant legal cases are decided before the winners are sworn in makes more sense to me. I see no wisdom in inaugurating persons into executive positions and advising the aggrieved parties to take their grievances to court for the actualisation of their allegedly denied mandates. True, some victories have been upturned that way in the past; many more, including those with credible arguments, have needlessly hit the rock.

It’s as if the system keeps rigging the entire process in favour of the incumbents who, at any rate, preside over the resources of state and also indirectly the personnel who determine the outcomes of the litigations. The present arrangement doesn’t help the integrity of the results which could even go the way of the declared winners, deservedly. The volume of public assets that has been mobilised by sitting Nigerian state chief executives in the defence of their electoral fortunes is better imagined.

For lack of evidence, no insinuation is being made here that the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court (SC) the other day to uphold the declaration of President Bola Tinubu as winner of the February 25 presidential election came at a crooked price. The legitimacy of any government, however, is not always determined by hard facts or pronouncements by the election umpire or rulings obtained from the hallowed chambers of courts. Instead, it’s very much about people’s perception. All it takes is for a sizable number of them to strongly believe that some victory has been gained through foul means. The neck-to-neck status of the votes attributed to Tinubu and his closest challengers – Waziri Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Mr Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) – arguably the most spectacular in the nation’s political history, should sober everyone, particularly the contestants themselves.

Nothing said takes away Tinubu’s right to savour his legal triumphs that have jointly constituted a bulwark of his political mystique. From 1999 when he was the governor of Lagos State to date, the president has survived gruelling court engagements that could easily have scuttled his self-proclaimed life ambition to become president of Nigeria. Call him a survivalist. Call him someone who knows his way around the nation’s vulnerable judiciary and how to make it work for his good. Or, simply, a man conversant with his country’s weaknesses so well that he can’t be bothered by any storm in the horizon. Whichever label Tinubu ends with, he is, today, Nigeria’s first citizen, having been cleared by the country’s prime temple of justice of accusations of transgressions and iniquities.

At this time of triumph, one thing Tinubu must avoid is the lure of triumphalism, for, in truth, even the atmosphere is opposed to it. Unless he is decidedly insensitive to the critical indices of national unity and progress that are at a record low, he should take steps beyond calling the losers to join hands with his government to move Nigeria forward. How he reacts to his opponents, for instance. Only last Monday, the PDP candidate addressed a world press conference where he denounced the conclusions of the apex court in the matter he had placed before it. Some have tagged it as contempt. Others think that it was a display of belly-aching, the tantrums of a bad loser. This isn’t the time for the president’s handlers to jump into the ring to pummel to stupor a man who is supposed to be down on canvas.

Even though there’s no morality in the politics practiced in these parts, the right thing for the presidency to do now is to take the elevated route and follow magnanimity to its logical closure. One doesn’t have to be a lawyer to come to terms with the finality of SC judgements. We can only wonder whether the appeal to God would be initiated right away or in heaven and what forms the proceedings would take. Anything less than facing squarely the weightier issues that have forced a once-bubbling country on its knees could usher this government into the ignoble club of the clueless administrations which have run the nation over time. No matter the insults, deserved or otherwise, thrown at the runners-up of the 2023 presidential poll, history will be kind to them on at least one ground: Not taking the laws into their own hands after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the winner, but approaching the courts to realise their canvassed victories. Let’s give honour to whom it’s due. The toxic environment in the country before, during and after the election could have easily pushed it downhill. Huge credit should go to the leadership provided by the likes of Abubakar and Obi whose teeming supporters could have given expressions to their latent volcanic emotions if nudged for that purpose.         

Now that the SC, the country’s highest adjudicator, has mandated Tinubu to continue steering the ship of state, it’s in the nation’s interest for him to be seen to lead the way towards achieving corporate healing and cohesion. For, not much can be accomplished in a badly divided house. While one may not be able to point to many times Nigeria has enjoyed total unity and prosperity in its chequered journey of nationhood, this period seems to be among its worst. Our signature fault-lines of ethnicity, region and religion have continued to be deployed especially by politicians who derive strength from them to gain selfish, inordinate advantages. If Tinubu truly means to better the lives of Nigerians and later leave the stage with enduring legacies, he should roll up his sleeves, open his ears to positive contributions and criticism, and be an active quarterback.

Complaints have been trailing some of his appointments as not having enough national spread and being skewed to favour those from his own zone. Mr. President mustn’t forget that his predecessor, President Muhammadu Buhari, was also substantially and frequently accused of nepotism. In addition, the job of meaningfully monitoring his appointees suffered greatly to the detriment of the onerous task of nation-building. Tinubu shouldn’t follow that path.

Already, his two most important fiscal decisions so far, namely fuel subsidy removal (the veracity still being debated) and floatation of the naira, have conspired to move the currency closer to a worthless state. The direct consequence of these shabbily executed policies is a drastic upturning of the people’s condition of living. It’s too early to forget that Buhari and his team didn’t bequeath a decent economy to Nigerians. Unemployment, hunger and penury had settled into tens of millions of homes under the last administration which actually received a medal for superintending over the world’s largest concentration of multidimensionally poor people before leaving office.

One looming tragedy, if not addressed quickly and frontally, is an overriding feeling out there that this government appears set for underperformance, even in comparison to Buhari’s. This pessimism shouldn’t be viewed as impatience, cynicism or partisanship. After all, a drowning person would grab a straw in the hope of being saved. The people are desperately looking for something to hold onto in a trying moment when the cardinal creed revolves around the basic need to survive. For most of them, thriving is now a lofty aspiration. In this dire situation, no true leader would pursue anything that distracts from the noble art of responsive governance.

Dr Ekpe is a member of THISDAY Editorial Board

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