By Onikepo Braithwaite
I mourn my childhood and family friend, Abimbola Ogunbanjo, OFR aka Craig, and my very dear, old friend, Dr Herbert Wigwe, CON, Doreen and Chizi, Herbert’s wife and son. May the flights of angels sing them to their rest. Amen. Herbie’s Parents are still very much alive, and I pray that God who knows best, finds a way to comfort them. Amen.
“Government is a trust, and the officers of the Government are trustees; and both the trust and trustees are created for the benefit of the people”
– Henry Clay
Hearty congratulations Learned Silk, Babtunde Raji Fashola, CON, on the presentation of his Book, “NIGERIAN PUBLIC DISCOURSE The Interplay of Empirical Evidence and Hyperbole”. The event held last Thursday at the Banquet Hall of Eko Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos, and the Book was reviewed by Mr Opeyemi Agbaje. Unfortunately, I have not read the Book yet; there were too many people gathered at the Bookstand trying to get their own copies of the Book, and being quite a ‘Smallie’ in terms of physical height, I stood absolutely no chance of getting through the crowd to grab my own copy!
However, there was a Panel Discussion at the event, and one of my takeaways from it, was the emphasis on the importance of reliable statistics and data, as a basis for policy making, and also for the media, for the dissemination of verified information to the public. The importance of trust in where the data comes from, was raised by one of the Panellists, Adesuwa Giwa-Osagie, partly that if one doesn’t trust the source, one may have difficulty in believing the data. I concur. The President was represented by his Chief of Staff, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, who also raised concerns about social media becoming a menace, because of the amount of fake news that circulates therein.
The truth is that, sadly, the trust quotient of Nigerians in the three arms of government, has dwindled over the years, and in this day and age of social media and freedom of expression (see Section 39(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended in 2023)(the Constitution)), we see ample evidence of this distrust in the information we see being peddled all over the place, even if half of what we read is false. And, while it is true that no government can ever satisfy everybody, the massive corruption of public officials, the decline in the standard of living of Nigerians coupled with the somewhat insecure environment in several parts of the country, while public officials, on the other hand, live in a lap of luxury, and the seeming insensitivity of Government to the plight of Nigerians, has contributed in no small measure to the erosion of citizens’ trust in Government. It is important for this relatively new administration, to start to earn the trust of Nigerians. Anyone as old as I am (58 years old) or older, may remember the incantation of the famous Nigerian Magician, ‘Professor Peller’, who was one of the stars of our youth – “Ori changer, babari changer!” – when he chanted this incantation, something would mysteriously appear from nowhere or disappear. While President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, GCFR (PBAT) came in on the mantra of ‘Renewed Hope’, he’s no Magician, nor do I recall that he promised us a magical transformation like Cinderella’s; and it would take magic to immediately repair the damage that has been done to Nigeria in the last one and a half decades, as Nigerians expect. I’m sure we are all aware that it takes longer to build, while destruction can take place in the twinkling of an eye.
Nevertheless, it is PBAT’s duty as the President to earn the trust of the people by going beyond rhetorics and motivational speaking, to governing Nigeria in a transparent manner and making good decisions in the interest of Nigeria and the people, the best of which are contained in the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, stated in Chapter II of the Constitution. Nigerians are going through immense hardship presently, fuelled by the removal of petrol subsidy – a consequence of years of unprecedented corruption, bad policies and poor governance. To build trust, this administration must show more compassion towards the people by easing our pain. We expected a complete recalibration of policies, particularly in terms of security and the economy with the advent of the Tinubu administration, as it is obvious to all that, to continue with business as usual in our current circumstances, that is, doing things the same way and expecting different outcomes, will only result in more failure.
The removal of the petrol subsidy, was bound to result in inflation and negative multiplier effects, and Government should have planned to do more, to cushion the people from these difficult effects. One needn’t be a rocket scientist, to figure that an administration that can spend millions of scarce foreign exchange on imported vehicles for privileged officials while the majority of workers are left to their own devices, battling with Government to increase their paltry, what has now been devalued to the equivalent of about $20 a month income, will definitely be viewed with suspicion by the masses.
It may be useful to ascertain the exact quantity of fuel Nigeria was actually importing on a monthly basis over the last 20 years, in order to discover how much was truly being expended as the real subsidy, and how much went to subsidising corruption and scam, to help Nigerians understand better. This kind of transparency and accountability, will not only build the people’s confidence in Government, but reduce the incidence of dissemination of false information all over the place.
The Legislature’s penchant for self-service amongst other things, has also contributed to this arm of government losing the trust of the people, many questioning whether they are carrying out their constitutional functions (see Sections 4, 88 & 89 of the Constitution).
The Judiciary has also not been spared from this trust deficit, as a result of the actions of some erring judicial officers, who for example, are guilty of engaging in abuse of court process, while some have knowingly departed from the law and established judicial precedent, to hand down inexplicably perverse decisions – see the recent Court of Appeal cases of Abba Kabir Yusuf v Nasir Yusuf Gawuna; PDP Plateau Lawmakers; Plateau Governor, Caleb Mutfwang.
The Imo State Case
However, while the perverseness of some judgements cannot be denied, when in doubt, it is better to verify your facts before running with a false narrative and disseminating nonsense, as it could cause irreparable damage. For instance, the case of Uzodinma v Ihedioha (2020) LPELR-50260 (SC) per Kudirat Motonmori Olatokunbo Kekere-Ekun, JSC (Her Lordship), has become a recurring decimal, since this unanimous decision was handed down by the Apex Court. I have followed Her Lordship’s career on the Bench and it has been a blemish-free one; she has a reputation for being a no-nonsense, incorruptible Judge, so when the media kept harping on the point that Hope Uzodinma who came fourth in the election was declared the winner by the Apex Court, I decided to read the case, because even though her Lordship is not infallible, I trust in her capabilities as a Jurist. I must also state for the record that I have never met Mr Uzodinma, nor do I particularly care for him, especially after the recent assault of the NLC President, Comrade Joe Ajaero in Imo State. I certainly wouldn’t have had even one sleepless night, had Uzodinma lost his appeal!
Firstly, it is trite that, a court can only decide a case based upon the evidence presented before it; judgement cannot be given based on private or public sentiments. See the case of Inakoju & Ors v Adeleke & Ors (2007) LPELR-1510(SC) per George Adesola Oguntade, JSC (Dissenting).
For one to have a full grasp of the decision in Uzodinma’s case, there must be a community reading of the judgement in Uche Nwosu v Action People’s Party & Ors 2020 16 N.W.L.R. Part 1749 Page 28-42 per Amina Adamu Augie, JSC (Nwosu’s case) and Uzodinma v Ihedioha (Supra).
As we are all aware, Uche Nwosu was alleged to have taken the second position in the 2019 Imo Gubernatorial election. But, the Supreme Court declared his nomination as Gubernatorial candidate in the 2019 election to be void in Nwosu v APP (Supra), as it was contrary to Section 37 of the old Electoral Act 2010 (EA), which prohibited a candidate from knowingly allowing himself to be nominated by more than one political party or in more than one constituency. On 31/10/18, Action Alliance Party submitted a letter forwarding Nwosu’s Form CF001 as its candidate to INEC. On 2/11/18, Nwosu had also written to the Chairman of INEC and submitted Form CF001 as the Gubernatorial candidate of APC. In short, INEC received two forms signed by and sworn to by Uche Nwosu as the Gubernatorial candidate of two parties, AA & APC (double nomination).
In Uzodinma’s case, he (the Appellant) contended that his votes from 388 polling units (that were his stronghold) were excluded at the Collation Centre. He didn’t contend that the election didn’t hold, or that there was foul play at the polling units. Section 74 of the EA provided that copies of the duly signed result sheets should be given to Police Officers and Polling Agents. The measure of availing the Police with copies of the results is for record purposes, like a check mechanism, especially in the event of unlawful cancellations, alterations or mutilations.
Election Forms EC8A (Statement of Results from the Polling Unit) and EC8B (Ward Collated Results) (Form EC8 Series) are required to prove unlawful exclusion results at the Collation level, and these documents were tendered through the Police. Uzodinma called 54 witnesses, including 22 Local Government Area Collation Agents.
Even though INEC alleged that the excluded results tendered by the Police were forged, INEC did not adduce any evidence to prove this allegation, nor did they tender any results to contradict the excluded results. In Aderounmu & Anor v Olowu (2000) LPELR-141(SC) per Emmanuel Olayinka Ayoola, JSC, a case that involved the declaration of title to land, the Supreme Court held inter alia that “…where the Defendant alleges that the document relied on by the Plaintiff for the title he seeks is a forgery, the burden is on the Defendant who so alleges to prove the fact. Notwithstanding the general onus which lies on the Plaintiff to prove his entitlement to the declaration he claims, the evidential burden of proving certain facts occasionally shifts to the Defendant”. While Uzodinma was able to prove to the Apex Court that 213,693 and 1,903 votes accruing to him and Ihedioha respectively were unlawfully excluded, Ihedioha and INEC failed to discharge the evidential burden that shifted to them to adduce evidence to disprove the veracity of the Forms EC8A & B. Should the Supreme Court have said, ‘let’s ignore the evidence before us, and instead decide the case on unproven allegations?’ That would have been perverse. See the case of Iteogu v LPDC 2018 LPELR-43845(SC). Or, ‘let’s leave Ihedioha as Governor, because we prefer him to Uzodinma?’ People have constantly criticised the courts, saying they deny the people their choices of elected officials because of legal technicalities. In this case, the Petitioner adduced uncontroverted evidence that over 200,000 people’s votes were unlawfully excluded, and it is also a problem! Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t!
In simple terms, let’s assume there is an examination and the Teacher declares that A came first, B, C & D, second, third and fourth. B cheated on the exam, and his results are cancelled. Then it is discovered that the last two pages of D’s script were marked, but the scores were not added to D’s final result. A copy of the scripts were given to the Police after the marking, from which D discovered that his score on the last two pages were excluded from his final result. The score was then added to what D had before, and D was adjudged to have scored the highest, over and above A & C. There is no argument that D didn’t take the exam, so, calling the Invigilator to testify is unnecessary. The Police tendering their copy of D’s exam script, is enough to prove the miscalculation. The burden of proof then shifts to those who claim that D committed exam malpractice by adding on the last two pages after the exam, to prove their allegation. If they fail or neglect to discharge this burden of proof, then D’s new mark must be accepted, because in law, without any concrete proof to the contrary, uncontroverted evidence is taken as true.
On the other side of the coin, some Lawyers have argued that the role of the court is not to declare winners in elections; and so, for example, in Uzodinma’s case, the Apex Court should only have recognised the malpractice of unlawful exclusion of votes and ordered INEC to conduct a fresh election particularly as the addition of votes may have raised other questions. This however, is a story for another day.
The trust that Kekere-Ekun, JSC has built over the years as a judicial officer, encouraged me to look deeper into the Imo case. If I didn’t know her reputation, I may not have been curious to discover the reasoning behind the Uzodinma judgement. Instead, I may have just dismissed it, as another perverse judgement. Trust is crucial.
My point? While there will always be naysayers, Government must also endeavour to build trust between itself and the citizenry as in the aforementioned words of Henry Clay, by developing integrity and ensuring that it makes decisions for the benefit of the people, that is, good policy making, while avoiding situations that instead, breed doubt, like insensitivity to their plight, and over-taxing the ordinary citizens when they can barely eke out a living, or buying luxury cars for public officials when the masses cannot afford transportation fare. This will contribute significantly in reducing the dissemination of hyperbole and outright falsehoods, which tap some of their roots in distrust arising from opaqueness, corruption and incompetence in governance.