From today, May 8, the Presidential Election Tribunal will begin sitting on the petitions filed by the aggrieved candidates and political parties in the February 25 polls.
This is significant in several ways, as it marks the first step to the final resolution of the election process, which will begin the national healing of the badly fractured polity torn into ethnic cleavages in the course of the polls.
However, we are concerned with the narrative being peddled by the government, which had encouraged aggrieved people to go court, by insisting the election was free and fair, a position only the Tribunal can now determine. This was President Buhari’s assessment to King Charles of U.K. in a meeting at the weekend. It shows government’s bias and complicity, which may affect public perception of the outcome. Such possibility could damage the image of the judiciary in future.
Perhaps, nothing symbolizes Nigeria’s socio-economic and political decline more than the shambolic February 25, 2023 Presidential election and the March 18, 2023 Gubernatorial and House of Assembly elections. Despite generous expenditure and the widely celebrated 2022 Electoral Act and technology, expected to change the narratives, the elections were worse than those of 2019, which were worse than those of 2015 and so on.
Almost N400 billion was spent on that exercise – which is more than 100 percent above the N190 billion spent in 2019, which, in turn, was about 80 percent more than the N109 billion spent in 2015 and so on. There were about 94 million people in the voters’ register (the highest number ever) about 9.5 million of who enthusiastically registered (against all odds) to vote for the first time, on the promise of the new Electoral Act and technology.
Nigerians were expectant, with high hopes for another credible election since 1993. Shamefully, the colossal expenditure only brought more sorrow, tears and blood – instead of improvement – to the electoral process.
The Electoral Act, 2022 and its complementary technology – designed to arrest stone-age election malpractices and to midwife transparency and objective outcomes – were, obviously, subverted.
That Act provided for biometric accreditation of voters (to eliminate ghost-voting) and for real-time uploading of polling data directly from the polling unit to the central result collation and viewing portal (IReV) of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the world to witness, as a mark of transparency, once every accredited voter has cast his vote and the ballots tallied and signed by all parties – leaving no room for external influence or manipulation.
Sadly, that was not to be when it came to uploading Presidential election data. Thus, it is widely believed that the uploading technology was sabotaged (in the case of Presidential election data) to make way for fake returns in favour of a losing candidate.
Evil grows exponentially. This subversion of Presidential election was copied in the March 18, 2023 gubernatorial election, nationwide and, then, taken a notch higher in the April 15, 2023 supplementary election. For example, in the Adamawa State supplementary for governorship, the Resident Electoral Commissioner (instead of the Returning Officer) jumped the queue to declare the APC candidate winner, with the returns of some local governments still outstanding!
Evidence abounds of buying, suppression, reduction and transposition of votes and of intimidation, ethnic profiling and disenfranchisement of those presumed to be opponents’ supporters, nationwide. In particular, the Igbo and their look-alikes were prevented from voting in most parts of Lagos State by thugs and bloodhounds of the ruling party who also inflicted numerous deaths and mortal wounds on them.
The aftermath of all this rascality has been the worsening of the ethnic and religious divisions fermented by the Muhammadu Buhari administration. Reuniting Nigerians again will be no mean task.
We commend aggrieved parties for calming their followers and for peaceful resort to the Election Petition Tribunals to seek redress. They are our heroes of that debacle called election. Asking them to embrace the controversial results declared by the INEC or the beneficiaries of the apparent fraud amounts to adding insult to injury. It is their constitutional right to explore every legal opportunity of redress as part of democratic process.
There can be no peace without justice and no development without peace. Justice should not only be done but seen to be done. And the judiciary is in the best position to get to the roots and feed all parties with the facts. Let the electoral process run its course for the sake of proper healing and restoration.
Above all, we believe that incidents of that election could be easily unraveled by IT experts and by forensic audit of the original Form EC8As signed by all parties at the polling units. There should be no remission on the pretext of “technicalities” or “substantial compliance”
Therefore, we condemn all strong-arm tactics, by agents of the ruling party and the Federal Government, such as gagging the mass media and projecting phantom treason, interim government and other anxieties, designed as pretexts to clamp down on aggrieved parties and sweep truth under the carpet. We stand with media houses and all those in court to seek justice and to defend their fundamental rights.
The eyes of the whole world are now on the Nigerian judiciary for justice so that the country may move on. To condone the permissiveness of the INEC, the dictatorship of the ruling parties and the disputed results of that election, as fait accompli, is to consign Nigeria to perdition. It is our hope and expectations that the lordships muster the fortitude, as were the cases in Kenya and Malawi, to rise to the occasion.