WEDNESDAY COLUMN by USSIJU MEDANER
Sometimes around 7 pm on the eve of January 14th, 2020, I had an amusing encounter with my neighbour’s daughters over the US-Iran hostility; and at a point, the girls were seriously worried about it as I heard them saying Iran is very close to Nigeria and that Nigeria has been ordered to support the US! They appeared really worried to the point of planning an escape out of Abuja to their village until the war – as it seems to them – is over. They were ignorant of the realities of the issue they were discussing but their innocent ignorance and responses were both acceptable and entertaining. I however stayed till the end to enjoy the discussion and also took my time to allay their fears.
That same night, about 10 pm, I came across a certain response to the breaking news of the removal of the PDP governor in Imo state by the Supreme Court. That response was from Deji Adayanju via his Twitter handle. But Deji is not like those girls; he is educated and enlightened enough to be able to discern facts of issues. Deji, just like several others who share his sentiment and position on the Supreme Court judgement on Imo state, knows that it is tantamount to fallacy of presumption to respond to an issue or rather take a position on an issue without recourse to details of the matter .
As at the time we woke up on Monday morning, the illusory reaction has spread; this group of people, who claimed to be democrat and adherence of rule of law, are littered on the streets disparaging the sanctity and integrity of the Supreme Court and its Justices. Unfortunately, having in its pack of frontier was the former Governor Peter Obi of Anambra state, who was a huge beneficiary of the Supreme Court rising to occasions of delivering unbiased judgement.
Months ago, in Zamfara, the court was the only institution in Nigeria that is unblemished; in Rivers, the court was the last hope of Nigeria; in Oyo, Justice Tanko led Court was unbiased; but today, the Supreme court is a sell-out, appendage of the ruling party. Paid crowd liter the street of states to shout the partiality of the same court they had been praising to high heaven till now. No wonder, all the governors who are beneficiary of the impartiality of the Supreme Court refused to associate themselves with the show of shame by the PDP.
Perhaps, because like many other Nigerians, I had not bothered to follow the elements of the Hope Uzodinma and APC appeal submission at the court. I was surprised the moment the unanimous judgement against the PDP gubernatorial victory at the march, 2019 poll was read, but I restrained myself from making any comment until I have perused the detail of the judgement as read by Justice kekere-Ekun and then I know better.
Deji Adeyanju, PDP and as usual the community of wailers, as it has become a slang in Nigeria, weren’t interested in the premises from which the ruling was based. The only thing they want to see and what they want the uninformed and the blind followers of their course to know is how someone could come all the way from fourth position to become the winner; they want the whole world to be fixated on the magic of the last becoming the first. By so doing, they are attempting to create a trust issue for the judiciary and the executive, which are both indirectly and directly accused of masterminding the judgement.
This divisive conjecture by individuals and organisations who should know better is totally unacceptable. It is a work of minds that are bent on rejecting truth, justice and positive change; men, who for hunger for power, have become intoxicated with destructive interjection into the national development processes and would do and say anything to disrupt processes and stain authorities.
If Nigerians were made to believe that the current Administration of President Buhari had stained his garment of integrity by playing the old PDP game of 13 is greater than 19, to hand over Imo state to his party, as these men wished, it would be a big dent not only on the president but on all of us who believe in the independence of Judiciary.
It is on this premise that I have decided to contribute to the national discourse on the landmark judgement that caught the entire country unaware and also for posterity sake – to present my candid and unbiased assessment of the judgement and the implications for the Nigerian nation.
The posture taken by the opposition party( particularly PDP), the mass supporters of PDP and a section of Nigerians, who characteristically answer to their emotional biases on national issues, is one capable of setting a platform for grim political discord and democratic strain on the delicate structure of the country as it is at the moment.
If the sanctity and integrity of the judiciary, most especially the highest court of the land is successfully questioned as the opposition is trying to to do, then we would be done with as a democratic and law abiding nation. What would then remain of us is general mistrust of our systems and more tendencies for anarchy. If the opposition would prefer the nation to sink into anarchy because they lost a case at the Supreme Court, well-meaning Nigerians must all stand together to defend the country.
Over the last few months, the judiciary, all the way to the Supreme Court, has proved to Nigerians and Nigeria that the judiciary, as it is currently constituted, is the last hope of all Nigerians. Unexpectedly, and as a marked departure from what we were accustomed to, we saw the Supreme Court dealt strong blows to the ruling party ( the APC) in Rivers State and Zamfara state; we saw monumental rulings across the country that were against the interest of the ruling party. On all those occasions, the ruling party cried foul while the opposition rejoiced and praised the judiciary to high heaven. If the presidency wanted to control the judiciary or rather is controlling the judiciary as PDP alleges, where was the control when the Supreme Court stripped the ruling APC of its victory and possible opportunities in Rivers and Zamfara. Was it not much easier to give the Chief justice a marching order in Zamfara than in Imo?
The Supreme Court grows taller above emotional reactions and repeatedly abides by the rule of law and technicality in deciding outcome of very many highly sensitive cases. So what happened in the case of Imo state? On what premises did the Supreme Court upturned the victory of PDP and went all the way to hand over the victory to an APC candidate?
This is already littering the public domain: elections held on the 9th March, 2019 at about 4000 polling units across Imo state; by the time the elections were concluded in the evening, votes were counted and recorded in form P as required by the electoral law. The results as recorded in the form P in all the polling units were duly attested to by all party agents present, the presiding officers and the police, as required, attested to it and were given a duplicate copy at each polling unit.
Getting to the collation center, out of the results from about 3800 polling units, results from about 280 were duly rejected by the presiding officers from the various polling units while results coming from certain 388 polling units were summarily excluded by the collation officer because he concluded the result were forged.
That was where the problem started. The electoral law is quite clear on what procedure is permissible. Section 66 (1) of the electoral Act states that “Subject to subsection 2 of this section, a ballot paper which does not bear the official mark shall not be counted.” Section 67 (1) states that “The Presiding Officer shall endorse the word “rejected” on the ballot paper rejected… and the ballot paper shall not be counted…’’
The implication of the above stated wordings of the Acts is that the onus lies on the Presiding Officer to decide at the polling unit what vote is valid and what vote is invalid and to accept or reject accordingly.
Once votes are accepted, Section 63 (1) says “The Presiding Officer shall, after counting the votes at the polling unit, enter the votes scored by each candidate in a form to be prescribed by the commission as the case may be (that happened to be form PPPP).” Subsection (2) says “The form shall be signed and stamped by the Presiding Officer and counter signed by the candidates or their Polling Agents where available at the polling unit;” subsection (3) says “The Presiding Officer shall give to the Polling Agents and the police officer where available a copy each of the completed forms after it has been duly signed as provided in subsection (2) of this section.
So very clearly, in the contested 388 polling units, the ballots were all deemed valid by the various Presiding Officers as the votes were counted without any endorsement of the word “rejected.” The votes were counted, duly signed and copies distributed to all party agents and the police officer present, who also impend their signatures on the original.
So by all standards, excluding the results from the 388 polling units by the Collation Officer when the presiding officers did not complain of any irregularity through recognised process is unacceptable by the electoral acts. To put it differently, Collation Officers according to the electoral act, do not have power to reject or exclude duly processed election results by Presiding Officers – that is, coming from polling units – provided that the results are not marked ‘rejected’ by the Presiding Officers.
I do not submit that there were no manipulations of the election figures. I wasn’t there, but if the Presiding Officers had failed to do their jobs, then INEC should take the blame for the events as they turned out in Imo state. Before the court, the technicality of the facts was simple; the Collation officer erred in excluding non-rejected results.
I saw through the game PDP was playing. In retrospect, discerning minds would have realised the weaknesses in their defense of the Imo state gubernatorial seat. They were quite aware of the tenacity of the facts that took away the state from them and suddenly become scared that they could lose other pending cases being challenged by the ruling party. So, they set out to blackmail the Supreme Court just before its next rulings. Reportedly, the PDP spokesman has said on the eve of the expected Supreme Court judgments that ‘’you saw Ihedioha Spring in Owerri, they will soon occupy Abuja . . .,’’ and another statement credited to the party’s National Organising Secretary that that of Abuja (protest) is billed to take-off at the party’s campaign headquarters – apparently on same day of the expected juridical ruling.
As it turns out, the slew of attacks on the Supreme Court and its justices before its judgements on the remaining cases were projections to force the court to back down from handing down further unfavourable judgements to the party. It was further an attempt by PDP to appeal to the minds of their wailing foot soldiers to force the court to become wary of possible national unrest in its considerations.
And just before the anticipated rulings of the Supreme Court on 20th January 2020, it was widely reported that PDP’s scheduled protest took place in Abuja led by some key figures in the party, including the National Chairman of the Party and interestingly Peter Obi, the party’s Vice-presidential candidate and former governor of Anambra who was a bona-fide beneficiary of an impartial judicial process including a favourable Supreme Court judgment when he and his former party, APGA had a running battle with PDP that saw to his impeachment as a government and an attempt to limit his tenure after the court overturned his impeachment. It seems PDP and Peter Obi have forgotten the thoroughness of our judicial process or perhaps, it is the PDP antics at play – which the public has become accustomed – of praising the judiciary whenever they secure a favourable judgment; only to turn around to condemn and undermine the integrity same judiciary when court rulings is not in their favour.
We saw this immature antics yet again, for instance, when the Supreme Court ruled in favour of PDP in Sokoto state, upholding its gubernatorial victory. The party reportedly praises the judiciary. However, upon losing its case in Kano, the PDP gubernatorial candidate wasted no time rushed to issue a damming press release condemning and undermining the integrity of the Supreme Court.
It was comforting that the rulings appeared not to be affected by PDP’s preemptive interjections. Such anti-democratic schemes should never be entertained by our judicial system. For if the court should ever succumb to intimidation, enough to deny the true course of justice, we would be laying a more deadly precedence for the future of our nation. The Supreme Court in its latest rulings deserves commendation for restoring justice and fairness to all parties despite PDP’s series of attack against it.
We all should expectantly wait for what the response of these people would be to the rulings from Sokoto, Bauchi and Benue state; specifically, we should wait to hear the name they would give to the Supreme Court after getting favourable results from those states. Then, we would see if it is possible for the same court simultaneously praised and abuse. I am sure, as far as PDP is concern; the Supreme Court was unreliable in Imo but great in Sokoto.
Imo is lost and the remaining judgments have been delivered. For every judgement, it is someone loss. Hence, going forward, we should therefore stop been bad losers and refrain from engaging in rhetoric that is capable of setting the nation aflame. Thus, one vital political norm we must all begin to imbibe is an obligation on us – as political candidates, political parties and partisans – to accept legitimate democratic outcomes and processes in order to strengthen our growing democracy.
God Bless Federal Republic of Nigeria!