Guest Columnist

Media trial of their Lordships, By Ehi Braimah

We have entered a busy season of hearing election petitions hearing, and their Lordships will be busy, too. A lot of work lies ahead. This is not surprising because politicians are generally desperate people who want to win elections at all cost. The general elections involve contests at different levels: state houses of assembly, governorship, House of Representatives, senate and the presidency. This process excludes the off-season elections.

It is the same desperation that caused the subversion of democracy in Adamawa State as I argued in an earlier article. The Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Hudu Yunusa-Ari, who had no business announcing the result of the supplementary gubernatorial poll went ahead to illegally declare Senator Aishat Binani Dahiru of the All Progressives Congress as the winner.

Thankfully, the Independent National Electoral Commissioner (INEC) intervened quickly and restored normalcy.

Although Yunusa-Ari was eventually arrested and granted bail, he was not remorseful. He reportedly said that he did nothing wrong. Can you believe that? This egregious culture of impunity – it spreads like cancer – without consequences is one of our biggest headaches and it threatens our humanity. Hopefully, he will face the full wrath of the law.

The joke was on Senator Binani because she gave an acceptance speech and went to court, seeking judicial review in an attempt to stop INEC from voiding her illegal declaration as the “winner” of the election.

Isn’t that what is called abuse of court process? That was exactly what Senator Binani did. A senator is supposed to make laws but she turned herself into a law-breaker..

With 18 registered political parties, all manner of persons have been posing as politicians and wasting our time; some of them picked their party’s nomination forms just to try their luck or use it as leverage to negotiate for positions. In the absence of internal democracy, parties conduct parallel primaries. In the end, it is the courts they turn to for the rightful winners and eligible candidates.

Some frivolous cases that should not been have been filed in the first place are given hearing dates because the litigants are encouraged by their lawyers who always believe there’s a chance to win on technical grounds. Of course, the lawyers are handsomely paid by their clients.

The recent general election was the 7th cycle since 1999. In spite of the challenges that we face, I believe we are making progress. I agree with those who say the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) is a game-changer.

The deployment of BVAS nationwide by INEC during the last general elections was successful and one of its key benefits is that it prevents over-voting. BVAS can state correctly the number of accredited voters in a polling unit.

INEC has been called all sorts of names and accused of bias because the expectations of some politicians were not met. This is laughable. Our elections always end up as controversial events despite the best efforts of the electoral umpire. However, this is not to say we cannot improve.

When politicians win, it means the process was free and fair; but when they lose, the election was rigged. We are used to these tales by moonlight. I call it “sheer hypocrisy”.

Isn’t it obvious that the problems with our elections are instigated by politicians and not INEC? Who are those who recruit thugs to snatch ballot boxes? What of vote-buying? Who are the merchants of electoral violence? Unfortunately, security agencies are also compromised and usually look the other way when electoral fraud is perpetrated.

There are also cases of collusion and bad behaviour by some rogue INEC officials. In such cases, the law should take its course with consequences where applicable. Even if we conduct the elections 100 times or inaugurate another brand new INEC, it is not a guarantee that there will be no irregularities.

This is why we have numerous election petitions across the country. But it is unfair to subject their Lordships to unnecessary media trial. It is a disgusting campaign that undermines the integrity of the bench.

With the lorry-load of petitions that are suffocating the courtrooms, it is obvious that many other criminal and civil cases will be on hold. The wheel of justice will grind to a halt – albeit, temporarily – for some people.

I have seen several public affairs commentators – including lawyers – using the media, especially television, to say our justice system cannot be trusted. Some analysts pontificate and blow hot air on TV because they want their views and positions – on behalf of their clients – to be the law.

How can a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) tell the whole world on national television that he has no confidence in our judiciary? Is it because his preferred candidate did not win an election? We cannot pretend that such allegations are normal and sweep them under the carpet.

Politicians and their lawyers carry on as if our elections must be a do-or-die-affair due to their selfish interests but I am happy to tell them the truth: Nigeria will move on without them. There can only be one winner in an election.

The idea that all election petitions should be concluded before May 29 also animated conversations on TV and the social media. Although this idea is brilliant, it is an example of the media trial of their Lordships.

The right thing to do is to amend the Constitution instead of deploying arm-twisting tactics as some SANs are doing. If Kenya did it, some commentators suggested, Nigeria can also do it but they forget or pretend not to know that the enabling laws are not the same.

Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the PDP, is a veteran of this game and I admire his commitment and tenacity but like a true democrat, he should have stayed with one party or build a new party from the ground up.

The Waziri Adamawa is 76 years old. He has contested in six presidential elections and lost all of them. How does he find the staying power? He polled 6,984,520 votes in February to come second but he believes he won the election even after INEC has declared Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the APC as the winner and president-elect.

I understand how Atiku feels. He is pained and disappointed. To win, Atiku needs the right strategy and nuanced thinking. He cannot be doing the same thing in every election cycle and expect a different result. The former VP says he will reclaim his “stolen” mandate; he has to prove it in court. He has filed his petition asking the tribunal to review the process of the election and declare him the winner.

Peter Obi, the Presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP), is also saying he won the presidential election. He wants to reclaim the same mandate. Fair enough, but how many presidential mandates do we have? He filed his petition to challenge the outcome of the poll at the Presidential Election Petition Court in Abuja.

But we should not muddle the waters because there can only be one president at a time. If both Atiku and Obi are claiming victory, which one of them is the “rightful owner” of the mandate, assuming there was a stolen mandate in the first place? Obi came third in the election with 6,101,533 votes.

When Obi became the governor of Anambra State under the banner of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) from March to November 2006; February to May 2007 and June 2007 to March 2014, how did he do it? More than once, he got his reprieve and court judgement in his favour.

Last Tuesday, the Supreme Court affirmed Ademola Adeleke as the governor of Osun State by upholding the decision of the Appeal Court in Abuja which had earlier affirmed Adeleke’s victory on March 24, 2023. His rival was Adegboyega Oyetola of the APC whom he defeated in the gubernatorial poll on July 16, 2022.

Adams Oshiomhole, former governor of Edo State (November 11, 2008 – November 11, 2016), also reclaimed his mandate in using the courts when he ousted Prof Oserheimen Osunbor who was governor for 18 months (May 29 1999 – November 11, 2008).

Cases can be won and lost in the courts and we must understand that their Lordships are interested in the evidence and merit of each case before them. There is no room for morality or emotions or the fulmination of dejected losers in law.

Atiku and Obi must prove their cases beyond reasonable doubt. Indeed, the verdict of the Justices of the Supreme Court in the Adeleke vs Oyetola case is instructive going forward as it relates to all election petitions before them.

If Obi, Adeleke and Oshiomhole could win their cases in the past, what is different this time?

Since INEC declared Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu president-elect, the commentators aforementioned, their associates and clients have taken to media outlets to cast aspersions on their Lordships. They even want to teach them new skills in law and ethos unknown to our jurisprudence.

Those who say they no longer have confidence in our justice system should tell us what is biting them. Atiku wants the hearings to be broadcast live on national television. Peter Obi shares the same sentiments. Understandably, there’s so much at stake with a presidential election but the impression being created is that their Lordships have something to hide and only a live telecast can expose their hidden agenda.

I hope Atiku and Obi are ready to pick up the bills because TV networks will charge for their services. It would be unfair to use taxpayer’s money for this purpose. In his previous petitions, would the PDP presidential candidate say our justice system treated him unfairly?

Some sections of the media are canvassing Atiku and Obi’s position. Are they saying that if there’s no live telecast, justice would not be properly served? I just want to understand their logic – the logic that makes sense.

Throughout Governor Adeleke’s court hearings up to when the Supreme Court delivered its judgement, no TV station covered any proceeding live but a verdict was announced all the same based on the letters and spirit of the law. The logic of their Lordships in the case was sound, and they marshaled their arguments point by point based on available evidence.

Adegboyega Oyetola couldn’t prove his case. The Supreme Court is the temple of justice and final arbiter. It was the end of the road for Oyetola.

These protagonists of fair, open and transparent hearing should actually request that the global TV networks come to Abuja and cover the proceedings. This arrangement should give them enough comfort. Live TV coverage will not change the colour of the meat in the sandwich and without the unnecessary media hype, their Lordships will still carry out their jobs – without fear or favour.

If Atiku and Obi do not have confidence in our judiciary, they should not have filed their petitions. The campaign of calumny, intimidation and blackmail against their Lordships must stop.

The other matter that has also shown the desperation of some commentators, lawyers, politicians and their fans is the status of Abuja as a requirement for winning the presidential election. Again, some sections of the media have been hyping this narrative as if the rest of us did not go to school.

This hollow argument suggests that Abuja has a veto power over all the other states. How is that possible? All states are equal before the law. Indeed, how can FCT with 1.5 million voters have a veto power over the rest of the country with over 90 million registered voters? Does it even make sense? It means Abuja has a special status that comes with juicy privileges for its residents that the rest of the country can only cringe for.

A highly respected Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) flew this kite as soon as INEC declared Bola Tinubu as the winner of the presidential election. Even as a layman, to suggest that a presidential candidate needs 25 per cent of the votes cast in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is both a fallacy and misnomer.

To the best of my knowledge, all ballots cast and recorded anywhere in Nigeria are equal. Mind you, we do not have an Electoral College which is operational in America where we borrowed the expensive presidential system of government from.

To be declared the winner of a presidential election, the Constitution says the candidate would have polled 25 percent of the total votes cast in at least two-thirds of the 36 states and the FCT.

If the candidate has 25 percent in 24 or more states, FCT will no longer count. The candidate must also have the highest number of votes.

But the arguments by the so-called analysts and legal experts is that if a candidate gets 25 percent of the votes cast in 24, 25, 30 or even 36 states, 25 percent in FCT is still required to be declared the winner.

I disagree but let us await the verdict of the Supreme Court.

My understanding is that FCT will only count if the candidate scores 25 per cent of the votes in 23 states. In which case, 25 percent of the votes cast in the FCT will become necessary to win. In that instance, FCT will count and have the status of a state – the 37th state.


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