Electoral Banditry, Army Arrangement and Judicial Optimism


By Segun Ige

Many Nigerians didn’t and don’t believe Bola Tinubu, the president-elect, justly made the TIME’s list of 100 most influential people of 2023. The magazine calls the intimidation and vote rigging witnessed at the polls “allegations”, clearly describing Tinubu’s win in a “fractured nation” with “deep-rooted corruption”, “religious insurgencies” and “crumbling economy” as free, fair and credible. Could the TIME have been wrong? Or could this set of Nigerians have biased in their judgement?

With the presidential election petitions tribunal sitting and hearing cases of compromise along constitutional (25% in FCT) and electoral (BVAS-IREV) processes filed by the opposition parties, namely, the Labour Party (LP) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), on May 8, a number of Nigerians who have been deeply disappointed by the conduct of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on the February 25 elections are cautiously optimistic that the judiciary will serve justice.

So, clearly, the battle is between Tinubu, the declared winner of the February 25 elections, and the judiciary, representing the aggrieved parties, more of the LP than the PDP, apparently.

The judiciary, this time, stands a chance to prove its autonomy and independence. That it has also not compromised or cowed out of justice administration. Already, Nigerians have lost hope and confidence in INEC. The organisation of the election didn’t reflect a true democracy. The operation of the election was strongly informed by the will of the minority who wanted to run the country on entitlement, and not on meritocracy.

Has it ever happened that a president-elect, declared winner by the country’s electoral umpire, was declared loser by the judiciary, in Nigeria? Since 1999, at least for 24 years that we’ve been practising democracy, such thing has never happened. From Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007) to Umaru Yar’Adua (2007-2010) to Goodluck Jonathan (2010-2015) to Muhammadu Buhari (2015-2023), the baton has been from one civilian hand to another. No interregnum, no pogrom. Once declared, no twice shy.

It means it will be difficult for the judiciary to act contrarily to the ‘constitution’ of the elite. One day, I was reading one of Tinubu’s speeches delivered in Kano. In that May 29 2009 speech, titled, ‘Democratic Consolidation in Nigeria: Issues, Challenges and Prospects’, Tinubu said Obasanjo started “electoral banditry” and “army arrangement”, so much so that it’s become the character of successive administrations to eat the rotten corns and grapes sowed by their predecessors. Let me quote part of what Tinubu said about Obasanjo: “… President Obasanjo bequeathed his country [sic] institutionalized electoral banditry, with the grand heists that were the April 2007 general elections. As it is now, Nigeria faces the grim prospect of a democracy without a sound electoral system. How long can any democracy stand on such sandy foundation?”

With respect to “freedom of association”, “freedom of the press and right to disseminate information”, “effective separation of duties and functions of the executive and the judiciary”, “respect for the rule and law” and “accountability and transparency in governance”, Tinubu says they are “constitutionally provided for and an aggrieved party can go to court to claim his right,” adding that “there is a limit to which the courts can help”.

Obi himself has been recently controversial. His telephone conversation with Bishop David Oyedepo of the Living Faith Church Worldwide might work against him. It could be a strong point for the powers that be. ‘Let’s assume’ Obi was actually making the phone call with Oyedepo ‘begging’ votes, is anything wrong in that? His UK ‘detention’ can also work against him. In actuality, it is between Tinubu and the judiciary. He’s the president-elect. Not so? If you reverse or annul the win, who will you give, Abubakar, with a controversial past, or Obi, with a controversial present and his obvious ‘do-as-I-say’ sonship with his political godfathers? All eyes are on the judges.

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