By Tonnie Iredia
The problem of some of our elites who quite often cry more than the bereaved is that they always put forward the only side of a story that butters their bread
One reason Nigeria has always recorded election hitches in her history is because neither the people nor the actors know the nature and true meaning of election. Many people in Nigeria have always assumed that election is the same thing as voting or casting of ballots. Election is far more than voting because before the casting of ballot, many things which are integral parts of election must happen. These are: a) registration of voters, b) delimitation of constituencies and c) nomination of candidates.
After voting, some other segments still have to follow before the process legally ends. These are: i) counting and collation of votes, ii) announcements of results and declaration of winners and iii) settlement of election disputes. Therefore, those who think voting and election are coterminous greatly miss the point. This is why those of us who have managed elections before laugh at people, especially election observers of the so-called developed world, who make so many conclusive statements after visiting a few polling stations on voting day. Quite a number of them give high scores to an election simply because voting in certain locations was peaceful at the time of their visit. Such assessments can however not be valid because they concern an inchoate process
Another reason our elections are problematic is because we often see the electoral body, INEC as the only one in charge of elections. Of course, INEC is the principal administrator of elections, but she is not the only administrator. For instance, the segment known as the nomination of candidates is not administered by INEC but by the political parties. Similarly, it is not the duty of INEC to settle election disputes; our constitution assigns that segment to the Judiciary. When it specifically concerns the outcome of election, it falls to a special court known as Election Tribunal. The contestation cannot be free if the different bodies charged with its different dimensions are not allowed to be in charge of their separate but interwoven mandates.
Consequently, no matter how smooth an election process may appear to be, being a contest which involves the moderation of different human interests, those with grievances must not be hindered from the appropriate election tribunal because that is the only legal avenue for ventilating grievances. This is why it should baffle lovers of democracy that the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar who openly rejected the result of the last presidential election is being counselled by people, some of them highly placed, to shun the election tribunal
Those who argue that going to election tribunal may destabilize the polity, are without considering the full consequence of their position, suggesting that the best way to keep the polity intact is to overlook injustice where there is any. Those, especially lawyers, who say Atiku shouldn’t bother about election tribunal in view of its cumbersome and seemingly fruitless process, would be more useful to society if they focus on how to reform the alleged tedious process. It is heartwarming that the respected Olisa Agbakoba has clarified his position on the subject.
Let’s share with others an interesting drama episode I watched recently concerning a student who applied to write a professional examination. The examiners rejected the student saying he would fail because they were not satisfied with his level of preparedness. The student proved to be wiser in the end when he reminded the examiners that he didn’t apply to pass but to write the exams! So, who told Atiku’s busy-body advisers that the man would not be satisfied if the tribunal establishes that he truly lost? Part of why some people including this writer admire President Buhari is not only because he continued to contest all presidential elections before his eventual victory in 2015, but mainly because he doggedly brought his case before the relevant election tribunals in 2003, 2007, and 2011.
The problem of some of our elites who quite often cry more than the bereaved is that they always put forward the only side of a story that butters their bread. Considering the number of people who have spent ample time trying to dissuade Atiku from exercising the option of presenting his petition to an election tribunal, many Nigerians have been misled into believing that going to the tribunal is evil. If that is true, why is the option legally provided for? Interestingly, no one reminds us that but for the existence of election tribunal; Adams Oshiomhole would not have become governor of Edo state. It was the same process that helped Kayode Fayemi to get back his mandate as Ekiti state governor. That was also what Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola relied upon to become governor of Osun state.
In fact, some other governors who won their elections were removed by election tribunals and reinstated on appeal. What this confirms is that an election process has an in-built system of checks and balances in which the judiciary reinforces the work of INEC towards attaining free and fair elections. Besides, it is erroneous to assume that anyone who goes to an election tribunal must be declared winner. If not, why are all those who are jittery about Atiku’s election petition assuming that his opponent has no points to counter Atiku in a country of many hungry lawyers? The judiciary is there for everyone and as we hear, some APC stalwarts are already preparing to prove that Atiku is not a Nigerian. Why not?
The merits of an election tribunal are numerous. Unlike in the past when strong political parties ‘won’ landslide victories, the idea that those landslides can be questioned in court has no doubt reduced the impunity of the strong. When we put together, the failure to use card readers in certain locations; their loss in places such as Bayelsa; the declaration of results under duress which INEC says it will now punish; and political violence in some places leading to deaths, it becomes obvious that our elections are still far from being free, fair and credible.
Indeed, the condemnation of our February 23, 2019 elections cuts across party lines. No less a personality than our President himself; is convinced that Senator Godswill Akpabio’s loss in Akwa Ibom state is a travesty of justice which the ruling party has vowed to redress. The party can only do so at the relevant election tribunal. The point to be made therefore is that all cases of election chicanery and whatever form of electoral malpractices deserve to be reviewed by the courts. Under no circumstance, should we unwittingly encourage political activists to resort to self-help and extra-legal means at the end of what they presume was an unjust contest. Our only caution is that at the end of the petitions, those who lost must bury their hatchets and allow the nation to move forward.