By Tonnie Iredia
In most democracies, the term ‘election’ means far more than its voting segment of casting ballots which many erroneously over-patronize. In truth, election is not an event but a process of inter-related events which must holistically be handled to get an undisputed winner. Before the casting of ballots, segments such as the registration of voters, the delimitation of electoral constituencies, the nomination of flag bearers through party primaries and electioneering campaigns must be seamlessly concluded.
After these, election is still not over until the casting of ballots, collation of votes, declaration of results, inauguration of winners and the settlement of election disputes have been concluded. Many people lose elections in Nigeria because they fail to appreciate the true meaning and nature of election with its many dimensions. In the last few years, the segment on the settlement of election disputes has seized the front burner of the country’s electoral process as political parties have learnt to devote ample time, energy and resources to the segment.
Many factors have greatly contributed to the elevation of the settlement of election disputes to the foremost election segment in Nigeria. Among the factors are a) commercialized political system which encourages players to adopt a fight to finish approach, b) weak internal democracy in the nation’s political parties, and c) finality of judicial decisions which enables the judiciary to reverse any electoral victory even where the decision upturns the evident verdict of voters.
The scope of disputes is widened by the opportunity of an election tribunal where politicians can disagree with election figures as well as another chance where courts are allowed to deal with matters on eligibility. This has emboldened a poor spirit of sportsmanship in which politicians hop from one platform to another in the hope that one strategy might just pay off. However, no one can stop any person from using the platforms because they exist within the framework of the rule of law. Anyone with appropriate ‘locus’ can thus approach the judiciary which naturally has its own bad eggs.
The above background establishes why the political opponents of Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo state have been in court with the objective of reversing the reelection of the governor at the September 19, 2020 governorship contest in the state. In a suit marked FHC/B/CS/74/2020, they urged the court to not only invalidate Obaseki’s candidacy but to also restrain INEC from recognising him as a contestant in the gubernatorial contest because Obaseki, according to them, forged his academic credentials.
But the University of Ibadan which issued the certificate in question sent her Deputy Registrar Legal to the court to testify in favour of the governor. Based on this, Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court, Abuja who presided at the hearing rejected the unsubstantiated claims by the plaintiffs. As if propelled by instinct to break the case in simple terms for all to comprehend, Justice Mohammed explained that for the Plaintiffs to insist that Obaseki forged his certificate, even after the school confirmed the genuineness of the document, was akin to alleging that someone has no father, even in the presence of the person’s father.
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One would have thought that such wise counselling was enough to halt the case because the ruling appeared quite convincing. Indeed, as if they clearly understood the judgment and that it further reinforced the voters’ actualmandate, market women in Benin City, the Edo state capital, danced round major streets in the City to celebrate their governor.
But that was not the perspective of the plaintiffs about the case. They were instead dissatisfied with the high court decision and decided to approach the Appeal Court to challenge the judgment of the lower court. Last Thursday March 18, 2021, Justice Stephen Adah of the Court of Appeal Abuja Division reiterated Justice Mohammed’s earlier verdict, but this time, with costs in favour of Governor Obaseki, his party and the electoral body. Some people would regard the entire episode as an unnecessary waste of the rather precious time of our courts which have piles of files of poor litigants unattended to because of the nature of our politics.
Sadly, the trend of the refusal of our politicians to play by the rules is even more disgusting in another state where on the same day as Obaseki’s case, two different courts made contradictory rulings on the same matter. The issue had to do with an election to the vacant seat of the Imo North District in the Senate which was held on December 5, 2020. Though won by the APC, no candidate was returned as elected because of a dispute between two candidates of the party.
Last Thursday March 18, 2021,Justice Taiwo Taiwo of theFederal High Court, Abuja having convinced himself that Senator Ifeanyi Ararume was the authentic candidate of the APC ordered INEC to issue Ararume with a certificate of return within 72 hours. While the over-joyed candidate and his supporters were still rejoicing, an Owerri High Court presided over by Justice E. O. Agaba made a pronouncement which clearly reversed the order, leaving the people of Imo North Senatorial District without representation in the Senate. Considering that our clime has since become a society of electioneering without end, no one can fathom when this would end.
Thus, except care is taken to reverse our now entrenched political culture of distractionto governance, either at the legislative or executive branch, it is our society that would remain shortchanged. In the case of Edo, one can only hope that our politicians would allow Obaseki to concentrate on governance so as to improve the living standards of the people. Our fears are supported by precedents.
In 2018, when it became clear that the APC which produced Governor Obaseki in his first term was the same one that was distracting him over their pursuit of personal gains, I appealed to them in my article titled “Edo APC: Let Obaseki work” published on September 9, that year. A year later, the distraction had become unbearable amidst threats of widespread infectious diseases;with no politician listening to the warnings by the World Health Organization (WHO).
This made me to write another article titled “Edo politicians: Remember Lassa Fever” published on January 25, 2020 with a plea to our politicians to allow the governor face the health challenges of our people especially those in Edo North where the disease had claimed casualties.
The new distraction after the elections has been frivolous political litigations. While election petitions and some other substantive cases can entrench democracy, the idea of suffocating our judicial system with shallow cases is unacceptable. We need to particularly denounce the boring case against Godwin Obaseki in which his opponents made no effort to painstakingly investigate their allegations before testing them in court.
As the case of the degree certificate forgery has shown, neither those who made the allegation, nor their witnesses visited the University of Ibadan to verify their claim of forgery.They merely compiled a series of allegation in the hope that one might work. It all started with the politics of exclusion in which APC concocted stories to arrive at a predetermined end at the party primaries stage, but to transplant and more than once represent such political rascality of concoctions to courts of different jurisdictions is deplorable.