By Gbenga Akinmoyo
Forgive me, but I get so irritated when I hear statements in the public domain from educated illiterates who deliberately seek to incite the vulnerable into stirring up unnecessary tension in the polity as a result of their inflated expectations about certain situations.
On the 8th of May 2023, the Presidential Election Tribunal commenced sitting against the backdrop of tense atmosphere created by those calling for the speedy consideration and conclusion of Petitions before the swearing-in of the President-Elect and Vice-President-Elect on 29th May 2023 at one extreme and at the other extreme those routing for the postponement of the inauguration until the Petitions are resolved. Yes, the Tribunal started its sitting 21 days before the sacrosanct date for the swearing-in, but is that the fault of the President-Elect? The country has now had 24 years of uninterrupted democratic governance and another cycle is just about to complete its course, to give way for another.
Let me digress for a moment. At the last FIFA Football world cup held in Qatar, a total of 32 nations from all over the world qualified and assembled for about a month to compete for the coveted trophy, which takes place every 4 years and at the end of the competition, two teams emerged in the finals, Argentina and Portugal for a chance to win the title. These two countries emerged through a process which was laid in rules established long before the competition commenced. Should FIFA have by-passed the Group stages, Round of 16, Quarter-Finals and Semi-Finals by arbitrarily choosing these two teams as the probable best two countries, simply to accelerate the competition? Of course the answer is an emphatic NO, it’s not done because there is a process involving one stage followed by another as stipulated in the Rules of the competition.
The same thing applies in the instant case of General Elections in Nigeria which involves a process that has laid down rules for each stage and the process is not complete until the Judicial Oversight has been exhausted in those cases where it is invoked by one or more of the interested parties. For the avoidance of doubt let me briefly elucidate some of the stages involved in the process:
The Electoral Act 2022 was passed by the National Assembly and assented to by the President on 2022, thereby laying foundation for the Rules to govern conduct of the General Elections;
The modalities for the election were set by INEC, the body saddled with the responsibility of conducting the elections and announcing the relevant dates in accordance with the Rules;
Elections are held and once INEC has established who the winners are they make a Declaration to that effect and issue Certificate of Returns to the declared winners;
Aggrieved parties are at liberty within the Rules to decide to challenge a Declaration by instituting a Petition and approaching the Election Tribunal for redress, but it must be done within the stipulated time-frame otherwise that right is forfeited by default. The Petition must be filed within 21 days after the declaration of results.
Election Tribunals are constituted in accordance with the Rules to consider any Petitions arising from the elections and they are required to dispense with the Petitions within a specified time limit. In the case of the Presidential Election Tribunal that limit is set by law not to exceed 180 days from the time of filing the Petition (Section 132 (7 & 8) of the Electoral Act 2022, and if the case is sent on appeal to the Supreme Court, the Petition must be dispensed within a period not exceeding a further 60 days Section 285 (6 & 7) 1999 Constitution as amended.
Now that we have a better understanding of the process and the fact that time frames must be observed, is there any real justification for the agitations? We must all learn to accept the rules of the game and allow the process to be properly exhausted in order for our Democracy to grow. Unless and until the Rules are change the Electoral Law must be followed strictly. We are now in the final stages of the election process and it is important not to skew the focus of the Judiciary on this all important national assignment.
As stated earlier, the election process ends at the conclusion of the judicial oversight function and they have the responsibility to determine whether there was substantial compliance with the procedures that led to the Declarations made by INEC, which are the subject of contention contained in the various Petitions. Whilst the Judiciary acting through the Election Tribunals is required to decide what is “Right”, which some refer to as Justice, in accordance with the Rules, the beautiful thing is that they make their judgment based on application of the law and not the application of sentiments and emotions which have been heavily invested by the parties involved.
When you stand in your polling unit and think you have won because your unit was declared in your favour, you don’t know what happened in the other 176,606 polling units where elections also took place, so you may not have won overall and hallucinations disappear when evidence emerges. The Judges assigned to consider the Petitions have sworn an Oath of Office and an Oath to God and they will look at the cases through the lens of the legally binding Rules, Regulations and Procedures. If there any perceived points of ambiguity, it is their constitutional responsibility to give interpretation and clear the air for future precedents.
This article was written by Gbenga Akinmoyo who is a legal practitioner and the C.E.O of LeadiFollow Limited.