By Richard Odu
Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, the running mate of Mr. Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) in Nigeria’s February 25 presidential elections, was visibly the first to express his party’s intention to challenge the outcome of the polls in court. Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) followed, before Peter Obi formally declared at a well attended press conference that his party was the winner of the election and that they were ready to prove it. They have since obtained a court of appeal grant to inspect the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) electoral materials used in the conduct of the presidential elections.
Right after they declared their intention to sue, the issue of whether these “defeated” candidates should seek redress in court became the subject of a hot debate. While some feel strongly that these outstanding losers should challenge the perceived charade in court, others were vehement on the bruised candidates swallowing the pill and walking away, like President Goodluck Jonathan did in 2015.
Events and circumstances of 2015 when Goodluck Jonathan crashed out of the race were, however, at complete variance with those of 2023. Jonathan was the incumbent president and had, probably, avoided being branded a sit-tight president. He had looked beyond the trappings of the presidency and weighed the prevailing sentiments of that time, justified or not, then came to the conclusion that none of those was worth the blood of Nigerians, as he had made public in his days.
In other words, the former president walked away, not because he was convinced that he lost the election but that he wanted peace to reign as the atmosphere was charged. Desperate politicians had their agents in readiness for mayhem and the only way to douse the tension was for Jonathan to surrender the mantle.
This year, the sentiments are different and there is no incumbency factor, save the one coming from the All Progressives Congress (APC) angle, the members of which are favoured by INEC’s computation. It is, therefore, not a wise counseling to tell the opposition to walk away without challenging alleged falsification of results which appears to be widespread.
The APC has handled the country for eight years and records, indeed overwhelming statistics, point to the popular feeling that the party did not acquit itself creditably when placed on the scale of efficiency. What, with the woeful performance in the economic sector where more Nigerians were made poorer by the day and a greater number driven out of job, in the security sector where non-state actors coughed and the government caught cold, in the education sector where the universities’ academic calendar had been drastically distorted to the detriment of students and their parents, or in the health sector where the country’s best hands had been forced to flee abroad and their patients following them to the foreign lands at painfully heinous costs.
From the court proceedings, it would be easy understand why, despite the woes listed, that truly, a majority of Nigerians went ahead to truly reinstate the administration that presided over this period of penury. The court must determine this after hearing from both sides and INEC. This is necessary to prevent the rest of the world seeing Nigerians as daft.
Perhaps, doubts over the results of the polls developed when INEC results not only ran distantly contrary to all globally acclaimed pre-election poll results but also allegedly failed to tally with the figures from some polling units. Only the courts are capable of arriving at a convincing judgement to clear these doubts which, if allowed to persist, are capable of breeding a prolonged discontent in the nation.
One is tempted to reason that those passionate in dissuading the “wounded” parties from challenging the INEC verdict in court could be part of the “victorious” group that desires to maintain the status quo. On the other hand, there is the pervading feeling that the courts are capable of compromising and so some of the people advising against litigations sense that it would be a waste of time to take cases to them. This appears to be a defeatist feeling inasmuch as it casts our Judiciary in a bad light.
The anticipated Atiku and Obi cases present the opportunity for the courts and the learned justices, being the bastions of fairness, to obliterate the gathering notion that it is useless and a waste of money approaching them in times of dispute. The Judiciary should be hungry to re-launch itself to the enviable pedestal as the last hope of the common man. With evidence before them, the judges should be able to determine who deserves the throne. We should actually allow the aggrieved parties to line up these evidences and argue their cases unhindered by the legalese called technicalities. The only technicality in this case should revolve around BVAS and INEC servers. The courts would not be forgiven if they do not get the mathematics right this time as winning or losing an election is often dependent on well computed figures.
Talking about the aggrieved, we would be myopic to see Atiku and Obi as the only persons that felt aggrieved after the February polls without considering the voters who resisted perceived intimidations and inducements across all divides to vote for the candidates of their choice. This myopic thinking arose, perhaps, from the experience that past elections had brought up winners who see their certificates of return as invitations to the huge banquet that public offices represent in the country, instead of a call to serve. It is certainly not healthy for our politics. Under normal conditions, the voters who cast their ballots for those they feel would serve them are most aggrieved.
Why should Atiku or Obi be dissuaded from going to court when the three-month gap between election season and handover date is meant for cleaning of legal cobwebs arising from the polls? That really is the beauty of democracy.
As for the acronym LP (long play?), it throws the minds of those whose ages fall on the other side of the century back to the days when our music came out from the tiny pin revolving in grooves etched on plastic plates, when it had not been transformed into cassettes, compact discs and now small chip called memory card.
Perhaps, the music we are going to listen to in the coming days could turn out to be a long play. Nigerians should be patient enough to listen to the end.
Dr. Odu can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org