The legal fireworks start, By Bolaji Adebiyi
It is commendable that those who are dissatisfied with the outcome of the presidential election held on 25 February have decided to approach the court for a judicial review of their grievances. That is how it should be as the law establishing the electoral process envisages that disputes could arise along the way, consequently providing for the legal avenue to resolve any grievance.
Although Atiku Abubakar, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, after taking the court option also took to the streets to demonstrate his disaffection with the outcome of the poll in which he was the first runner-up, it remains gratifying that the protest was peaceful and merely seeks to add further pressure on the system.
Peter Obi of the Labour Party has so far restricted himself to the steps towards a judicial review even if his supporters have remained as searing in their objection to the outcome as they were truculent in their pre-election drive for their candidate.
Without a doubt, the decision to seek a judicial review in accordance with the law has instituted calm in the polity, paving the way for some normalcy to enable citizens to engage with the government on the substantive issues of scarcity of currency and petrol. Both challenges continue to plague the people even days after the election that was believed to have precipitated the crises.
However, there are worrisome signs that the lack of sportsmanship spirit that makes the politician dispute electoral outcomes may also be on display when the judicial process is exhausted. It is a notorious fact that an election is only free and fair when the outcome is favourable. But once it is unfavourable the poll becomes a sham. Politicians have shown a similar attitude to judicial outcomes, which are acceptable only when they are favourable but flawed if unfavourable.
The legal fireworks began last week when the PDP and the LP started the pre-petition action of requesting permission to inspect electoral materials used for the disputed presidential duel. Both got the Court of Appeal’s nod without much ado. But concerned that the orders secured might affect its ability to conduct the governorship and state legislative elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission applied to the appellate court for a variation of its directives to enable it to conduct its next set of polls earlier scheduled for tomorrow.
Convinced by the arguments of the electoral agency’s counsel, the appellate court granted its request provided that INEC would ensure that the information required by the disputants would be preserved. This otherwise innocuous consequential order that is necessary for the conduct of a scheduled election has become assailed by the opposition parties, whose supporters and spokesmen, who are completely bereft of the legal understanding of the issues, have taken to social media to complain about the possible compromise of the judicial process.
This recalcitrant attitude to every unfavourable outcome is capable of undermining the judicial review process, which the law says is the final place for the arbitration of election disputes. The implication is the erosion of public confidence in the conflict resolution mechanism, and the only outcome will be anarchy. This, without a doubt, will not end well for everyone.
Politicians, therefore, must exercise restraint and accept the need for a minimum rule of decent conduct required for the sustenance of the polity. They cannot persist in the belief that only a favourable outcome is just and fair even when the facts on the ground show that the result of an engagement could not have been different.
Fair enough, all sides have built formidable legal teams who have vast experience in election petition trials. Bola Tinubu, the winning All Progressives Congress candidate and president-elect, has appointed Wole Olanipekun, a learned silk and former president of the Nigerian Bar Association, to lead 48 other senior advocates of Nigeria to defend his mandate. Atiku too has engaged the services of Joe-Kyari Gadzama SAN, an accomplished legal luminary, to lead 11 other silks to push his case, while Livy Uzoukwu SAN, who incidentally handled Atiku’s case in 2019, is leading 11 other top-rated SANs to do the legal battle for Obi.
These legal luminaries, many of who, apart from being senior advocates are also tested academics with professorial acclaim in several technical aspects of constitutional and electoral laws, do not come cheap. Assembling these expensive and frontline legal minds should inspire confidence in not just the legal process but also in their capacity and capability to secure justice. Any outcome, therefore, ought to be treated with respect not just for the judicial system but also for the efforts put into the resolution of the disputes by these learned men.
Certainly, politicians can no longer carry on in a manner that fuels public distrust in every institution and agency of the state. They cannot undermine public confidence in the electoral system and proceed to do the same to the judiciary which should be the arbiter in all manner of disputes. Knowing that the consequence of their waywardness could only spell doom for the polity ought to restrain them henceforth.
Meanwhile, as the legal battle for the presidency promises to be epical, the media, particularly the mainstream, must be prepared to continue to play its moderating role in a crisis situation. It needs to be more circumspect in the use to which it allows the politicians to put its various platforms. It needs to sift the deluge of information that would come to it and ensure that only those that are in the interest of the nation and its people are processed for public consumption.
Adebiyi, the managing editor of THISDAY Newspapers, writes from firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: First published in Thisday Newspapers