By Dan Onwukwe
AS the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola is set to constitute the panel of Supreme Court Justices that will hear the appeal arising from the contentious verdict of the Presidential Election Petition Court, the dust is yet to settle on that judgement delivered on September 6.
Time is ticking. All eyes now on the Supreme Court. This is the time to remember the memorable quote by late Justice Chukwudifu Oputa who sat on the Supreme Court from 1984 -1989.
The ‘Supreme Court’, he said, ‘is final not because it’s infallible, rather, it’s infallible because it’s final’. That has happened many times in recent times. Keep your eyes on this quote in the weeks or months ahead. Nigerians are still on edge, awaiting the final outcome of the February 25 Presidential poll. Even then, pertinent questions are still being asked how the PEPC arrived at some of its decisions.
Opinions remain divided. Is it, for instance, possible for the Tribunal to release its judgment in a word document? Some experts say this is impossible. The petitioners – the Labour Party Presidential candidate, Mr. Peter Obi, and Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party, insist that the watermark Certified True Copy(CTC) of the judgement has indicted President’s Legal Team.
They are demanding explanation. But the President’s Legal Team has since denied the allegation. Also, was the Tribunal right to have disqualified some witnesses called by the Labour Party and PDP presidential candidates to prove their case that the election was not conducted in substantial compliance with the INEC guidelines?
Besides, was the Court right when it ruled that INEC is not under any obligation to use Electronic transmission of results, contrary to the guidelines that specifically stated in the Electoral Act 2022, and which the commission clearly, and unambiguously said it would follow to the letter in all the elections?
These are just some of the contentious issues many Nigerians, within and outside the country, are demanding urgent clarification. Since the judgement was delivered almost two weeks ago, answers to these questions, and many more contained in the controversial verdict, have accelerated. Democracy in Nigeria is currently on edge and hope is fast fading on our electoral process.
Truth is, if the judgment of the PEPT was entirely a verdict about crime and a diligent attempt to uncover who committed the crime, the question would have fittingly be: whodunit? The contents of the 789-page Judgment appear like a mystery tale of some sort, with too many ‘suspects’ and ‘suspicions’ about who really authored the judgment that took the Justices almost 13 hours to deliver.
No matter the final outcome of this judgment by the Supreme Court in the next two months or so, the PEPT Judgment is one that will forever remain unforgettable in our elections petition jurisprudence. It’s not for nothing. A careful reading of the judgement looks every inch like the ‘voice of Jacob’ but the ‘hands of Esau’.
These two conflicting forces seem evident in the verdict. Jacob and Esau seemed to wrestle inside the panel members as they read the judgment. It raises the question: which one do we take, the voice of Jacob or the hands of Esau?
I hold the opinion that in the fullness of time, the truth will come out on exactly who wrote the judgement. But clearly, the justices defended President’s case much better than his legal team did. This is not an attempt to perjure the eminent justices.
But this is one riddle everyone is looking forward to how it will be resolved. Perhaps the controversy trailing the judgment would not have been necessary if trust and confidence have not been in short supply in the Nigeria’s judiciary, and if some judges have not come under some kind of blanket of suspicion, especially on matters of election adjudication in recent times.
That’s exactly the point Justice Sunday Akinola Akintan who retired from the Supreme Court in 2008, made last week. Today, there is a clear, present danger in the judiciary in the country. And with it, democracy is equally in peril. It is the same concern that late Justice Oputa expressed some years ago, when he said, “If you are a judge and you are corrupt, where do we go from here?
Then everything has come to a halt. If the legislature is corrupt, you go to the judiciary for redress. If the Executive is corrupt, you go to the judiciary for remedy. If the judiciary itself is corrupt, where do you go from there? To God whom you don’t see? Or to History which is past? Or to the future that has not come?
Today is here so let us use it? These are priceless words of wisdom that our judges should take seriously to heart. As one cliché says, “sit at the feet of an older man to absorb his knowledge”. Oputa was a teacher with a profound, deep interest in the judiciary. He offered the way forward for men at the Bench should conduct themselves in the best interest of the society.
Are men and women with such deep interest in the impartial dispensation of justice still much around? Only recently, retired Justice Omole, wrote on “Issues surrounding corruption in the Judiciary in Nigeria”. It pained him how things have fallen apart.
He outlined what he calls the four categories of “undue influence on judges”, and how some of them bow to these pressures, and corruptly decide cases to favour litigants. These four categories, he says, include monetary inducement, which according to him, has become a “popular method” of buying Judgment in the country. Other methods are blackmail and spiritual attack on judges who refuse financial inducement.
Everyone wants a mentor, someone whose advice you take and it profits you. But how do you pick yours? That’s why the recent comments attributed to retired Supreme Court Justice, Mary Peter-Odili, on the election matters, especially the Presidential Election Petition Court, has not stopped to attract attention.
Speaking at the colloquium and book launch in honour of Chief J.K Gadzama (SAN) on his 25 years of attaining the prestigious Legal title, Justice Mary Odili was quoted as showering encomiums on two legal icons that represented President Tinubu at the PEPT, Chief Wole Olanipekun, and Lateef Fagbemi. This is part of her comment that has kicked up some dust, “It is human to feel cheated or having the short-end of the stick, but one who is not declared a winner at any of the electoral contests, such a notion, however grieved, does not justify bringing the roof of the nation down”. Did anybody prior to the judgment, threaten to bring down the roof of Nigeria down?
Her comments though clarified by her media office, made few days before the verdict was delivered, is bound to raise niggling suspicion and questions of immediate sort. It fuels the allegation that the judgment may be the “hands of Jacob”. No doubt, having a larger end has always been important for political leaders, but judicial officers, whether serving or retired, and opinion moulders, should be careful and circumspect in uttering over the top comments that may be considered trenchant and overtly partisan.
If there is one man, well respected though, who has been fuelling ‘banner of lies(to borrow his words), on the presidential election result, it is Nobel Laureate Prof Wole Soyinka. During and since after the election, he has accelerated his attacks on the LP candidate Peter Obi, and the party supporters.
The latest of his attacks was made in South Africa, where he said that ‘Obi didn’t win the election, and he(Obi) and his supporters knew it’. The Labour Party has since responded to his diatribe, but this much is clear: everyone knows on whose side the playwright has been on the contentious election.
He is firmly on the side of Bola Tinubu. It is his right to choose who to support. But who takes Soyinka very serious these days?
He has lost that ‘spark’. While he remains a literary icon, some of his comments on the election have become low-grade, simplistic, sometimes an embarrassing climb-down, unbefitting of his effulgence standing in the international community. It is in the same breath that the snide remarks made by one of PEPT members, Justice Bolaji-Yusuf , has not gone down well with some people.
She attacked some social media fans on their views prior to the judgment. It was Lord Mansfield, noted for his English Law reforms who said, “Consider what you think justice requires, and decide accordingly. But never give your reasons, for your judgment will probably be right, but your reasons will certainly be wrong”. It’s important to allow the Supreme Court to do its work, to either save our democracy and the Electoral Process or complete the bad work that many people believe the PEPT did.