By: Jackson Ude
All Eyes on the Judiciary was the potent message that graced the socio-political space in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, recently. The message, which neither bore a defamatory armour nor a totem of ridicule, strangely, caused a stir within the ranks of Nigeria government and relevant government-regulated advertising agencies.
The billboards bearing the seemingly innocuous message were ordered to be pulled down and some top employees of the government-licensed superintending agency for advertising were suspended for their ‘role’ in approving the ‘offensive’ advert. But while it may appear comely for state actors and allied agencies to bring down the billboards, that singular action seems to have galvanised the resolve of Nigerians to keep a keen eye on the judiciary where the February 25, 2023 Presidential Election is being hotly contested following what many believe was a flawed election hallmarked by messy ballot count, violence including death of some voters and election officials, voter intimidation and manifold display of contempt for its own rules by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Nigeria’s election management body.
Right now, All Eyes on the Judiciary is no longer a message emblazoned on billboards, it has morphed into a contagion etched in the hearts of Nigerians who feel, rightly or wrongly, that they were robbed at the polls, including parliamentary and sub-national elections some of which the judiciary has helped to redeem from the hands of the polls grifters. So far, a couple of Senators, Representatives and State Assembly members have had their stolen mandates returned to them via the judiciary. In Nigeria, this is not strange. In the past, some Governors have had their mandates restored to them by the judiciary.
It bears reaffirming that Nigeria judiciary has had a chequered history of both commendation and censure. This time round, many Nigerians with sufficient knowledge of the voodoo computation and ballot mutilation that attended the 2023 elections are hopeful that the judiciary will find sufficient courage to dispense justice. They premise their optimism on the time-tested legal axiom: “Let justice be done, though the heavens fall” (in Latin: Fiat justitia ruat caelum). For Nigerians, justice is what matters at these times irrespective of the consequences of such justice or the emotions of the persons involved. Simply put, justice must override judgment in the instant case. This is the received opinion across Nigeria, especially among the voting publics.
It is on this ground that a sky-high pall of optimism swells the political ecosystem in the world’s most populous Black nation with vast potential, both in human capital and natural resources. The optimism is bolstered on many props. Nigerians have never witnessed an election so openly compromised like the 2023 polls. The various attestations by both local and international election monitoring bodies including the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU-EOM), the Africa Union (AU), the US International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and the Commonwealth Observer Group among others, point to a gravely rigged polls. All the reports on the elections, bar none, from the international media also scored the conduct of the election very low in terms of integrity of the processes, conduct of electoral officials and security personnel.
There were open cases of voter and media suppression and it reflected in the final outcome and analytics of the polls. Bola Ahmed Tinubu, candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) was declared winner by INEC with 8,974,726 votes, while his main rivals Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Peter Obi of Labour Party polled 6,984,520 and 6,101,533 votes, respectively.
By this, Tinubu was announced winner with only 36.6 per cent of the votes cast on a turnout of 27 per cent, the lowest in Nigeria’s democratic history since 1999.
The emergence of Tinubu as winner appeared not to have gone down well with many Nigerians, for many reasons. Aside obvious elements of abuse of ballots and processes leading up to the announcement of results, Tinubu was largely perceived to be unqualified to contest the election on account of his criminal past and now popular conviction in the United States over his narcotics dealings and financial accruals therefrom.
Tinubu forfeited the sum of $460,000 to the government of the United States of America, in 1993. In the judgment, the US court ordered: “that the funds in the amount of $460,000 in account in the name of Bola Tinubu represents proceeds of narcotics or were involved in financial transactions in violation of 18 U.S.C ss 1956 and 1957 and therefore these funds are forfeited to the United States.”
Tinubu is deemed to be further disqualified to contest the election for obvious violation of Sections 131(c) and 142 of the Constitution as well as Section 33 of the Electoral Act, 2022.
His party, the APC, initially sponsored Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Kabir Masari as its Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates respectively for the February 25, 2023 Presidential election. However, on the 24th of June, 2022, Kabir Masari vide an affidavit deposed to at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, voluntarily withdrew from the Presidential election and was replaced with Kashim Shettima on 14th July, 2022, a good 21 days after, contrary to Section 33 of the Electoral Act, which states that a political party can only substitute a withdrawn or dead candidate within 14 days of such withdrawal or death.
The incumbent Nigerian president carries yet another moral burden that makes his electoral victory somewhat pyrrhic. His credentials purportedly issued by Chicago State University (CSU), his claimed alma mater, bear dark patches of duplicity all over. In an affidavit sworn to on 24 July, 2023 by one Caleb Westberg, designated as Registrar of the university, CSU admitted error in the certificate it issued Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Westberg in the affidavit admitted error in the date of award on the diploma issued Tinubu, but noted that ‘the differences in the date of award on the diploma versus the certified copy is likely the result of human error. The graduation date on the certified copy is typed in manually by a person and can be inaccurate.”
There is the matter of gender of the Bola Tinubu who was allegedly admitted into CSU as a female and the Bola Tinubu that graduated from the same institution as a male.
Whether it is integrity of the election or on grounds of sheer morality, Tinubu is hunching under the strain of a roundly condemned electoral heist that ridicules the fine tenets of democracy in Africa, a continent with a rich history of military putsch, dictatorship and democratic impunity. This is why all eyes are on the Nigeria judiciary. There is a resurgence of hope that the judiciary would rise above the pervading frost of sentiments and deliver justice to restore public confidence in Nigeria’s democracy.
Jackson Ude, is a former Director of Strategy and Communications to former President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria between 2012-2015.
Ude has a dual degree in Mass Communication and African American Studies and Masters In Political Management