By Femi Aribisala
We just went through the worst presidential election in Nigeria’s history. To add insult to injury, we have now been assaulted with the worst judicial verdict in the history of Nigeria. The presidential election petitions tribunal (PEPT) delivered a judgment on Atiku’s petition against INEC’s declaration of President Muhammadu Buhari as the winner of the February 2019 presidential election, and it was one of the most outrageous judicial verdicts I have ever heard.
One of my late mother’s favourite expressions was a Yoruba proverb which talks of asking someone to buy a monkey. The understanding is that nobody would ever agree to such a transaction.
The verdict of the PEPT is an insult to the intelligence of Nigerians. In broad daylight, the judiciary not only tried to sell Nigerians monkeys, they even tried to sell us dead monkeys. Nobody, except of course APC members and the president’s yes men, are buying them. The verdict is not only preposterous, if it is not overthrown and thrown into the dustbin by the Supreme Court, it will spell the end of free and fair elections in Nigeria and it will provide a precedence that will ensure that the unity of the country is no longer tenable.
At its most fundamental, the verdict institutionalizes mediocrity in Nigeria. To some extent, that was the message of the presidential election. A do-nothing government that presided over Nigeria degradation to the status of the poverty capital of the world used this very deplorable credential as the springboard to declaring itself re-elected by an even greater majority than before. In effect, if the result is to be believed, Nigerians voted for government failure.
The government campaigned for re-election without a policy or a program beyond stating grandiloquently that it was taking Nigeria to the “next level.” Next level of what? Now we know. The government’s next level is one where truth has fallen in the street and equity cannot enter. It is a level where black is white and white is black. It is a level where boko is now haram. In the new Nigeria proclaimed by the government and its handpicked erudite judges, nobody needs to go to school anymore.
Chinua Achebe says: “There was a country.” In the Nigeria where I was born and bred, education was supreme. In the Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo instituted a program of free education for all in order to ensure that there is “no child left behind.” I was the last born in a family of 5 children; 4 boys and 1 girl. My “old man,” Dr. T.S.B. Aribisala, went to Government College, Ibadan (GCI); the premier primary school in the Western Region. All my older brothers also went to GCI, according to family tradition.
I was determined to follow suit. To do this, I had to study hard to pass the entrance examination. Then we had to spend 4 days in GCI where we were taught new things. On the fifth day, we had to take an exam based on the new things we were taught. I again managed to pass the exam. I then spent 5 years in GCI after which I took the WASC. As a result, unlike President Buhari, I have a school-leaving certificate and a WASC certificate. My certificate is not fictitious. It is not with the military or anyone else.
From there, I continued to St. George’s English School Rome, where I did my “A-Levels.” I then went to Warwick University, Coventry, England where I obtained my Bachelor of Arts degree. From there I went to Johns Hopkins University in the United States where I obtained a Master of Arts degree. Finally, I went to St. Catherine’s College, Oxford University in Oxford, England, where I obtained a Ph.D. degree.
I did all this because I understood what is apparently lost on the judges of the PEPT: education is a passport to success in life.
In my last year at Oxford, I was interviewed for jobs in organisations I did not even apply to, such as Bank of America and Citibank. I was even flown to Paris for an interview with the World Bank. At every instance, I insisted I was going back to Nigeria. I did not see why so much should have been invested in my education, only to then use it to the advantage of the more developed countries. As far as I was concerned, Nigeria needed me.
I have gone to great lengths to spell out my educational background in order to explain why I am so disgusted to understand that education is no longer of any use in the Nigeria of today. According to the “learned” judges of the PEPT, nobody needs a certificate any longer in order to qualify for anything in Nigeria. You can simply sign an affidavit, even a false one, and claim your certificate is with someone. Even if the person says he never received your certificate, your word is good enough in 21st century Nigeria.
The learned judges of the PEPT have laid the foundation for a Nigeria of nincompoops. Our famous “next level” is now a level of mediocrities and mediocres. Even as we now have a president that the judges have declared eminently qualified without the proof of a certificate, even so, we can now have judges who are eminently qualified by word of mouth. Pilots can now be taken at their word that they can fly jumbo jets.
If, like me, you have been dismayed that Nigeria has not yet come near to actualizing its potential, then the news from the courts is that things are going to go from bad to worse. Just for the sake ensuring that President Buhari remains in power without having to satisfy the statutory requirement that he has a school-leaving certificate or its equivalent, the judges have declared that, henceforth, educational certificates are inconsequential in Nigeria.
Call to action
This is simply unacceptable. The question is what are right-thinking Nigerians going to do about this? Are we just going to be quiet as some people bring Nigeria down to the next level of ignorance and substandard? No! We must shout at the rooftops with one accord that this prejudicial and corrosive judgment must not be allowed to stand.
Atiku has opted to appeal this travesty of justice at the Supreme Court. But some of us no longer have any hope whatsoever in the Nigerian judiciary. Clearly, the judiciary is now in the pocket of the executive; as evident in the fact that every item in this jaundiced judgment was delivered unanimously by the judges.
Many of us were suspicious of the situation where the chief justice of Nigeria was unlawfully removed by the president, to be replaced by a handpicked successor. It was then up to the new chief justice to pick the five judges of the PEPT. Imagine our surprise when we also saw leaked pictures of the tribunal judges breaking fast with the president in Aso Rock. Clearly, the whole PEPT process was not transparent. Everything about it was shady. Moreover, it was done with arrogance and impunity.
The contempt that this government has for right-thinking Nigerians is evident in the fact that, after this bogus verdict of the courts was delivered, Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture, asked Atiku, whose mandate was stolen in broad daylight, to apologise to Nigerians for taking the matter to court.
Mohammed is supposed to be a lawyer, so you wonder where he ever heard of a litigant issuing an apology for losing a case in court. But in the headlong attempt to ingratiate himself to the president, Mohammed has apparently forgotten about his legal pedigree, in the same manner that the eminent jurists of the PEPT threw all legal reasoning out of the window.
Observe the flowing. Atiku pointed out that the president committed outright perjury. He swore on oath that he went to schools that were nonexistent at the time he claimed to have attended them. He also swore on oath that his certificate was with the military. But the military responded that they did not have his certificate.
How do the eminent jurists handle this open and shut case? They simply ignored it. They did not deal with it at all. This is all well and good under the circumstances because if they had addressed the matter, they might have come up with a new and original redefinition of perjury peculiar to Nigerian jurisprudence that will completely exonerate the president. They may even tell us that perjury is not perjury if what you claim exists is actually non-existent.
What about the president’s nonexistent school certificate? The judges of the PEPT decided to call what does not exist as if it did. They took on the role of Cambridge WASC and simply awarded the president his non-existent certificate. They claimed to be satisfied the certificate exists without seeing it. They insisted the certificate the president listed in his affidavit did not have to be attached, not minding the fact that INEC form CF001 clearly states that, before you swear to an affidavit, you must attach the evidence of your qualifications.
With regard to the issue of the INEC back server which had a different result from the one INEC declared publicly, the eminent jurists decided unanimously to contradict themselves. The presiding justice who spoke a nonexistent certificate into existence now declared that the existence of the back server was not proven. However, he failed to synchronise this view with that of his unanimous colleagues.
Justice Joseph Ikyegh who gave the second judgment said the petitioners recklessly hacked into the non-existent server and shamelessly presented the material they found there to the court. However, he failed to explain how it was possible to hack into a server that does not exist. Another justice, Justice Oseji, said the petitioners proved the issue of the server and agreed that the server was used to store the votes. But he noted that INEC called no evidence to make its case. Does this thereby exonerate INEC?
What about the fundamental flaw whereby the total number of votes where the elections did not take place nullified the difference between the votes awarded to Atiku and Buhari. This anomaly clearly proved too much for the tribunal to handle. Therefore, the judges simply ignored it and said nothing whatsoever about this.
The judges of the PEPT not only delivered judgment on the Atiku/Buhari case, they also sounded the death knell of democracy in Nigeria. From the legal somersaults that they embarked on in order to preserve the president in power, they have ensured that no election can be free and fair in Nigeria again at the presidential level. Henceforth, they have given the incumbent a license to rig. It does not matter how formidable the case; the incumbent president can be expected to prevail because the issue will not be decided on the matter of law but on prejudice.
The upshot of all this is that it is a waste of time casting votes in any future presidential election. The incumbent president or party will rig the election and prevail at the courts.