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THOSE SCARRY EYES ON THE JUDICIARY AND JUSTICE

By Law Mefor

It is political and self-incriminating to destroy the billboards that read “All eyes on the judiciary.” It is a message of patriotism dressed up for the general good. Therefore, it is shocking that top officials of the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria (ARCO) have been suspended and their unit disbanded following the “All eyes on the judiciary” billboards that surfaced in Abuja and a few other states.

The statement is general and solely calls on the judiciary to exercise caution and extreme diligence in carrying out its duties because the issues at hand, particularly the presidential election petitions, are among the most divisive in the country’s electoral history.

Nobody wants to see Nigeria burn to the ground for the simple reason that the judiciary appeared callous and rendered decisions that most Nigerians could not comprehend. A judgement must not only serve justice but must also appear to have done so to be considered just.

Normally, ARCO should convey such a message as part of its social corporate duty. Such messages are provided by tobacco companies: “Smokers are liable to die young”; “Drink responsibly” is yet another common message of CSR, this time from Nigeria Breweries.

Some patriotic Nigerians hosted the all-eye on judicial message, which was something that ARCO should have done. However, rather than praising these Nigerians, ARCO denounced the initiative as urging the judiciary to act against anyone. This is untrue. The message is merely calling for judgments with justice.

Now that I think about it, the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) moved accountability from itself to the judiciary. The renowned advice to “go to court” was given by Professor Mahmood Yakubu, the head of the Commission. Out of the 18 political parties that presented candidates in the 2023 presidential election, five urged their supporters to follow the INEC’s guidance and headed to court.

Mahmood intentionally shifted Nigerians’ focus away from INEC and towards the courts when he advised political parties and their candidates to file lawsuits. In other words, it was INEC and its chairman who originally offered that phrase—”all eyes on the judiciary”—and Nigerians have since followed suit by focusing their attention there.

Some patriotic Nigerians had put up a few billboards here and there, repeating the same advice: “All eyes (should be) on the judiciary,” to underscore the need to trust the country’s judicial system and for the bench not to let down their guards.

We must permit the judiciary to carry out its duties and this has been the case. Aside from the lament of Her Lordship Ngozi Azinge of the Kano State Tribunal, who warned Nigerians that she was being pursued with a sack of bribe money, the Nigerian judiciary has not complained of being tormented, let alone bothered by the awesome interest being displayed by some patriotic Nigerians who are urging Nigerians look up to the bench.

I also believe that Nigerians have a right to remind the relevant government body of the significance of this election. The judiciary should be reminded that this election cannot be decided by technicalities, such as making a candidate who finished fourth in a gubernatorial race the first and victor.

An obvious breach of various regulations governing political parties in Nigeria is when some people who did not participate in party primaries are currently sitting in the national assembly. Or, lucid legal issues are obscured by a fog of technicalities. Thus, after navigating smokescreens, a male gets identified as a lady. Expressio unius est exclusio alterius, which means “expressly mentioning one thing is explicitly excluding another,”

When an existing law specifies what should be done, such as when the constitution requires that a winning candidate secure 25% of the vote in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), when the law specifies that forgery and indictment disqualify a candidate, etc., when statistics demonstrate willful falsification of numbers, etc. The literary meanings of these legal and constitutional clauses as understood by Nigerians are what they are looking for, and hoping and fervently praying there should be no judicial abracadabra to obfuscate simple issues in the so-called national interest.

The men who work in law consider themselves the only learned people. Bench as the pinnacle of the judiciary needs to educate Nigerians, and they have been patiently waiting and admiring the two apex courts – the Presidential Election Petitions Court and the Supreme Court – where the presidential election will ultimately be dispensed with and concluded.

You can hold Prof. Mahmood Yakubu and INEC accountable for everything that happened because they started doing a great job and gave up in the closing hours by purposefully disabling as Amazon witnesses testified, and by refusing to hear petitions that were lawfully presented before it prior to the final declaration of presidential election result as allowed by the Electoral Act of 2022.

Again, if INEC and Mahmood had sought clear interpretations of the points of law from the Supreme Court even before the election, such problems wouldn’t be included in the current petitions and litigation. For instance, INEC could have asked the Supreme Court for its opinion and legal position on the 25% in the FCT issue, especially after being alerted to it by a renowned Nigerian attorney, Olise Agbakoba.

The country reached this deadlock as a result of the abdication of statutory duties by INEC. The problems relating to substantial compliance with the Electoral Act and the computation of results at various levels should be the only issues that should be before the tribunals. However, INEC’s failure to resolve such points of law before result declarations have now given the tribunals, particularly the PEPT and Supreme Court, additional work to do and created anxiety heating the polity.

Normally, the judiciary shouldn’t have any direct role in election results. Wherever that occurs, the judiciary replaces the electorates, and it could get worse if the courts return candidates on technicalities rather than relying on the electorate’s votes. In the 2019 governorship elections, it occurred in the cases of Hope Uzodinma in Imo state and Ademola Adeleke in Osun state. Adeleke’s situation was extremely pitiful. He lost simply because one of the judges hearing the case failed to act promptly as required. The main factor in Hope Uzodinma’s victory was that INEC (the same INEC) failed to provide annulled results in roughly 360 polling places.

This strange muddle was caused by what INEC did, which was either to fail to upload election results in real-time or to upload 18,000 unreadable or blank results from the polling units as required by Electoral Act 2022 section 64 (Procedures at Election) sub-section 4, which expressly states: “A collation officer or returning officer at an election shall collate and announce the result of an election, subject to his or her verification and confirmation that the – (a) number of accredited voters stated on the collated result are correct and consistent with the number of accredited voters recorded and transmitted directly from polling units under section 47 (2) of this Act; (b) the votes stated on the collated result are correct and consistent with the votes or results recorded and transmitted directly from polling units…”

Going by such extensive provisions of the aforementioned Electoral Act, the General Election of 2023 should rank among the greatest in the country’s history. Prof. Yakubu and INEC were confident and prepared to deliver until monkey hands that appeared to be human hands intervened at the last minute.

By violating its own guidelines and ignoring the Electoral Act’s explicit restrictions, INEC acted in a manner comparable to making the best soup possible and then adding a plateful of salt to it so that no one could taste it. That is what turned the 2023 General Election —which ought to have been the best—into the worst one ever.

Since INEC failed both itself and Nigerians, the judiciary should be the centre of attention so that it does not also. There is no other option or place for Nigerians to go. The judiciary is, after all, the common man’s last resort. Why, then, do some individuals get nervous when Nigerians look at the PEPT and Supreme Court in the hope of obtaining justice? Would they prefer Nigerians to seek out self-help instead?

· Dr. Law Mefor, an Abuja-based forensic and social psychologist, is a fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts; drlawmefor@gmail.com; Twitter: @DrlawsonMefor.

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