• Friday, March 01, 2024
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Tribunal verdict: Future elections at risk as citizens may rethink participation

Tribunal verdict: Future elections at risk as citizens may rethink participation

The enthusiasm with which Nigeria’s young voters participated in the last presidential election may not be galvanised again in the nearest future. For many the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) in their possession may have ceased to have any value following the decision of the Presidential Election Petitions Court (PEPC).

The run-up to the election saw increased youth participation in the discourse and campaigns.

According to the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies, there was a “connection between Nigeria’s youth-led #EndSARS movement and the mobilisation in support of the Labour Party’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi, referred to as the #Obidient movement. To his backers, Obi presented an opportunity for a new kind of governance with more transparency and accountability. Both the #EndSARS and #Obidient movements were dominated by mostly young middle-class Nigerians from urban areas.”

On Wednesday, Nigeria’s presidential election petitions tribunal rejected challenges by opponents to President Bola Tinubu’s victory in February’s disputed presidential election.

The five Appeals Court judges said they did not see irregularities in the 2023 Presidential election that left some dead and many others maimed.

The tribunal judges held that Nigeria’s main opposition parties failed to prove claims of electoral malpractice against the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) in the February 25th disputed election.

The main opposition parties both alleged that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the country’s electoral body, conspired with the ruling party to influence voter turnout and disregard the Electoral Act, which mandates an electronic transmission of results.

The challenges came after one of the country’s most tightly-fought elections, in which former Lagos State governor, Tinubu, won 37 percent of the votes cast, beating Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Peter Obi of the Labour Party to secure the presidency of Africa’s most populous nation.

The rejection of the appeal by the opposition parties who alleged that Mr. Tinubu stole victory from them, followed an unceasing pattern that has characterised previous elections in the country.

Africa’s largest economy returned to democratic rule in 1999, after nearly sixteen years of uninterrupted military dictatorship. The country has a rich history of electoral fraud and despite obvious irregularities and allegations of voting fraud by local and international observers, no legal challenge to the outcome of a presidential election has succeeded in Nigeria.

Reliable local and international observers concluded that the last general election in the country were not credible and fell far short of basic international standards.

Elections for president, state governors and legislators were marred by violence, poor organisation, lack of transparency, significant evidence of fraud, voter disenfranchisement and bias, the observers said.

“These elections have not lived up to the hopes and expectations of the Nigerian people and the process cannot be considered to have been credible,” said Max van den Berg, chief EU observer, in a statement.

He said that there were credible reports of about 200 election-related deaths and described a climate of impunity for electoral violations that had undermined the entire process.

Nyimbi Odero, a Kenyan IT expert who designed some of the most significant tech innovations for Nigeria’s elections, noted that INEC failed to manage the chain of custody of results from the polling units.

“I have looked at some of the results they published. A large percentage of them are completely illegible,” he ssid.

“These are issues that are so egregious that no reasonable person could presume innocence – and these are problems that could have been anticipated,” he further said.

“No matter what the judiciary decided based on facts, Nigerians know the truth of what happened on the 25th February 2023 in the presidential election in Nigeria. Truth and facts and evidence in proof are poles apart. While courts rely on evidence of facts, truth does not,” Jibrin Okutepa, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, asserted in an X post in reaction to the court’s judgement.

Nigeria, he added, “will do itself well if at all times it upholds truth in the running of its affairs. Nigerians know the excruciating pains petitioners go through in the hands of INEC and how pink copies of election results are not always given to agents of parties in most cases.”

The affirmation of electoral heists especially in presidential elections by Nigeria’s judges is a threat to the legitimacy of future elections in the country.

Elections in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest democracy, have been dogged by low voter turnout which has declined every year since the 2003 election. Less than three in ten Nigerians who had Permanent Voter Cards turned up at the poll on February 25, making it the lowest voter turnout since the country started conducting elections in 1999.

It is difficult to separate the judiciary’s poor subpar adjudication of elections’ challenges from citizens turnout.

The low voter turnout trend is worrying for Nigeria’s democracy. The official voter turnout of 24.9 million announced in March represents a meagre 26.71percent of the 93.47 million registered voters. It is the lowest voter turnout since the country’s return to civilian rule in 1999 and accounts for barely 12percent of the country’s 220 million population.

High levels of electoral fraud have been linked to less satisfaction with democracy, a 2017 study by German researchers published in the Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties found.

“Manifestations of electoral fraud affect individuals by constraining the electoral choices available and by adding a layer of arbitrariness between citizens’ preferences and their translation into seats. We posit that electoral fraud in general acts as an additional filter hindering citizens from shaping policy outcomes, and is likely to affect perceptions of accountability and responsiveness,” the researchers noted.

There are costs to electoral fraud; voters’ perception of judicial fairness tends to have an impact on their attitudes and behaviours towards voting. When the electoral process is illicitly influenced and the criminality sanctioned by the judiciary, interest in voting by citizens decreases.

“The courage to tell anyone to go register for their PVC and vote again may not be there anymore,” Henry Shield warned in an X post

“That is what the establishment wants; they want to frustrate ordinary Nigerians to a point they give up and just allow them do as they wish,” @tweetJudon posited

Nigeria’s judges have been accused of defending the corrupt political status quo. They have also faced incessant accusations of bribery and corruption.

In December 2020, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) held that the judicial sector led the Nigeria Corruption Index between 2018 and 2020. The Commission further said that about N9,457,650,000 was offered and paid as bribes by lawyers to judges.

Bolaji Owasanoye, chairman of the ICPC, said that “the justice sector had the highest level of corruption with a score of 63. The level of corruption in the justice sector was heightened by stupendously high amounts of money offered as bribes to judges by lawyers handling high electoral and other political cases.

“Follow-up discussions indicated that the cases of outright demand and offer of bribes are mostly linked to election matters.

“Money involved in the high-level corruption in this sector was categorised into money demanded, offered or paid. Demands are made by court officials, including judges, while lawyers or litigants make bribery offers and payments.

“The total amount of money reported by the justice sector respondents as corruptly demanded, offered and paid between 2018 and 2020 was N9,457, 650,000.”.

According to the study, percentage of those most responsible for bribe for judgement cases were: Lawyers (27.17%); litigants personally (21.96%) court staff (clerks, registrars etc.)— (21.54%); judges (16.88% cent), government MDAs (7.37%); no experience on the matter (3.06%); chose not to say (1.01%), and others 1.01 percent.

“In Nigeria, an average citizen perceives the judicial institution has an instrument to twist laws for the sake of some vested interest. The country is on the verge of anarchy as its judicial institution seems to have lost integrity, public confidence and professionalism,” Attorney, Binzak Azeez noted.

“Same judiciary that wasn’t scandalised after the husband of an ex-president of the court of appeal confessed on national tv to influencing his wife’s job is the one someone somewhere has high expectations of today? All eyes on which judiciary?” Investigative journalist, Fisayo Soyombo queried.

In June, Senator Muhammad Adamu Bulkachuwa, former Senator that represented Bauchi North Senatorial District, unwittingly revealed the parlous state of the judiciary when he asserted his influence over his wife, a retired judge.

“I look at faces in this chamber who have come to me and sought my help when my wife was the President of the Court of Appeal and I am sure…And I must thank particularly my wife, whose freedom and independence I encroached upon while she was in office, and she has been very tolerant and accepted my encroachment, and extended her help to my colleagues,” the senator said at a valedictory session held in honour of the 9th Senate.

Read also: Elections are based on concrete facts not social media, says Wike

Until her retirement in March 2020, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa was the President of the Nigerian Court of Appeal – a highly influential judicial office which has direct prerogative in the empanelling of Election Petition Tribunals at the end of every round of elections in Nigeria.

“There is no such thing as justice in Nigeria, only power,” Remi Adekoya, a lecturer in Politics at York University, noted in an X post

Increasingly, the judgements of Nigeria’s courts especially in election-related cases offend the conscience, common sense and basic justice of all Nigerians.

“Increasingly, Nigeria’s courts have become courts of Mumbo Jumbo and technicality rather than courts of justice. Technical legal rules are supposed to be a guide to justice, not a tool to thwart justice. That was the track that imposed Hope Uzodimma as governor of Imo State, even though he came fourth in the governorship election,” Castro Ginigeme, lawyer and former adjunct law professor in the United States, said.

Nigeria’s judiciary, he added, “is not fit for purpose as the method for recruiting judges is nepotistic and political.”