The Macabre Dance At Nigeria’s Supreme Court By Segun Tomori
Shock, disbelief and outright amazement describes the mood of a wide spectrum of Nigerians to the recent streak of pathetically strange judgements recently delivered on gubernatorial disputes in Rivers, Akwa-Ibom and Abia States by the Supreme court. Never in our recent history has apex court rulings faced so much opprobrium and dissatisfaction even among prominent legal luminaries. The Supreme court inadvertently endorsed electoral heist; certified violence as a veritable means of winning elections and supplied a huge dose of adrenaline to the veins of brazen vote robbers.
Rivers State presented a worst-case scenario. Gov. Wike of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was allocated over 1 million votes while INEC documents reveal that only 292,878 voters were accredited in the whole State! Violence was the order of the day during the elections as gunmen had a field day intimidating people, maiming and killing especially in opposition strongholds while the obviously compromised hierarchy of security agencies looked the other way or were mostly in connivance. We were inundated with reports that the former first lady relocated to Rivers to ensure victory for her “godson” at all cost. Assistant Inspector General (AIG), Zone 6 , Tunde Ogunshakin was allegedly posted out of the State at the instance of the “Dame” who called her husband, the then President, that the top cop was becoming a clog in the wheel of rigging. He had arrested a Divisional Police Officer with electoral materials and was uncompromising, so he had to be shown the way out. He was transferred to Calabar, the Cross-river State capital, 5 am, on election day.
International observers were unanimous in condemning the charade called the Rivers elections. The leader of African Centre of Leadership Strategies and Development, Humphery Bekaren who spoke on behalf of international observers had called for the cancellation of the polls. “We request all lovers of democracy to join us in calling for the outright cancellation of the phony election. Unless this is done, we would have sown the seed that could eventually grow into providing a shade of fear and death over us,’’ he stated. “What we saw did not meet international standard of electioneering, not even the ones set by the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC,’’ he further stated.
The Elections petitions tribunal agreed with international observers and the All Progressives Congress (APC). It held that Wike of the PDP was not duly elected, nullified the elections and ordered a fresh one within 90 days. Tribunal chairman, Justice Ambrosa averred that thuggery overran the state during the election. “The allegation of intimidation, harassment, snatching of ballot boxes, ballot papers, lack of result sheets, late arrival of election materials, diversion of election materials, ballot stuffing, allocation of figures, non-collation of result, failure to use card readers were all established by the petitioners.” he stated.
The appeal court also concurred and affirmed the judgement of the lower court. It ruled the seven issues raised by Gov. Wike against him and in favour of Dakuku Peterside, the APC candidate. It held that Wike’s elections did not conform to the stipulations of the electoral act. It therefore beats one’s imagination the contrary evidence our learned justices of the Supreme court garnered, or the jurisprudence it relied upon to affirm Wike’s election despite the avalanche of evidence weighed in against him.
Akwa-Ibom was another spectre of the absurd during the gubernatorial elections. Violence was massively used to intimidate voters; evidence of thousands of ballots cast for the opposition party which were isolated and thrown away by rogue staff of INEC in collusion with the PDP were presented before the tribunal; vote allotting instead of collation characterised the elections in substantial Local governments. It was therefore no surprise that the petitions tribunal cancelled the elections in 18 out of the 31 LGs of the State and ordered that fresh polls be conducted there. The Court of Appeal however disagreed with the partial cancellation and nullified the entire elections. It posited that the tribunal was wrong by its refusal to comply with section 179(2) of the constitution.
“The court said having agreed with the evidence of principal witnesses, video evidence, and evidence from state collation agents, the tribunal should have concluded that there was no collation and that votes were merely allotted.” Evidences of over-voting in 27 out of 31 LGs formed the crux of the appellate court’s judgement. Total accredited votes of over 400,000 jumped mysteriously to 1.2m from which over 900,000 was credited to Gov. Udom Emmanuel of the PDP. Claims of incident forms by the PDP to back manual voting which led to over-voting according to it, couldn’t be validated. The alleged storming of the Supreme court by Sen. Godswill Akpabio and his declaration to his supporters that “it is all over” when the justices went on recess before delivering the verdict raises suspicion about a fore-knowledge of the judgement. Was the Supreme court penetrated by reactionary forces? Was the judgements procured through covert inducement? Only time will tell.
Abia State also followed a similar pattern. Though violence wasn’t as widespread as Rivers and Akwa-Ibom, the Appeal Court nullified the election of PDP Governor, Ikpeazu and declared All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) candidate, Alex Otti winner. The Justice Omoleye-led court said the APGA candidate scored 164,444 valid votes to defeat Mr Ikpeazu who polled 114,444 votes. He stated further that the cancellation of the elections held in three LGAs of Obingwa, Osisioma Ngwa and Isiala Ngwa by the returning officers after the results were uploaded to INEC was wrong. “In the Electoral Act, the Returning Officer has the right to only declare results of elections and not to cancel elections.” he concluded.
It is therefore curious that the Supreme court didn’t see any merit in this judgements. Prominent Legal luminaries like Prof Itse Sagay expressed surprise and wondered how all governorship cases will go the same way. It is evident that the Supreme court allowed itself to be swayed by technicalities into giving judgements instead of delivering justice. The constitutional lacuna that didn’t vitiate manual accreditation might have been exploited to deliver the jaundiced judgements,but Section 160 of the constitution which “empowered INEC to make its own rules or regulate it’s procedures” should have taken care of that. But to the Supreme Court, the former prevailed. But at what cost? Lost lives, brigandage, ballot stuffing, testimony of security agencies and observers; and evidence of substantial non-compliance with the electoral act were thrown into the thrash can.
It will be pertinent at this point to call for an independent probe of Supreme court judges. This is the time for investigative journalists at home and abroad to swing into action. We must not allow acts of omission or commission of an apex court compel Nigerians to resort to self-help. In this investigation, President Buhari should avail investigators the assistance of the Department of State Security (DSS). Purveyors of election violence have been emboldened, vote robbers are now basking in the euphoria of their conquest. We must take the sail out of their wind by unravelling the circumstances that led to the infamous judgements.
However, we must now go back to the drawing board to tighten the noose around vote riggers. President Buhari should lead the process that will herald holistic electoral reforms. The constitution and the electoral act should be amended to incorporate Card readers and electronic voting in our statutes. Electoral Offences Commission that will ensure that vote robbers face justice should be in place before the next general elections in 2019.
There is no corruption greater than the subversion of the people’s will. This must be fought to a standstill if the fight against graft by the present administration will not be a mirage on the long-run.
Segun Tomori, is a Public Affairs Analyst based in Abuja, 08062672869, twitter: @seguntomori