Now that Supreme Court has empowered Yar’Adua

By Casmir Igbokwe
Published: Sunday, 14 Dec 2008
Senator Ben Obi‘s grey-moustached face contrasted sharply with the smooth and chubby face of Adetokunbo Kayode (SAN). Mike Aondoakaa‘s, though also smooth, radiated sternness as if to say, ”I‘m ready for anything today.” The Vice-Presidential candidate of the Action Congress, the Tourism Minister and the Attorney-General of the Federation respectively listened with rapt attention last Friday as the Supreme Court justices read their judgement on the 2007 presidential election. There are lessons to draw from these three faces, as we shall see later here.

Of course you are already aware that President Umaru Yar‘Adua won the court case. Justice Niki Tobi, who read the lead judgement, said the victory did not mean that all was well with the presidential election. According to him, there was no evidence before the court to dislodge section 146(1) of the Electoral Act.

He adds, ”The way politics is played in this country frightens me every dawning day. It is a fight to finish affair. Nobody accepts defeat at the polls. The judges must be the final bus stop.”

Here lies the crux of the matter. In Nigeria, no politician easily accepts defeat. They employ all sorts of coercive machinery to win. When they fail, they resort to the law courts. And they will not probably rest until the final arbitration of the case by the highest court of the land.

Since this problem has become part of our political culture, it is disturbing that we have allowed it to persist. Section 148 of the Electoral Act of 2006 stipulates that electoral petitions must be given accelerated hearing. Since there is no specific timeframe, the courts are wont to interpret the clause as it suits them. This is unlike what obtains in countries like Namibia and Lesotho, where the courts are expected to dispense with election cases within 60 and 30 days respectively.

This loophole in our Electoral Act gives room for unnecessary delays in determining election petitions. This is why it took the Nigerian judiciary about 19 months to decide the real winner of the 2007 presidential election. If Yar‘Adua had lost, he would have spent those months as the illegitimate president of Nigeria. As I noted on this page a few weeks ago, Prof. Oserheimen Osunbor had stayed 18 months as Edo State governor before the courts restored the mandate to the rightful owner, Adams Oshiomhole.

Even up till now, some states are yet to know who their legitimate governors are as the appeals against gubernatorial elections in those states are still pending before the appellate courts. In this dilemma are such states as Delta, Kwara, Ogun, Osun and Ondo. These are outside the national and state assembly elections petitions pending before the various election petitions tribunals.

In saner democracies, election petitions are dispensed with before the inauguration of elected officials. US presidential election was held November 4, but the inauguration of the new president comes up in January. Most commentators have also eulogised Ghana for its recent free and transparent elections. How then do we make our electoral system as smooth as that of Ghana or the US?

This is where the electoral reform panel comes in. Last Thursday, the 22-man committee submitted its report to President Yar‘Adua. Inaugurated in August 2007, the committee, headed by retired Justice Muhammadu Uwais, examined the entire electoral process in Nigeria. Among other things, it submitted draft bills for the amendment of the 1999 Constitution, the 2006 Electoral Act and the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission.

I cannot say more than these 22 wise men have said in their report. All that is required now is for Mr. President to ensure that their recommendations are given prompt attention in order to move our democracy forward. He has no reason to delay or fail us now that the Supreme Court has legitimised his stay in Aso Rock.

Happily, he described the judgement as a landmark event that would catapult him to provide greater service to the country. He called on the losers not to see his victory as a process of winners and losers, but a process where all of them were winners. He urged them to join him in the service of Nigeria.

Indeed, the task ahead is enormous. Beyond reforming the electoral system, the President should fix our decaying infrastructure with renewed vigour. It is in my enlightened self-interest that the Benin-Ore Road, for instance, becomes as smooth as Kayode‘s face before December 2009.

After the verdict of the Supreme Court, Aondoakaa‘s face brightened up. He was full of broad smiles as he pumped hands with Yar‘Adua at Aso Rock. Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan; Senate President David Mark; the national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Vincent Ogbulafor and many other PDP bigwigs were beside themselves with joy. If only they could transfer half of this happiness to the ordinary Nigerian, this country would be a paradise.

As for the government officials who hugged and backslapped one another over the President‘s victory, one may ask, could you have done it for the love of Yar‘Adua? I can swear that most of them were apprehensive that should Yar‘Adua be asked to leave, their means of livelihood would be affected. It is in their own enlightened self-interest that Yar‘Adua remains so that some of them will continue their pilfering game.

This is the time for the President to make real his anti-corruption stance. It is time he told the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission that its ”see something and say something” slogan should not just be mouthed; it should be enforced. As Oshiomhole rightly observed recently, many Nigerians had seen something and said something, yet nothing happened. We need more of action now than sloganeering and empty talks.

Every Nigerian will be very happy if the ruling party starts the reformation process by giving its thugs and riggers the stern look of Aondoakaa. The opposition parties, in turn, seem to be going grey. They should wake up and wear the grey/wisdom hairs of Obi like a hat while performing their watchdog role in the country. When things move according to plans, every Nigerian should be able to beam and radiate the chubby and lively disposition of Kayode.

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