Nigeria’s Judiciary at a Crossroads – By Olumide Ojini
The presidential election of 2019 has come and perhaps gone. To some, it might have been confined to the dustbin of history but definitely not the throwbacks on the conscience of a nation which has been wounded by its blatant disregard for common sense; a nation that needs healing.
The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former Vice President of Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar has approached the courts to seek redress. His prayers? That he won the February 23 presidential elections without let and he was brazenly rigged out by the All Progressives Congress and its candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari using apparatuses of state security and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the supposed umpire of the polls. He also prayed the court to look into the merits of his claim that Buhari was ineligible to contest for the post of president having lied under oath in the form CF001 that he filled and submitted to INEC to enable him contest for that office.
Since March, 2019 Nigerians have been treated to a drama of the absurd in all the legal tussles, their quest for justice have been treated with the greatest disdain as if they do not matter.
The legal rigmarole have taken turns and twists, first from the refusal of INEC, a supposed electoral umpire which obviously did not seem to be living up to its name as in being independent refusing the Atiku legal team access to electoral materials with which to prosecute its case, and this was done in blatant disregard of a subsisting Court order to make them available.
Then the legal tricks of deliberate delays: refusal of the President of Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa to recuse herself especially in a matter where her culpability and interest is very much manifest. All these court theatrics no doubt robbed the Atiku and PDP legal team of ample time and opportunity to parade all or most of its listed four hundred witnesses lined up in support of its claims.
To start with, INEC shot itself in the legs by denying it ever had a Server into which all election results were uploaded. It is a grave assault on the minds of many Nigerians. In this age and time, where does INEC capture data of over 80 million registered voters spread across one hundred and ninety nine, nine hundred and seventy three polling stations in the country? Even against its own laws and guidelines INEC had defaulted because it promised Nigerians a fool proof election conduct, collation and transmission of results. There is enough evidence to suggest that INEC lied about this all important aspect of the voting process. If INEC gets away with a discharge from this open lies, then all and most especially the Chairman and its principal officers should not get away with fraud. They should answer questions on the money approved for the procurement of this electronic facility. If INEC truly does not have a Server, the money allocated for it must have been stolen by its operatives.
But yet more drama was to await Nigerians, as they woke up to a rude shock last week after Atiku and the PDP closed their case within its ten days allotted time, presenting 65 witnesses of its 400 (because of time constraints). First it was INEC that declared matter of fact that it does not have witnesses to call, and after a highly disappointing parade of seven lacklustre witnesses that did more damages to the Buhari/APC defends line, they also opted for an abrupt close of case. Curiously, the APC closed its own case before it even started without calling a witness.
Typically the signal this sends to most Nigerians that just like the February 23 elections, the APC is out to draw out another card in its pack of aces, to browbeat the Judiciary. Another short corner legion?
What suffers in the eventuality of a miscarriage of Justice as the sudden change of tactics suggest? Democracy is about to be taken to the slaughter house and where the will of the people is murdered in such brazen manner their existence was abridged. A stolen mandate is directly proportional to a stolen future and a perverted destiny.
The nation’s Justices will write their names in 24 karat of gold if they manifest the moral force as embodied by Lady Justice.
By evoking its instrumentality of impartiality, the Judiciary would have gained back its integrity and fulfilment of the sacred duty bestowed on it by providence.
Long after this season, it would be said of Nigeria’s judiciary that it found itself at a crossroads, but showed uncommon courage in restoring hope to a country in need of salvation, and ultimately wrote itself in the golden book as champions of our democracy.
Olumide Ojini, a Microbiologist wrote from Asaba
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