Nigerian politics in the decades 1979 – 1999 have been on a stormy and bumpy road. At different times along the way, the judiciary shouldered the burden of resolving political and constitutional problems arising from the outcome of our presidential elections with decisions that erased dividing lines in our quest to achieve a united and prosperous nation.
Election to occupy the Office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is the single most problematic threat to national unity and political stability in the country.
Expectedly the 2023 presidential election was conducted amid persistent and prevailing threats to the security and unity of Nigeria. Some thought that these challenges will place INEC in a vulnerable position and incapacitate the work of the commission to a very large extent.
However, the determination of the majority of Nigerians to promote the rotation of power and a sense of belonging for all Nigerians overwhelmed these fears and challenges during the elections.
INEC subsequently re-casted Nigeria’s electoral future with innovations and processes that promote democratic liberty and ensure fear standards in combating electoral malpractices as witnessed in Lagos State, Osun State and the Federal Capital Abuja and other locations across the country.
Although the Presidential election side-lined the Nigerian characteristics in our voting behaviour, the outcome was a locally driven political solution and a new era of power rotation that bore the signatures and participation of youth, women and faith-based institutions.
These are the main assets in INEC’s favour and a splendid achievement in the history of Nigeria’s democracy.
The Presidential candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC) and winner of the presidential election Asiwaju Bola Tinubu led a prosperous campaign and successfully mobilized Nigerians to pursue the ideal of rotation of power outside religious and ethnic considerations in parity with the June 12 1993 Presidential election.
What cannot be wished away in Nigerian politics is that rotation of power has become a legitimate national aspiration and it is a practice that our democracy requires.
The EU observers could not find accreditation in this development as a unique feature in our democratic experience. Every society develops and practices what works for it and such beliefs are to be recognized and respected by other nations.
The observers, in a rush
swam parallel with disturbing media posts, hate speeches, defamation and incitement to violence, aimed at discrediting the outcome of the democratic process.
It is against international norms for foreign observers to act like mercenaries with unfulfilled demands from a warlord. Our sovereignty was affronted by the fact that the observers knowingly jumped into the contest in a scheme to undermine the responsibility of our judiciary.
The Nigerian judiciary as a pillar in the unification tripod will not allow its leg to wobble in resolving issues that may lead to instability or possible weakening of the Nigerian State by any external influence.
Our judges have always shunned tendencies that could magnify threats to Nigeria’s unity and stability. The logic of their decisions is in empowering reforms in our democratic setting and alignment with the realities and compromises inherent in our federal system.
This was the position in the case of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Alhaji Shehu Shagari in 1979. Justice Andrew Obaseki made it clear while addressing a class of law students at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of Lagos six years after. The late jurist was one of the Justices of the apex court who sat to determine the 1979 presidential election petition in favour of Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria. In defence of the reasoning of the majority of his brother jurists on what constitutes 2/3 of 19 states, he asked rhetorically “If we had given a judgment that set Nigeria on fire, have we done justice”. A query to which the entire audience thundered “NO”.
This wisdom became a judicial norm which gained consistency in subsequent election petition cases relating to the office of the president from the first presidential election held in Nigeria on 11th August 1979 to the ninth election conducted on 23rd February 2019 where the apex court followed the practice of sustaining the status quo in the national interest.
The Awolowo and Shagari case revealed that elections in Nigeria and particular presidential elections are conducted under special circumstances and courts did not only depend on the statute in adjudication.
In the Awolowo and Shagari’s case, the Supreme Court held that the Federal Electoral Commission as an interpreter of statutory provisions to be met has the discretion to choose one from the meanings where the statutory provision is capable of more than one meaning. It can go no further.
The court went further to state that where in interpreting a provision, there is doubt that the legislature intended a wide view to be taken, so much so that fundamental principles will be disregarded, the court can adopt a narrow view.
The Supreme Court finally held that even though it had been found that there was non-compliance with the provision of section 34 A(1)(C)(ii) of the electoral law, the provision of Section III Sub-section (I) will be invoked, which provides that non-compliance will not affect the result of the election.
In their Lordship’s conclusion, the federal Electoral Commission was right in its determination of the winner and it has satisfied the provisions of the electoral law.
Borrowing from the wisdom of our apex court, Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), INEC Result Viewing Portal (IREV) and other innovative tools introduced by INEC are to aid the electoral process and until our electoral results are “fully computerized” the suggestions by those who are unhappy with the result of the presidential election including social media practitioners and TV anchors “are impracticable”.
Respect for the outcome of the February 25, 2023, presidential election appears to be the only positive link between our constitution and national unity at this juncture in time. There is justification for our Judiciary to cross the line in defence of national unity and when our corperate existence becomes vulnerable to avoidable shocks arising from the outcome of a presidential election.
The victory of the APC and President Bola Tinubu is well fortified based on the above premises and on account of the demand of the people of the southern regions from the Nigeria State that power must rotate to the South.
Lecturing at the University College, Ibadan on Nigeria’s current affairs in 1962, Nigeria’s first Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa said “We must be concerned with issues that make us understand one another without any tribe dominating the other”.
The search for a fair and equitable polity in Nigeria will continue even after the tenure of President Bola Tinubu.
Niran Sule-Akinsuyi is a former Member of Parliament and one-time Commissioner for Special Duties in Ondo State.