Stealth or furtiveness is one of the ways of thieves in all cultures. Not so for armed robbers everywhere. Armed, the robbers can challenge you at the crime scene. That’s because they can be armed to the teeth to do bodily harm. Never does a thief steal from you and dare you to meet them in court. There’s an East African proverb: “When a thief encourages you to go to court, just know that his elder brother is the judge.” When Nigerian vote thieves and establishment politicians dared victims of the February 25 daylight robbery to go to court, they were acting true to type. Besides their heavy war chests laden with incredible medium to long-range missiles, they also need to buy time through the snail-pace court processes and filibustering that attend the trial stage.
This, they expect, allows injustice to settle. Besides, traditional rulers, religious leaders, and other opinion shapers intervene and plead that all power issues from the Almighty God in heaven. Vote robbers know the ensuing melee will throw up hirelings and characters like Lamidi Apapa to arise and compound the confusion and deny truth a bench in the hallowed chamber of justice. Anyone who harbours and or offers asylum to injustice and unfairness or denies the blindfolded maiden appearance as a witness in our clime should pick a lesson from Lamidi Apa- pa’s less-than-dignifying treatment that saw a traditional chieftain uncapped in public. Egyptian-American Suzy Kassem, in the opening quote above, sums up what can abort justice.
The likes of Mr. Apapa trying to put hunk to prevent the truth from excelling are fitting examples. In Nigeria’s latest election petition case, the world is apprehensive and waiting to see how the judiciary tackles the tsetse-fly perching on its phallus. The tension in the nation as exemplified by the intemperate reaction of Nigerians to an obvious attempt at blocking justice as seen in Mr. Apapa’s case on May 17 sends a clear message and even underscores the importance of the work of the presidential election tribunal (PEPT). The repercussions of the tribunal members’ conclusions not meeting the expectations of the people and the international community can be far- reaching for our democracy and indeed nationhood.
“A court cannot fail,” countered a learned friend and lawyer who spiked my first draft headline “What if the court fails [and meets the expectations of the go-to-court schemers]?” The lawyer’s grouse against the draft is that whatever the apex court rules on any issue brought before it is final and sacrosanct. Like the Catholic pontiff, the Supreme Court of Nigeria is infallible and cannot err like normal humans. So, it’s atypical, kooky, and even quirky to say that the court errs. The law is designed to work flawlessly, even though often, it seems to fail when it is bypassed as in denying truth the chance to be a witness and thus providing the adjudicators with the leeway to meander, twist, and stroll away from the certitude, and the fact of the matter before them.
On the Supreme Court ruling on Imo State, upholding a distant fourth contestant as the winner in the gubernatorial poll, my friend contended and proved that the final arbiter did not fail to produce a governor for the state. Look back to the case of Senate President Ahmad Lawan from Yobe. He aspired for the Aso Rock Villa and his Senate seats simultaneously. The Senate president lost in the APC presidential primary election but “won” back his Senate seat at the apex court. Today, he is a Senator-elect, though he bypassed the senatorial primaries of his party. Interestingly, his CV reads: “Presidential and senatorial aspirant in 2022 and Senator-elect in 2023.” Only with a Nigerian judiciary will all these occur.
All said and done, the critical role of the Court of Justice in any society is to undo the knots of injustice. Sometimes in the process, the unjust get justice benefiting from the application of technicalities by the judiciary. The realistic expectation from the Nigerian judiciary is akin to the verdict of the marker of the final examination paper. The marker, not the teacher, awards the marks. Who designs the marking scheme? Certainly not the teacher. In reality, the final court decision stands, but the fallout will not be under the judiciary’s control. What happened with Mr. Apapa outside the courtroom on May 17 at the Presidential Election Tribunal sitting was out of the justices’ control.
All the bad blood, bloodletting, and animosities arising from the judicial impositions on Imo and Yobe states are beyond the courts. Not to talk of such consequences in a presidential election where the electoral umpire had a brazen result that does not reflect the wish of the voters who trooped out en masse on February 25 to exercise their right to vote. The Supreme Court is the last door to open before going to God with any grievances. If it gets things right and delivers justice to the deserving, what will be taken to God will be appreciation and thanksgiving. But if it endorses in- justice, there will be appeals of grievances. God reacts to appeals but not always as the appellants desire. But certainly, he must come to judgment.
The pity is on any justice(s) who, for whatever variables, decide to tilt towards injustice than justice in any matter before them. Our concern is not on what happens to justices that see right and decide to follow wrong for whatever reasons, it’s for their children and friends to border on that, ours is on the consequences of such an unjust ruling on the people and the nation-state. The first victim of any gratuitous rulings will be democracy. Why? Be- cause such unmerited judgment will redefine the meaning of democracy away from being the government of the people, for the people, and by the people. Courts are a big part of the judiciary, the third estate of the realm, but only to the point of it acting as the last hope of the injured.
When the courts fail to portray themselves as the last hope of the citizen, it then negates the primary raisons d’être. If the judiciary fails to deliver justice in this election, it would be a swan song for our democracy. Election, the critical component of democracy, will not happen again by the rule. What will be happening as elections will be equivalent to a civil war. It would be a typical do-or-die battle, it would be the survival of the fittest and, in this clime, the fit- test are usually crooks and criminals who amassed wealth illegally for illegitimate deals.
It would be goodbye to ethical leadership because the crooks will not understand why they should cease to do what has been working for them. In his work, “The Elite Charade of Changing the World,” American writer and political activist, Upton Sinclair, captured it appropriately: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding it.” Nigerians have not succeeded yet with political reforms because they entrust their fate to people who benefit from the status quo. Nigerians want people to reform a system when indeed it pays them by not reforming it. When you use a person who derives advantage from something, a legatee of a system to work to eradicate it, you are sure to get resistance.
That is the crossroads we have reached when you hear top rulers and personalities who should frown at injustice saying that unjust act is the wish of God, meaning that God would let a thief go with their loot. With the inevitable emergence of a Peter Obi in the 2023 equation, with the accompanying sensitization and awareness, Nigerians, particularly the youths and the intelligentsia, are gearing up for something novel, that a new Nigeria is possible. In sending losers to court after the worst electoral fraud in our nation’s history, they were acting on a known script that they can predict the outcome. All the ingredients and incentives their members in the judiciary need are for them to brazenly continue to claim that they won the election.
Why should they and their accomplices care about justice when they grow bigger and larger by preventing justice and nurturing in- justice? Why should they care about the negative consequences of their action when they weigh their benefits on their side as being far more than standing on the just side? Why should they care about the denouement and weightiness of not conducting free, fair, and transparent elections after spending billions of public funds when they know that accountability has no domain in our territory? That is the reason for telling the aggrieved to go to court where their cohorts and regiments dominate. But before the supreme judge of the universe, all sanctuaries of justices in this land should watch out for Mr. Apapa’s treatment. God help us.