New Telegraph

Nigerian judiciary and challenge of justice delivery

W ith the near end of the 2023 polls and the filing of petitions at the election petition tribunals by aggrieved contestants and their respective political parties, attention has shifted to the Nigerian judiciary. The 2023 general elections in Nigeria are different in many ways. It is one election in the history of Nigeria where officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), including its National Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, flouted the very laws made to guide the conduct of the elections. For instance, in exercise of the powers vested on the Commission by the Electoral Act 2022 to determine the mode of transmission of polls results from polling units to INEC result viewing portals, i-REV, the Commission made election guidelines and manuals making real-time transmission of results through the Bi-modal Voters’ Accreditation System (BVAS), machine mandatory.

INEC went on in the election guidelines and manuals to state that failure to transmit polls results from polling units to the result portal renders such result invalid. During the elections, INEC officials were seen playing tricks like dialling wrong BVAS codes just to prevent the upload of poll results as stipulated by the guidelines. In many places, poll officials bypassed the approved BVAS accreditation and resorted to manual accreditation which was forbidden by law. All manners of avoidable mutilations or alterations were seen on the result sheets which were later uploaded to the i-REV portal with over-voting clearly on the face of the results. The power to review poll results before declaration which the electoral act conferred on returning officers was completely abandoned by majority of the election officers including the INEC National Chairman.

In a demonstration of extreme bad faith, Yakubu refused to entertain genuine complaints of political party agents during the collation of the presidential poll results. He did not keep his promise to review the results after collation; and no reason was given for the hurried announcement of the presidential election results in the fashion of a hatchet man. At the states and constituencies across the federation, many contestants, who were returned as elected, have no tenable results to support such declaration or even the certificates of return they have gone ahead to collect from INEC.

There are places where elections should have been declared inconclusive by virtue of the fact that the margin of win was less than the total number of permanent voters cards collected in places where elections were cancelled as provided by the electoral act. Yet, contrary to the provisions of the act, some candidates were declared and returned as elected! With the exception of the returning officer for the Abia State governorship election, Prof. Nnenna Oti, majority of the election officials including the INEC Chairman simply demobilised their respective consciences and abdicated their lawful, patriotic and moral duties, sneering at their victims to go to seek legal redress.

Hence, the popular slogan, “Go to court”! Prof. Oti whom Nigerians deemed the “BVAS heroine” honed her human and moral faculties and refused to act the hatchet robot as was the vogue with other returning officers. Oti did not understand how a contestant could score over one hundred thousand votes in a local government area where the total number of accredited voters as recorded in the BVAS was about thirty-one thousand. Even when Yakubu allegedly tried to bend the woman, she solemnly rebuked Yakubu saying: “The pastor in me and the mother in me will not permit me to do anything that will adversely affect the future of our children. I shall do right by God and by man”! In the end, sanity prevailed and the will of Abia people thrived to the glory of God and the joy of Nigerians.

Like I said earlier, apart from the example of courageous Prof. Nnenna Oti, the performance of a majority of the election officials comprising INEC staff, Resident Electoral Commissioners, National Commissioners as well as the National Chairman; and INEC ad-hoc staff like assistant presiding officers, presiding officers, supervising presiding officers, collation officers and returning officers were highly questionable.

The general elections seem to be the most controversial, heating up emotions and generating comments with negative implications for the country’s unity. This has given rise to heaps of petitions by the injured that look up to the tribunals and election courts for recovery of their mandates. At this point, Nigerians and the world at large are focusing on the Nigerian judiciary. This is natural because the judiciary is supposed to be the conscience of every human society. Universally, the judiciary is seen as the last hope of the common man. It suffices that by bringing their petitions before the tribunals and election courts, the petitioners were demonstrating their fate in the judiciary. Nigeria as a country is at the brink of collapse and only justice can save it. The Nigerian judiciary is therefore challenged at this critical time to deliver justice and not to fail Nigerians like INEC did.

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