The Presidential Election Tribunal presiding over the petitions by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and it’s presidential candidate, Alhaji Atuku Abubakar, challenging the declaration of President Muhammadu Buhari as the winner of the February 2019 Presidential Election, is statutorily bound to declare judgment in a matter of days. This is inevitable given that the 180 days provided by the extant laws for the Tribunal to conclude its proceedings expires Sunday, September 15th. And since the Tribunal can only sit on a working day, the closest day for its judgment should then be Friday, 13th September or before.
The counsels to President Buhari and his main challenger Atiku, have since closed their cases and filed their written addresses, leaving the 5-man panel to face the verdict of posterity by sticking to the demands of the law rather than on the demands of men.
The issues before the tribunal are not the primary object of effort of this editorial, but to underscore the importance of the upcoming historic verdict.
To the eminent jurists, both posterity and history beckon. At their Olympian heights in the Nigerian appellate bench, their capacity to dispense justice without fear or favour should not be in any doubt and there has never been any whiff that any of them is integrity-challenged.
When conflict of interest was raised against former chairman of the Tribunal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, she graciously recused herself to pave way for unfettered justice.
Nonetheless, it is still important to highlight the great expectations of Nigerians and doubts being entertained by many stemming from the travails of the Judiciary in recent times, which climaxed with the contentious removal of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Nkanu Onnoghen, few months ago.
This is therefore an excellent opportunity for the Nigerian judiciary to redeem and reaffirm itself by upholding justice in a way and manner that showcases the quintessence of the principles of separation powers in presidential democracy. Nigerians want to know who won the 2019 Presidential Election so that the matter may be rested.
The hope of Nigerians in the tribunal is therefore not misplaced and the eminent jurists need to appreciate that so much depends on the quality of the judgment they deliver in the coming days. It must not be interpreted as “judgment without justice”, or another rehash of technicalities, or perceived as “political judgment”, which Nigerians will either leave a gapping hole or create misperceptions.
Nigerians expect justice qua justice, not one founded on technicality or, a repeat of the 12 2/3rd verdict in the presidential election petition between former President Shehu Shagari and his main challenger, Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1979.
For representing a dark spot in Nigeria’s jurisprudence, the Supreme Court which gave the verdict, put a ban on it being cited as a judicial precedence. Not to mention also verdict on the governorship petition appeal by Senator Ademola Adeleke of Osun State, that has befulded most Nigerians, including legal luminaries. That case was also decided on technicality, creating what some people rightly described as judicial abracadabra.
The uninspiring and considerably damning reports of international and local observers on the 2019 general elections have put a big slur on our democratic journey since 1999, despite spending a whopping N240 bn on the election.
There is no iota of doubt therefore that the five eminent jurists should have no qualms in dispensing justice in a manner that even the lay people will have no ado accepting that justice has indeed been served, without more.
Nigerians still remember with nolstalgia eminent jurists of yore with unimpeachable integrity. The AUTHORITY recalls with great pride that the Nigerian judiciary had produced its equivalent of Lord Dennning. We still remember with nostalgia the fearless and incorruptible justices like: Teslim Elias, Chukwudifu Oputa, Mohammed Uwais, Niki Tobi and several others. They not only dispense justice, but teach the law with unparalleled erudition and panache.
Little wonder then Nigerians justifiably expect that their successors are still following in this rich tradition. The footprints left behind by those justices have even up till now reinforced the belief of Nigerians that the nation’s judiciary still remains the last hope of the common man, where justice is inherently assured.
Justice ensures that laws are both rational and proportionally applied, no matter whose ox is gored. It provides for predictability without any form of jerrymandering. Put another way, there is no iota of doubt that justice should be linked to fairness, equity and guarantees a sane society, where the rule of law reigns supreme.
It is a truism that the number of litigations arising from the 2019 general elections have been adjudged to be the highest in our history. Its positive side no doubt, points to the fact that Nigerians still believe in the ability of the judiciary to dispense justice without let or hindrance. This great confidence reposed in the nation’s judiciary needs to be protected and cherished in order to advance the nation’s democracy and retain Nigeria as a nation of laws and not a nation ruled according to whims and caprices of men.
And the verdict of the 2019 presidential election offers the great opportunity to properly place our judiciary. The global community is watching and may God protect Nigerian democracy!