All things, good and bad, are perpetrated in the dead of night, but this time of the earthly cycle is uniquely comfortable for those who would do evil.
It is part of the human psyche to make the most effective use of the darkness when few people are up and about.
Thus it was in the early hours four days after the presidential and national assembly elections that Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Prof Mahmoud Yakubu brought to a conclusion his conduct of the 2023 presidential elections. Mass disenfranchisement in many areas did not deter him. Multiple breaches of INEC’s computer system affecting public confidence and the legitimacy of the exercise he was undertaking were regarded as non-issues and par for the course. Everything that would be regarded as major hiccups, including poll disruptions and under- age voting were minimized by the Chairman and his Resident Commissioners in their various state jurisdictions.
So what has changed? We have as usual conducted flawed polls frustrating and abridging the expectations of millions of first time voters. Is it probable that Nigerians would register to vote in their millions and come out to vote in mere hundreds of thousands? N150b spent was for voter registration, not for the actual vote itself?
This INEC institutional inelasticity and arrogance in the face of their inadequacies has resulted in an unsightly mess, setting us back quite a bit. High turn out, low participation. Geocultural mayhem and logistical disasters as far as the Presidential poll was concerned. We will come back to that.
However it was not a complete failure. At the very same time our political earth moved unmistakenly. In state after state, despite judicial prolongation of certain careers, ‘expired’ and in some cases, never political useful careers, were ended or at least placed on ‘Pause’. These instances were a direct reflection of the will of the voters concerned.
“It is important our erstwhile Presidential Candidates focus on registered and accepted gains in the National Assembly polls.”
Let there be massive turn out this month to beef up and reinforce the increase in the democratic space achieved by Labour party participation, particularly. Peter Obi must focus on this before any journey into perilous litigation. There is need to ‘open up’ Lagos for instance. All who live, work and pay tax there are entitled to a voice and presence in its governance. All the other states of the federation who desire to have more competitive democracy should not be abandoned by Peter Obi now. We need the choices that will keep the former duopoly on its toes. This will clearly manifest in the quality of candidates presented by political parties going forward.
Finally, the taste developed for issues-based politics introduced in substance and texture by Peter Obi, as opposed to cant, about restructuring and what not, should not be allowed to atrophy. Peter Obi! Peter Obi!! Peter Obi please do not get sucked into the mire of presidential polls litigation before you have completed your assignment in the current election cycle.
Democrats play the long game. Like Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Forces for progress must match the stamina and patience of the forces of stagnation. Of course they should not, other than in self-preservation attempt, to match the violence and vitriol of haters who exist in every camp, and thrive in many a cranny.
Litigation following the gravely flawed and fundamentally illegitimate Presidential Polls must be properly directed at exposing INEC’s lapses and probable complicity in electoral fraud. I will keep my thoughts beyond that on the prospects of litigating presidential polls before our Supreme Court to myself. What I do believe will need to continue thereafter, (because Asiwaju will have no inclination or interest to probe INEC’s ‘failures’), will have to be civil suits filed in multiple jurisdictions by the directly affected for the abridgment of their constitutional rights; essentially disenfranchising them. Collection and organisation of evidence, including subpoenaing of INEC records and data, with use of the Freedom of Information Act, must be the preoccupation of political party machinery, civil society and frustrated voters, independently and collectively, going forward. There is no statute-barred action against officials who abuse power or engage in criminal negligence. The nature, substance, content and ‘meat’ of civil litigation must offer INEC and the Courts no hiding place. These can and will be commenced at the High Court level and need not be limited to the Federal Courts.
Charles Efanga Archibong is a retired justice of the Federal High Court.
His memoir, ‘A Stranger in their Midst’, detailing his experience as a judge has received much critical acclaim.