Nigeria went to the polls on February 25, 2023, with a view to electing a new helmsman for the country. The election was characterized by certain issues which have continued to raise dust more than two months after the exercise.
This, like previous polls, has changed the contest from polling units to the courtroom. Those aggrieved by the outcome of the election have since approached the judiciary with their grievances seeking various reliefs. This time around, the fate of Nigeria will first be determined by a five-man panel of eminent jurists headed by the Chief Registrar of the Court of Appeal, Justice Haruna Tsammani. Others are Justices Stephen Adah, Misitura Bolaji-Yusuf Boloukuoromo Ugoh, and Abba Mohammed.
The court held its inaugural session on Monday, May 9, 2023, with a promise to do justice to all petitions before it. The Presiding Justice, Tsammani, in his opening remarks, urged lawyers representing all the petitioners to avoid sensational comments as the court would not tolerate time-wasting tactics and technicalities. Whoever is still aggrieved after the ruling by the Appeal Court justices is at liberty to leverage the Supreme Court to further exercise his right to appeal.
Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora as well as foreigners now wait in eager expectations for how the judicial proceedings go. For some commentators, it is not just about where the pendulum swings, but about the future of democracy and the electoral system in the country.
A situation where elections are ultimately decided by the court of law rather than the electorate who are the real owners of democracy, takes a lot away from our democratic rule. While running to the Judiciary remains a civilized and legitimate option in expressing dissatisfaction with a contentious poll, the attitude of traditionally resorting to the Judiciary, even by politicians who validly lose elections, speaks of a huge gap in the nation’s democratic governance. This remains food for thought for all lovers of democracy and Nigeria.
Necessary efforts must be made and deliberate measures taken towards ensuring that this ugly and dangerous drift is halted. We must grow our democracy to make the electorate the ultimate deciders of election outcomes. Realities in advanced democracies point to the possibilities of holding peaceful, transparent, and credible elections that will commence from various polling units through the collation centres and terminate at the point of declaration of results.
The unfortunate traditional extension of the electoral process to courtrooms must be advertently discouraged. This is not a duty for the government and the Election Management Body alone. All hands must be on deck to reverse the trend. Further reforms of the electoral system are strongly solicited as a deliberate effort to deepen democratic rule in the country.
Now back to the Judiciary and the current task of determining the grievance trailing the 2023 presidential election, the revered and distinguished men of the bar and bench must understand they are at the moment carrying the destiny of over two hundred million Nigerians on their shoulders. It is hoped they appreciate the enormity of this reality and the need to tender democracy to maturity in the most populous black nation of the world.
As expressed in various quarters within and outside the country, the way these justices execute the onerous task of deciding the matters trailing the 2023 presidential election will indisputably dictate the way forward for Nigeria. They have an opportunity to write their names in gold in the list of judges who stand above mundane gains and primordial sentiments to deliver sound judgments that outlive them and the generations after them.
In the first instance, the Chief Registrar of the Court of Appeal, Haruna Tsammani heading Justice Stephen Adah and Justice Misitura Bolaji-Yusuf of the Court of Appeal Asaba division, Justice Boloukuoromo Ugoh of Kano Division and Justice Abba Mohammed of Ibadan Court of Appeal, have started sitting on Monday to determine the matters filed before the court.
Already, there is an application to the tribunal to allow live transmission of proceedings, which in the opinion of the proponents will undoubtedly add glamour and engender greater interest in the legal process. The People’s Democratic Party and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, have on May 5, through an application asked the court to allow journalists and their equipment into the courtroom for the hearing of their case. They are of the view that the matter before the court is a dispute over the outcome of the Presidential Election held on 25 February and of national concern and public interest.
Apart from the justices who had promised to rise above sentiments and deliver a sound judgment that will stand the test of time, the counsels to the petitioners and defenders have also pledged to assist the court to determine the matters before it expeditiously.
Will the five eminent justices live up to their commitment? Will the distinguished lawyers respect their vow to do away with unnecessary technicalities and dwell on the merit of their cases? Will Nigerians be allowed to celebrate the triumph of good over evil, truth over falsehood, sectionalism over patriotism, and deception over transparency? Only time will tell.
No doubt, interesting times are ahead as counsels to all parties will be unleashing their missiles, rockets and as they lay land and terrestrial ambush for one another all in the defense of their clients. However, nothing will be more interesting than ensuring that justice is not only done, but is seen and acknowledged to have been done. In this matter, Nigeria alone must be allowed to win.