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At last, Pilate could not remove Caesar

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“Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy.” — Thurgood Marshall

Immediately after the controversial judgement of the presidential election petition court was delivered yesterday, I received quite a number of invitations from media houses (Radio and TV) to join them in their breakfast shows to analyze the bearing of the far-reaching decisions of the Justices at the court.

I was reluctant to accept their request, because it’s like apostrophic postmortem. Obollo town of Enugu State where I come from had an ancient phrasal nuggets that: “agbagburu ote s’ haan’ njomu ot’t’ onu” (After fighting, when men return from the battlefield, the women takes up the task of beautifying the war story). I turned down some of them, citing clashing of their timings.

The September 06, 2023 judgment by Nigeria’s Presidential Election Petition Court dismissing the petition against President Bola Tinubu’s election on technical grounds rather than examining the merits of the case has not only sparked widespread criticism but has also set a dangerous precedent for future judicial processes.

This piece is a rejoinder to an earlier article published in this space two days ago, — a day before this verdict, in which we mused on whether Pilate will muster the courage of disagree with Caesar who installed him published via https://nigeriannewsleader.com/index.php/interviews-opinion/when-tomorrow-comes-can-pontius-pilate-remove-caesar

What obtained was as predicted: the Judiciary, cowered by APC couldn’t save itself to assert its supposed “independence.’

The dismissal of the petition without a thorough examination of its merit raises serious concerns about the integrity and impartiality of the justices. Instead of addressing the substantive issues of ineligibility of Tinubu and his running mate, illegitimacy of his declaration without meeting the statutory 25% of total valid votes cast in Abuja, and breaches of electoral laws by INEC, the court opted for a technicality, thereby denying the Nigerians a fair chance to robust logical execution of the trial. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Justice that is not blind, but is influenced by factors other than truth, is no justice at all.”

The justices’ were apparently ashamed of the charade they delivered that they had to shy away from camera during the live telecast of the session. We only heard their voices, like Big Brother Naija audio announcements to his housemates. This further compounds the doubt surrounding the truthfulness and fairness of the judgment. By avoiding public scrutiny both during the trials and judgement, they have eroded the trust that citizens place in the judiciary to act as an independent arbiter ensuring justice and upholding the rule of law. As Lord Hewart rightly stated, “Justice should not only be done but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.”

The duty of the judiciary is to protect the rights of citizens and uphold the rule of law, not to protect the interests of the ruling elite.
Furthermore, the verdict of the Presidential Election Petition Court is a disservice to the Nigerian people, who have the right to a transparent and fair electoral process.

As Nelson Mandela rightly asserted, “A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy.” The media camera is crucial in holding those in power accountable. Therefore, the justices’ reluctance to face the camera during the live telecast of the session casts doubt on their impartiality and willingness to uphold justice. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant” was the nugget of Louis Brandeis.

The dismissal of the petition based on technicalities rather than the merits not only undermines the principles of justice but also establishes a worrisome precedent for future electoral disputes. They had, by this verdict inflicted a fresh wound of voter apathy on Nigerians (especially the youths) who placed their hope on the integrity of electronic transmission of election results. This ruling suggests that the court can easily sidestep crucial aspects of justice, allowing political interests and technicalities to overshadow the fundamental principles of a fair and transparent judiciary.

By prioritizing technicalities over the genuine concerns raised by the petitioners, the court’s verdict sends a disheartening message to Nigerian citizens. It undermines the credibility of the electoral process and raises doubts about the sincerity of democratic values in the country.

A core tenet of any just legal system is to prioritize the merits of a case over procedural technicalities. By evading the discussion on the eligibility, legitimacy, and breach of electoral laws, the court has failed to uphold the principles of fairness.

This decision sends a message that powerful individuals can exploit legal loopholes to escape accountability, thus perpetuating inequality and impunity within our society. Such a precedent undermines the faith citizens place in the judicial system and dilutes the essence of justice itself. As Chief Justice Earl Warren once said, “The court must be perceived as a tower of justice, accessible and impartial.” By focusing on trivial technicalities, the court has failed to provide the transparency and accountability that citizens rightfully expect.

The judgement raises concerns about whether the court prioritizes protecting powerful interests over ensuring justice for all citizens. This erosion of trust in the judiciary may lead to an increased level of public skepticism, hinder the progress of democracy, and eventually undermine the rule of law.

In this judgement, the issue of 25% FCT vote was raised and a cruel precedent was set nullifying what the constitution said. The issue of criminal record of a candidate was raised and a dangerous precedent set saying it shouldn’t count. The issue of electronic voting and transmission was raised and another precedent was set trivializing it. Electoral irregularities was raised and a wrong precedent was set accepting it as a norm. Dual citizenship of a candidate was raised and a malicious precedent agreeing that it is of no consequences.

It is even more worrisome when we see how the Justices tried to gaslight Nigerians into believing that the petitioners’ legal team were lacking in the know-how of how to adequate file their evidences. Some sizeable chunk of the gullible masses are already buying into such smoky bait. But they failed to tell us the ‘excellent’ legal work the Respondents’ team did at the Tribunal that earned them the victory they got yesterday. Was it the documents they tendered? Or the witnesses they produced and cross-examined? Or the documents INEC used to convince the court that APC won the election? Did they tender any document to show Tinubu is not an ex convict? What exactly did they do to merit this verdict?

Election observers were stationed at the IREV to collate results as they trickle in. Barely 35% of results are on IREV and boom INEC declared Tinubu winner from manually collated results. EU questioned where INEC got their figure.
On what ground did the judges say that EU’s comprehensive report on the outcome of the 2023 election was inadmissible?

The judgment represents serious blow to justice and irredeemable damage to democracy — the type of damage that is making Coup d’etat fashionable in Africa of late. It is crucial that such unjust verdicts are condemned and steps are taken to ensure that the principles of justice and fairness prevail in Nigeria’s judicial system as the petitioners head to supreme court.

Finally, as we reflect on this unjust ruling, we are morbidly apprehensive that greater fear awaits the people as the petitioners file their appeals to the Supreme Court.

May daylight spare us!

✍️ Jude Eze.

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