The refrain now in the country, in relation to the just-concluded presidential election, is this: Go to court, if you are not satisfied with the conduct of the electoral umpire, the results released and the outcome generally. Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, was the first to say this when agents of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Labour Party (LP) complained at the national collation centre in Abuja about the results being released. The All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential Campaign Council (PCC) also told the complainants to go to court. And President Muhammadu Buhari has said the same.
Inasmuch as it is obvious that the best option left for whoever that is complaining about the outcome of an election is to go to court, rubbing it in as mockingly as those who hold this position have done is an insult not only to those who are complaining about the outcome of the election but also to Nigerians who exercised their franchise on February 25, 2023. It is the same thing as saying: Forget your votes counting; what would count now is the decision of the courts. This is quite unfortunate. There is a saying that when a child is crying and pointing in a particular direction, it is either his mother or his father is there. When, therefore, the INEC chairman, the APC and the President are saying the same thing, almost dismissive of the losers, it is tempting to conclude that they are confident that the courts would not change the situation.
One thing that is common in the political circle is this: a typical politician wants to be declared winner, by hook or crook, and let the opponent go to court. A politician tells his supporters and foot soldiers so. He works for this. In so doing, something is playing the drums for the politician, making him to dare his opponents to go to court. It is possible that this is because the country’s judiciary has not earned much of a good name. The majority of the people no longer have confidence in the judiciary, especially in political matters. However, when people believe that the judiciary cannot give justice, there is a big problem.
For those who are complaining about the conduct of the presidential election and its outcome, the legitimate option is to go to court. As the LP and PDP have given notices that they would challenge the outcome of the election in court, they should exercise their fundamental rights. Any other aggrieved party should equally do the same. One believes that, no matter how confident some people may be that the judiciary would not give justice, there is always an exception. The judiciary would, at some point, redeem itself and do the right thing by ensuring that justice is not only served but also seen to have been served.
Looking at the INEC chairman during the collation of the presidential election results, one saw a man who gave the impression that he wanted to quickly conclude what he was doing and pass the buck or the trouble, as it were, to the judiciary. This leaves much to be desired. This is a man who promised Nigerians that their votes would count but who is now indirectly stating that what would count are the courts. No matter how proud Yakubu may be with his conduct, he owes the Nigerian electorate an apology for disappointing them in the conduct of February 25 elections.
The INEC chairman owes the electorate an apology because he promised Nigerians instant electronic transmission of election results from the polling units to the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV). This did not happen. As at yesterday afternoon, only 150,008 results, out of 176,846 had been uploaded to the IReV, more than 24 hours after INEC had declared Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the APC winner of the election. The INEC promised that elections would start at polling units at 8:30am. This never happened. In scores of places, across the country, election started in the afternoon. The INEC promised that its officials would be above board, like Caesar’s wife. But what Nigerians saw were officials across the country who compromised and sold their souls to the highest bidders.
In a situation where there are widespread complaints by candidates and voters about the conduct of the electoral umpire, the conclusion is that the INEC has failed Nigerians, who reposed much faith in it. The enthusiasm of Nigerian voters for the presidential election was unprecedented. Voters came out en masse to do their civic duty and be part of a decision on who would be President. They made sacrifices. They struggled and queued endlessly to register as voters. They struggled and queued to collect their permanent voter cards (PVCs). They struggled and queued to vote for candidates of their choice. After these sacrifices, their expectations were not met. Their hopes were dashed. It is like a pregnant woman who went through the trouble of pregnancy for nine months only to have a stillborn at the end of it all.
The complaints are not really about Asiwaju Tinubu, the President-elect. The issue is the process, superintended by the INEC, leading to the victory. However, the greatest takeaway from the election is that Nigerians have demonstrated that they could actually fight for a better country. This gives the hope that Nigerians could work to bring about the desired change in the country. The struggle that was the Peter Obi movement has clearly demonstrated the steadfastness and can-do spirit of Nigerians to cause a change in a beleaguered country. It is the typical Nigerian spirit, which sees Nigerians rising to the top of their careers and endeavours in the Diaspora and giving the country good commendation.
It is something to cheer that a political party like LP came from ground zero, where it was mockingly referred to as a party without structure, to become a big force in an election where two giant political parties were contesting. The LP hurricane swept through Nigeria and everybody felt the impact. Those who dismissed Peter Obi and the LP have seen that their calculations were wrong. Those who mocked the LP presidential candidate and his political organisation as sectional have seen that the Obi phenomenon is national in outlook and penetration. Those who said that the Obi movement was a flash in the pan have seen that the fire is burning and strongly too.
Peter Obi and the Labour Party may not have been declared the winners of the presidential election but they made Nigerians proud. Their imprimatur is visible across the country. The LP won many Senate and House of Representatives seats. The hitherto unknown and unrecokoned political party has, overnight, become a third force in the country’s political system, telling the story of protesting Nigerians who want a change in a country held hostage by a political class that has been recurring over the years. This is an indication that Nigerians are ready for a change, with eyes fixed on the goal of social and political development, devoid of ethnic and clannish considerations.
As INEC’s conduct in the presidential election would be tested, in heeding the advise of Yakubu, APC and President Buhari, nobody should see those who are seeking redress as being difficult. President Buhari himself challenged all the previous presidential elections he lost. And when the cases were going on in the court, he never recognised those who were declared winners until the courts dispensed with the matters. Former President Goodluck Jonathan conceded defeat even before the final result of the 2015 election was released. It was his choice. Let those aggrieved be left to test the judiciary.
However, the important thing is for peace to reign in Nigeria. Those who want the losers to go to court should also be prepared to accept the outcome of the cases, if it goes against them in future, and impress it on their supporters to take it without resort to undemocratic means. Tinubu has started well by pledging to be an all-inclusive leader and recognising the aspirations of the youth. That’s what the country needs. But let’s wait and see.