"Umaru Yar'Adua and Goodluck Jonathan remain validly elected as president and vice-president of Nigeria"And with those words, the Election Tribunal informed Nigerians, and, in fact, the world, that the 2007 Presidential election decision would stand.
The Presidential elections were marred with violence, poll and ballot tampering and various other issues. Nigeria's independent election watchdog, Transition Montoring Group, declared the elections void and several international observers announced that the election results were flawed.
THE ELECTION TRIBUNAL & EVIDENCE
The Election Tribunal ("ET") spent six months listening to the arguments and considering evidence from all parties in this case. Reports reveal that the Justices on the Tribunal believed that there was a lack of sufficient evidence to prove that the election results were compromised enough to warrant new elections. The lead Justice, Abdulkadir Jega, specifically remarked,
"This petition has been plagued by want of evidence in proof of virtually all the allegations contained therein, ... [e]ven if I were to accept all the excluded evidence provided by the petitioner, which evidence relates to only four states of the federation, the petitioner would still have been unable to establish his petition. Accordingly, the petition is hereby dismissed."The Justice's statement raises a key evidentiary issue. What exactly was the standard of evidence in the case? State Election Tribunals have managed to dismiss at least seven state governors and most recently the nation's Senate President based on evidence that proved flawed election polls and results. So, what evidence was lacking in this Presidential Election case to deprive the Tribunal of the information it needed to fully examine the case? And why, was this evidence unavailable? These questions must be answered inorder to have a credible review process when the next election results are contested. And I used the word 'when' and not 'if' because, every single Nigerian Presidential election has been contested in court and so, it is reasonable to assume that the next election will be contested as well
A 'MUTED' PUBLIC REACTION
There was little significant public reaction, in favor or not, to the Tribunal's decision. This 'muted' reaction is evidenced in the limited discussion amongst Nigerian bloggers, the Nigerian media and even foreign outlets. In fact, many foreign observers have spent much time highlighting that the Tribunal's decision was not marred by violence. Some also express shock at how calm the entire situation was. To a certain extent, I am happy that the Tribunal's announcement did not spark unrest. And, I am not surprised that it didn't. In "I Think Nigeria Needs A 'Revolution', I discussed reasons for Nigeria's hesitancy to "take to the streets", by referring to the Biafran civil war and the recent violence in Kenya.
But, more importantly, the muted reaction speaks volumes about the relationship between Nigerian citizens and democracy and politics. It could simply be that the Nigerian public trusts the Election Tribunal and is perfectly fine with its decision. To be fair, the Nigerian judiciary has in recent times proven to be the one part of government that appears independent and reasonable. The various overturned state elections provide a valid basis for such thinking.
However, one could argue that Nigerians are demoralized, and that this attribute limited the possibility of any public discontent. Many Nigerians focus on the struggles and difficulties of their daily lives, from bad roads to insufficient power supply, and they have little time or energy to respond to political happenings with anything other than a cursory glance. Furthermore, consider that the Nigerian military, in no subtle words, "warned" Nigerians that any protesters would be 'dealt with'. This, despite the fact that the Supreme Court ruled last year that Nigerians are free to protest without seeking permission.
A PERCEPTION PROBLEM
The Tribunal's decision presents a possible perception problem. As a lawyer, I am proud that Nigeria's Courts and Judges have a better reputation amongst Nigerians than the Legislature and the Executive's office (i.e. the President and associated offices). However, the dismissal of Buhari and Atiku's arguments may give the wrong message to some. There are those who will see this as a confirmation that there are few, if any consequences, for 'stealing' an election. That perception does not bode well for Nigeria's democratic future. To counteract this, the media and other interested parties must take the time to explain to the public the Tribunal's reason's for its decision. Doing this will limit potential damage to the Tribunal's, and in fact the entire Judiciary's reputation. A good reputation will come in very handy the next time the nation goes through a review of election results.
Immediately, after receiving the favorable decision, Yardy announced that he is focused on providing,
"a purposeful and result-oriented administration that will yield tangible and visible benefits for all Nigerians"While this is the fastest I have ever seen "sof'ly, sof'ly" Yardy respond to most political issues, I have to say that this statement and its immediacy reminds me of the Yar'Adua that gave Nigerians hope. Remember the positivity of the speech he gave when he was inaugurated? And when he disclosed not just his assets but those of his wife, as well? Yar'Adua positioned himself as a pioneer of sorts.
I hope that with his new statement 'Yar'Adua and friends' can refocus on dealing with the herculean issues Nigeria faces. I especially hope that Yar'Adua understands that his statement is a promise he will be held to - that we Nigerians are watching to his administration "yield tangible and visuble benefits for all Nigerians." As long as that is the goal, he will have the support of most Nigerians. And, while I understand that this will not be an easy task, I hope that Yar'Adua and others responsible for Nigeria's development and future, realize that this task, though difficult, is one that MUST be accomplished no matter what.
So, as promised, I send my congratulations to Umaru Yar'Adua, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
- 'It all looks horribly the same" - The Economist online