Monday, March 3, 2008

The Election Tribunal has spoken and Yar'Adua retains control of Nigeria's steering wheel.

"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.
pie chart
Two challengers, former military ruler, Muhammad Buhari, and former Vice president, Atiku Abubakar, contested the election results that brought Yar'adua to the helm of Nigeria's steering wheel. In their legal challenge, both men argued widespread election tampering and presented evidence that the Independent National Electoral Commission actually violated its mandate, the Electoral Act. For these and other reasons, they claimed that the Presidential election needed to be re-run.

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

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.

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.

Further Reading:
- 'It all looks horribly the same" - The Economist online

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Chxta said...

Just got back from work and I'm dead tired. Would read the article later, just that your warning about IE and FF reminded me about an article that I need to do ASAP...

Anonymous said...


I think you hit on the issue of the standard of evidence without noting the clear point.

If you are going to overturn an election that took place in 36 states and the 4 states you present do not offer the numbers to make a difference, you do not have a case.

In the case of David Mark, it would appear the 2 local governments presented can make a difference to the result - it appears he needs to win 80% of the votes in those 2 local governments to be elected.

The plaintiffs there presented a strong case.

I do believe, the Buhari/Atiku have a case, but they need to present overwhelming evidence to overturn the election in a situation where the numbers would make a difference, they probably need to do that with evidence from at least 32 states to shift the 70% Yar'Adua was purported to have taken.

My view on the matter is the judges could not on the evidence provided find in their favour - the needs for justice as we would desire might not have been served, but legal and due process has been served.

If they present the same evidence at the Supreme Court, it would fail again - they have their work cut out.

shhhh said...

yar adua's softly softly approach to things can be attributed to 2 factors. 1, he doesnt want to exacerbate his ailing heart. 2, remember he NEVER wanted or lobbied for the job. obasanjo talked him into being the candidate.

An-Igbo-Dude said...

most still believed the electiona was rigged and the tribunal panel compromised. bu tall in all better him than....

Nigerian Drama Queen said...

Gosh, I am so embarrassed at how out of touch I am with Nigerian politics right nowwww! I will definately be on here more often.

TheAfroBeat said...

I agree that the Judiciary must have some well thought-out reasons as to its verdict. and as someone pointed out earlier, are you going to annul all 36 State results? Thanks for pointing out that they've definitely shown some independence thus far (i always shoot to the negative and sometimes forget the positive track record of some of these institutions). I guess my point is, the muted silence might come from the frustration of Nigerians with Yardy's inaction, and now they're sort of content that we can now focus on work that needs to be done and stop hiding behind this cloud of questionable legitimacy. Sorry to keep harping on this point.

Feel better!

Today's ranting said...

You hit the nail on the head.Well said, I totally agree with you. Nigerians are tired of politicians.They just go about their normal lives trying to make ends meet. We all know that it was judgement the court proclaimed based on the fact before them and not justice.Who doesn't know that the last general election was characterised by electoral mal practices and overt rigging. Yardy said it himsrlf and Obasanjo too.If not for the love of God for Nigeria, we would be fighting civil war by now.What happened in Kenya was not in any way near what happened at the april election in Nigeria and you can see the height of chaos and anarchy kenyans experienced.May God help us.

Beauty said...

My take home on "A 'MUTED' PUBLIC REACTION" is this; Who is worthy of the role "commander-in-thief"? What would that person do differently? What new thing would s/he bring into the role?

It is Yardy's time and he should be criticized and ridiculed but I believe he should just be left alone to get on with it. We do not have the time to aim, fire is all we've got.

The corridors of the UN, Vatican, White House, Palaces of Westminster et all reek of corruption but their society does understand the discipline and rigour it takes to deliver measurable benefits in terms of basic infrastructures like schools, universities, roads, basic medical care, water, public transport, security, and life and power generation. That is all that is lacking regardless of who gets the #1 position in Nigeria.


@ Chxta: lol! I hope you get some rest, my brother. I will swing by your side later to read up on the IE/FF post. I am sure it will be informative. Make sure you come back and leave your thoughts on this post, though.

@ Akin: Thanks for specifying that the plaintiffs only presented evidence from 4 states. This touches on a point I raised in one of the 5 drafts I have on this particular article. I try very hard to make things easy for my readers, some of whom have a hard time following the legal jargon.

Nonetheless, i have drafted a response to your points and will post it by the end of the day. I hope you will take a look see and add to the conversation.

@ TLK: You are right. Those are probably 2 (of goodness knows how many) factors that influence his approach to various situations.

Yet, I am sure you will agree that those reasons do not change the fact that as President of the nation he does not have the luxury of always taking a 'relaxed' approach to matters. Not to suggest that Yardy does not work hard, far from it. All I'm saying is that by now he should have a team of trusted advisors and staff that can draft responses to be issued as soon as possible. He's in a tough position, that one, and I can only wish him the best.

@ aidc: Yes, the common perception is that the elections were seriously rigged. There is little one can do to change that. When you say better him than..., do you have anyone else in mind? I can definitely think of one name - Abacha (may God have mercy upon his soul).

Thanks for your comment!

@ nigeriandramaqueen: There is no reason to be embarrased. We are all struggling to keep up to date with the issues. Let me know if you need a 'refersher course'. I've got the Nigerian Curiosity 101 that I send out to many new readers who request it. If you want it, it's yours.

Thanks so much for stopping by and please, don't be a stranger!

@ Thanks, Afrobeat! yes, legitimacy is an issue for Yardy. I don't think that the Tribunal's decision will change the minds of many Nigerians, but at least, it gives everyone a 'fresh start'. In our conversation, you pointed out that Yardy should have certain benchmark goals. I believe you pointed to power (NEPA) and that if he fails to improve electricity generation issues, that should the benchmark of his administration. I think that is a good idea. It gives us one issue to focus on out of the many that are being dealt with simultaneously. I know that a few weeks ago, the legislators were loosing sleep over money 'lost' during OBJ's administration. Let us hope that we won't be talking about the same issue next year or the year after that or God-forbid, many years after that.

@ Today's ranting: Yes, you are right. From all estimations, what happened last year with the elections is nothing compared to what we know of Kenya's recent Presidential 'mago mago'. I get asked all the time whether Nigerians are not insulted and angry over the state of government and 'shoddy' politics. All ic an say is, Nigerians are too busy trying to get from Yaba to Mushin and until the rate of new high blood pressure cases goes down in that country, it will be a long time before Nigerians focus on politics in a critical and effective manner.

So, until that day comes, we continue to talk about the issues, challenge the leaders to do better and hope for the best.

Thanks so much for your comment.

@ Beauty: Hey you, long time no see. Yes, yardy needs to be allowed to just 'get on with it'. I believe that was the point of the quote I shared. I like to hope he has the people's best interest at heart and not those of the Big Boys, but once bitten twice shy. Anyway, we hope for measurable benefits as I believe that once people see results, there will be less concern about corruption, which exists everywhere (as you noted).

Thanks for your comment!

Unknown said...

I confess to using your blog to catch up with on Naija news...sowey...you can flog me with the koboko now.

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