Ogebe Verdict: Celebration To Reason

The problem is that all ‘the People’ cannot rule. Only some amongst the lot of the people (the elected representatives) can do that. People’s Power can eject one set of rulers and propel other people into high office, perhaps worst than the former. Citizens politics is based on the premise that citizens can and do play an effective and efficient role in the political process. Voting is but one form of power the people have in the modern state. Elections have increasingly become an occasion for the expression of general opposition to mainstream politicians and the rejection of established parliamentary processes. Growing numbers of voters ignore elections completely and simply do not vote. Many citizens vote for a political party to ensure it forms a government which will enact and implement desired policies.

But the courts still offer hope to those candidates who feel they were cheated. The judiciary is stronger and more independent now than in the past. And even with the blitz of case files, this year’s tribunals are moving much faster than those from the disputed election of 2003, some of which dragged on for years. This time the president of the Court of Appeal, Umaru Abdullahi, asked petitioners to “frontload” their cases, revealing their witnesses and evidence before the hearings start. Mr Abdullahi says the courts have also rooted out the corruption that plagued past tribunals. He says he knows the judges are staying clean because he is receiving more official requests for their removal—something past defendants would consider only after bribery had failed.

The good news is that the tribunals show that the rule of law is being taken seriously by Nigeria‘s institutions. But it is still a very roundabout way to democracy. The tribunal process has been expensive, for candidates and for the country. The National Assembly, where many of the members are preoccupied with fending off tribunal cases, has not passed a single law since it first met last June. And the various annulments so far have had little deterrent effect; local elections across Nigeria‘s states in the past several months have been violent and of dubious credibility.

The first Nigerian national election took place in 1964, four years after the country gained independence from Britain. It wasn’t a propitious start – the election was marked by boycotts, malpractice and violence. The Nigerian National Alliance won a large majority in the election after the main opposition grouping, the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA), refused to take part. A supplementary election held in the Eastern Region in March 1965 led to the UPGA winning every seat.

The Nigeria Electoral system is the multiparty and the first past the post winner system. The method of voting used in 1979, 1983, 1999 and 2003 and 2007 was the Open Ballot System in which the prospective Voter goes through a process of accreditation, receives a ballot paper from the appropriate poll official and thereafter makes the confidential thumb impression in favour of the political party or candidate of choice in a secret voting compartment before dropping the ballot in the box positioned in the open, in the full glare of officials, security and party agents.

The modified Open ballot system was adopted in the 1993 elections, in which voters filed behind the party symbol or photograph of the candidate of choice. Voters were physically counted at the close of polls and the results declared to officials, security and party agents. Although the method is simple and produced what many in Nigeria have often described as the fairest and most peaceful elections in the country, the election was unsuccessful. The election involved two parties , a clear departure from the over thirty political parties of today, and also suffered the flaw of not providing the voter with the secrecy of ballot- a basic internationally acceptable standard for any elections. All the electoral systems used allow disputed results to be challenged by way of election petitions, judicially heard and determined at tribunals or courts established for the purpose as the case may be.

Before then, the April 2003 Nigeria presidential elections were Nigeria’s first civilian-run elections in 20 years. Voting for candidates for the Senate and House of Representatives was held April 12, 2003. A week later, April 19th, voting for the presidential and gubernatorial candidates took place. Incumbent President Olusegun Obasanjo was re-elected with 24.4 million out of 60 million votes. Runner-up General Muhammadu Buhari received 12.1 million votes.

The tribunal in its over three hours ruling noted that the alleged incompetence of the candidature of Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Dr Goodluck Jonathan on their purported indictment of the by an Abia state administrative panel of inquiry and the subsequent Abia State Government White Paper was incompetent as only a judicial pronouncement can disqualify a candidate. On the allegation of irregularities, the Tribunal ruled that the petition is plagued by want of evidence and that even where proven, irregularities in only four states out of 36 states and FCT, cannot constitute substantial irregularities to vitiate the presidential elections.

Obasanjo’s handover of power to Yar’Adua after the vote was the first peaceful transfer of power between elected leaders since Nigeria‘s 1960 independence from Britain. That was supposed to mark a turning toward democracy after years of military rule in the West African nation of 140 million people, but many Nigerians say the elections demonstrated instead how weak the rule of law is in Nigeria.

Opposition candidates have alleged last year’s vote did not take place in many states and that the incumbent People’s Democratic Party rigged the vote. And again, International observers said the April polls fell short of expected standards. But the authority says the opposition’s case is weak and the five-judge panel should rule in favour of President Yar’Adua. But the government says the opposition’s case is weak and the five-judge panel ruled in favour of President Yar’Adua. The case likely to go to the Supreme Court for the final decision appeared controversial since security tightened up in this dimension.

Neither opposition candidates claim they actually won the election. They are calling for a re-run. What international observers must realize is that electoral tribunal’s judge on the evidence and not on their own opinion. If the vote should be nullified because the ballot papers were delivered on the day of the election and were missing serial numbers the opposition could be seeking for a re-run – but not under the current rules and the “compromised” election commission.

On the petition brought by Alhaji Atiku Abubakar alleging exclusion from the April 21, 2007 presidential elections, the Tribunal maintained that based on the evidences given by the prosecution witnesses on alleged irregularities at the April 21, 2007 Presidential elections, it is clear that the petitioner participated in the elections and can therefore not claim to have been excluded from the said elections.

The Tribunal in a unanimous decision by all the judges, dismissed all the petitions at no cost to the parties and accordingly reaffirmed the election of Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as President and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as Vice President of the federal Republic of Nigeria respectively.

Strangely, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo had not whole-heartedly handed over power to President Umaru Yar’Adua and therefore, it was not long for Chief Olusegun Obasanjo to strike again to control Yar’Adua and his government, the constitutionally elected government, which Chief Obasanjo himself had handed over power to. For the next century Nigerians would subject themselves to various forms of suppressions and this was particularly evident during the last 8 years or so of his leadership. The ANPP Presidential candidate Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and the AC Presidential candidate Alhaji Atiku Abubakar had in a consolidated petition challenged the election of Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as President of the Federal Republic Of Nigeria in the April 21, 2007 election on the grounds of incompetence of the candidature of Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and irregularities at the said polls.

Despite fraud, the election of President Yar’Adua instilled a lot of hope in Nigerians at home and abroad. The tyranny of Obasanjo had finally come to an end. The experimentation with an illegitimate tenure enlongation, which failed in 2006 and brought in its wake crony of civilian dictator, had ended. Obasanjo? Legacy to Nigerians was that, adventurism and dictatorship will never bring about the development that we all crave for our beloved country. The Yar’Adua era was going is a time of true freedom, justice and prosperity. I have no doubt that these goals for the Yar’Adua administration although quite ambitious can be realized. At minimum, a good foundation can be laid for these goals to be achieved. The administration has already started on a good footing. Yar’Adua’s demeanour and leadership style is very conducive to development. He is definitely not dictatorial and he is more of a listener than a talker. His ministers are taking a cue from his style and Kingibe and the PDP Exco of? Do you know who I am? Fame, must have learned their lessons now. Another lesson for all arrogant and cocky Nigerians, that the country does not appreciate arrogance.

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