By Louis Okoroma
There are several issues arising from the way and manner the much-talked about 2019 elections were conducted and the results handled. In the view of most Nigerians, there a lot of transparency issues which goes to highlight several underhand dealings involving the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). In fact, there is the prevailing view that the electoral umpire was anything but independent.
That INEC under its present management and the political leadership of the nation are involved in an unholy alliance which makes mockery of our democracy is captured by the dilly-dally way the commission has been going about the Court decisions requiring the electoral body to furnish the complainants in the case in the persons of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and the latter’s presidential candidate with materials and documents used in the conduct of the 2019 elections. These documents and materials are critical to enabling the PDP and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to help build their case of negligence and possibly, collusion against the electoral body.
Aside, the litigants, the materials and documents used in the elections are public documents which should be available in case of need by citizens who seek answers on the way the elections were conducted for their education and enlightenment. The reluctance of INEC to furnish the complainants with these documents several months after the elections and despite a court order to the bargain, leaves much to be desired. Nigerians are wondering what kind of INEC we now have and why is INEC not improving after its above average performance during the 2015 elections.
INEC has furnished Nigerians with all sorts of cooked up stories on its stewardship of the 2019 polls. From its server and electronic collation, and the use of card reader, fingers have pointed to an electoral umpire that is enmeshed in corruption, collusion and confusion and which despite huge funding chose to disappoint millions of Nigerians by its shoddy conduct of the elections.
This writer feels sorry for President Muhammadu Buhari, whose integrity and anti-corruption claims have been badly dented by INEC’s gross inefficiency and suspected collaboration with the corrupt ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). The ruling party is now jittery, as the pre-trial hearings of the election petition filed by the PDP and Atiku Abubakar are set to commence.
Second, the important and critical nature of the electoral petition means that judicial officers who would be saddled with the responsibility of deciding the petitions by hearing arguments from both sides are crucial. To ensure that justice is done and to create the necessary confidence in the litigants and the average Nigerian citizen that indeed justice has been done and for the judiciary to retain its hallowed reputation as a reliable temple of justice, any judge whose presence at the sitting of the tribunal will create the smallest doubt, or side talk or snide comment that will tar the judiciary, should not be allowed to sit on the case. This is without prejudice to the position of the judge concerned in the hierarchy of the Court or tribunal.
Therefore, based on the above, if the spouse or family member of a member of the tribunal is remotely or indirectly linked to the case by way of interest or benefit, for the sake of fairness and justice, such a judge should recuse herself or himself from sitting on the case and take part in the latter’s determination.
What I mean above, is that if any of the judges is a son, daughter, uncle, niece or husband or wife of a top office holder or highly exposed member of either the PDP or APC party, who would be happy at the outcome of the case between the two parties in the petition, such a judge in the interest of equity and fairness, should not sit on the case, even if the tribunal is short of judges! The reason for this is that it is better to ensure that all interested parties and the general public are satisfied to a large extent on the reliability of the outcome of the petition than to risk doubt in the minds of the litigants and the public on the outcome because of the perception of likelihood of bias.
Following the above, the Honourable Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, being the spouse of many years of APC Senator-elect, Adamu Bulkachuwa, makes her an interested party and someone whose presence on the panel would necessarily compromise the final outcome of the case in the eyes of the Nigerian people and especially, the parties to the case. Therefore, Justice Bulkachuwa, should recuse herself from the sitting of the tribunal to ensure the protection of the integrity of the tribunal and the credibility of the decision of same.
It is also interesting to note that before the 2019 elections, a candidate for a legislative seat at the federal level from Bauchi State actually boasted that if he were elected into the National Assembly, he would push for legislation to ensure a life Presidency for President Muhammadu Buhari.
Some have started to insinuate that it is because of Justice Bulkachuwa’s participation in an election petition case involving the political party of her husband and partner of many years, the APC, that a gag order was imposed on the media in the reportage of the proceedings of the tribunal. There is no sane and free country, where the judiciary deemed the last hope of the common man and of democracy, imposes restrictions on the work of the media except where such restrictions can be shown to be for the common good and to enhance the delivery of justice.
I am of the view that such restrictions should be lifted, especially as one expects that as a responsible and upright judge, Justice Bulkachuwa will not hesitate to recuse herself to save the impartiality of the tribunal and the Judiciary, at large.
On its part, the INEC has done an extreme damage to democracy in Nigeria and the confidence of Nigerians in their institutions. The electoral umpire has removed the toga of umpire conferred on it by the Nigerian Constitution and taken on a dangerous partisan garb. As many are wont to say, this particular INEC and its senior management is the worst so far in our experience in conducting elections. INEC collected huge sums of money from the Federal Government with a view to organize a free, fair and credible election via the deployment of credible technology, only for Nigerians to be told stories forcing the opposition candidate in the 2019 presidential election and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar to head to Court to seek justice.
To show that they are incorrigible, INEC so far, has behaved in a primitive fashion, failing to obey the others of the Court and in the view of many Nigerians, releasing statements that are patently unbelievable in the minds of Nigerians. It would just be right at the end of the election petition hearing and judgment to subject the INEC management to a thorough probe.
Louis Okoroma, a Public Affairs Analyst wrote from Abuja.