ENGAGEMENTS By Chidi Amuta
The subdued public anxiety over the final outcome of the 2023 presidential election petitions has ended. Predictably, the Supreme Court has acted faithful to what has become its extant tradition. It has done the obvious and predictable. It simply just turned its back on the minutiae of evidence and went straight to ultimate classical jurisprudence. It simply avoided waste of time and reaffirmed the legitimacy of the incumbent sovereign order. While democracy feeds on the rule of law, order precedes law. The state must exist as an orderly sovereignty before we can all step forward to assert and claim our legal rights and citizen entitlements. So, the argument goes, guarantee the legitimacy of the existing sovereignty according to law and let the nation move on.
Therefore, in affirming Mr. Bola Tinubu’s electoral victory, the Supreme Court side-stepped all the political and legal booby traps. In order to arrive at its verdict, it went the lazy route. It did not need to wade through a deluge of facts and figures all over again. The lower court has done that heavy lifting. Supreme Courts are about the absolute principles of the law and justice. It is fair to assume that the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal (PEPT) has done all that. It just went straight to the domain of ultimate justice and constitutional finality.
In keeping with what has become its extant tradition, the Supreme Court, like all Supreme Courts, was doing the duty of national preservation. Any outcome that could undermine the incumbent order would inaugurate instant anarchy. No need to go that route. Instead, it is safer to protect the fragile state and its democratic promise so that the aggrieved can fight another day in the future. Implicit in that verdict, the court had done some of the homework for Mr. Tinubu himself.
It would be foolish for him to ignore the contents of his opponents’ contentions. There was a bus load of problems with the 25th February presidential elections. Yes, there was rigging in abundance. There was voter intimidation. There was , in places, the invocation of primordial divisions to profile voters and deny them the franchise. INEC betrayed public confidence in its own impartiality. As an institution, it eroded its own confidence in its adopted BVAS technology. The technology itself exposed INEC’s own human frailties. There was complicity on the part of some INEC and security agencies. Some vote counts were dodgy at best just as the IReV reportedly uploaded pornographic images in place of election results in a few places! Admittedly, these grainy details were beneath the remit of a Supreme Court properly defined.
Mr. Tinubu would be missing the boat if he allows the euphoria and triumphalism of his judicial victory to shut his eyes to these pitfalls. They are the hard work that he needs to do in order to strengthen the foundations of Nigeria’s creaky democracy. His responsibility in that higher regard is above his own immediate personal benefit from the verdict of the Supreme Court.
Above all, the aftermath of the Supreme Court verdict places a reorientation burden on the Tinubu administration. The president must quickly retire and restrain his campaign ‘attack dogs’. People like Fani-Kayode, having earned their copious keep, should go home and remain silent or only speak if they have something sensible to say. Similarly, Mr. Festus Keyamo should face the many challenges of our dying aviation sector and quit his insulting habit of abusing his superiors. The Minister of Information and presidential spokespersons should now step forward and be the ones speaking for the government and the president.
Government must quickly exit the campaign propaganda mode and slide into a factual strict governance and accountability mode. Partisan affray is over. Responsible governance is in. The nation is no longer a political battlefield but an inclusive and united nation. We are all Nigerians now, not APC, PDP or Labour or whatever other partisan acronym there may be out there.
In a fragile polity such as ours, a hard fought and vicious presidential election campaign divides the nation. The mob sees political partisanship as warfare. In the aftermath, the task in hand is to reunite the nation through acts of supreme statesmanship. That is Tinubu’s task and the hour is now.
Above all else, Mr. Tinubu and his team have a nation to govern. That nation is broken and bruised all over. Our nation is in economic ruin and social desperation. Our people are in the depths of poverty and the edges of desperation and unparalleled distress. The poor are merely holding on to a thin thread of survival. A bad economy is at the risk of upturning the nation in violent protests. If the dam breaks, it will not be because of political differences but a desperate urge to live. Our insecurity remains unaddressed. In the words of Mr. Tinubu himself, “let the poor (majority) breathe.”
The task of rescuing the economy from collapse is urgent and demands our very best. Propaganda is no substitute for sound economic policy making. The current flip flop approach will not help. Serious thinking by experts needs to replace sporadic guesswork and knee jerk actions. Sustainable social alleviation policies and sustainable programmes must now replace populist palliatives.
There is an obvious slide that Mr. Tinubu must halt. In the choice between running a slimmer government and a large one, our current situation should have dictated a choice for reduced government. Tinubu seems to have opted for a large government. A cabinet of 48 ministers with a reckless splintering up of ministries is hardly the way to go. Already the cost of government has been compounded by the inflationary trend sparked off by the devaluation of the Naira. Legislators and cabinet ministers are spending billions of Naira in new SUVs priced at stratospheric costs. Other costs are bound to ensue. Foreign travels with large entourages of officialdom have taken place and may continue.
Most importantly, the politics of incumbency should not be used to undermine opposition political parties. Political parties are institutions of the democratic state. Their health and competitive presence and virile existence is the highest indication that a democracy is alive and well. President Tinubu must resist the pressure from the hawks in his ruling party and h is government to weaken or ‘kill’ the main opposition parties to strengthen his ruling party. A predominance of an all conquering ruling party is a route to autocracy and absolutism. That will endanger democracy and further divide the nation along dangerous lines.
INEC must now discharge its constitutional responsibilities to the parties. It needs to review their internal mechanisms and levels of compliance with the requirements of the electoral law. It must hold the parties to accountability for failings experienced during the last election season.
More crucially, the president must enlarge and expand his conception of the diversity of the nation. Reservations are currently being expressed about the increasing lopsidedness of his key appointments. That is negative and must stop and be quickly remedied. He must reach out and feel the pains of all sections and segments of the nation. Acts of inclusive statesmanship have become imperative and urgent.
Although the apex court has ruled on the contentious presidential election, that verdict merely helps to calm the nerves of a troubled nation. It does not wipe away some of the reservations that informed the challenges of Tinubu’s election by the opposing parties. This is the time to soberly reflect on the pitfalls of that election. We need to see the task of perfecting our democracy as a national priority, one that transcends individual incumbents and their partisan affiliations. This is the hour to heal the nation. Nigerians are easily the best followers if they can find a capable, credible and visionary leadership. Reuniting the nation and giving it direction is a service to the nation as a perpetual patrimony.
The two most important contenders, Mr. Atiku Abubakar Our public deserves
The two most important contenders in this race, Mr. Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Mr. Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP), have earned commendation as mature politicians and exemplary citizens. They followed the path of legal redress in line with the laws of the land and the dictates of the rule of law. They meticulously followed due process and eschewed a recourse to violent alternatives in spite of public pressure from their followers and partisans. No one can underestimate their restraint on their followers in the aftermath of an election that was closely fought and fraught with heightened emotions. Their resolute commitment to democracy must be saluted and recommended to future aspirants to high public office.
In the overall calm disposition of our public to the verdict of the Supreme Court, we may be witnessing a gradual maturation of our public in their response to democratic outcomes. The implicit respect for judicial outcomes indicates a gradual absorption of the finer points of democratic culture. No effort should be spared in strengthening our fledgling democratic culture.
In a way, last Thursday was Judgment Day for Nigeria in many ways. For the political gladiators, it was judgment day as the end of their quest for legal justice over the 2023 presidential election. The road ends there. It time dust up and hang your gloves to fight another day perhaps in another four years. For the Nigerian judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, it was another judgment day, perhaps another squandered opportunity to assert some independence and reclaim its credibility in the eyes of the ordinary people. For the masses of ordinary Nigerians, this Judgment Day was yet another day to reconfirm our faith in our nation as a resilient and indestructible patrimony.