By Emeka Alex Duru
I cannot recall where, between Benin and Kano that I first came across the hashtag, “#AllEyesOnTheElectionTribunalJudges”, powered by Diasporas for good governance. But I read in it that Nigerians had not lost interest on the last general elections and all that played out in the exercise.
Indeed, they should not and ought not! That was a particular election that Nigerians of all ages and classes, especially the youth, saw as one that would change many narratives in the country.
It was one election which the organisers – the President Muhammadu Buhari administration and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) – advertised as the best that would happen to Nigeria.
Buhari, in fact, boasted that the success of the election would stand as a legacy and point of reference for his regime.
INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, equally assured the whole world of conducting an election that would mark a radical departure from the past that was characterised by manipulations.
But at the end of the day, Nigerians were handed the wrong end of the stick. If anything, it was apparent that the government and INEC merely sold a dummy to them.
Neither Buhari, nor Yakubu, was prepared to live by his words. They simply played on Nigerians.
Conscious of its perfidy, INEC declared Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) the winner of the presidential election, at 4 a.m. when Nigerians were asleep, using incomplete results to do so.
To save face, it asked the Labour Party (LP), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and other dissatisfied and aggrieved opposition parties to go to court.
That pain on the citizens has not ebbed. They have thus, been looking up to the courts to make a final say on the election, make definite pronouncement on its conduct and who actually won.
In #AllEyesOnTheElectionTribunalJudges, they expressed their belief in the judiciary as the last hope for their efforts.
It was for them, a reminder that all was not lost after all; that the errors of the presidential and other elections could still be remedied.
It was that optimism that the Federal Government sought to take away from the people by dissolving the Secretariat of the Advertising Standard Panel (ASP) over its approval of billboards.
Government claimed that the billboards were blackmailing the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal.
For purposes of explanation, the ASP is the Statutory Panel under the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria (ARCON), charged with the duty of ensuring that advertisements conform to the prevailing laws of the Federation as well as the Code of advertising ethics of the advertising profession.
ARCON Director-General, Dr. Olalekan Fadolapo, who confirmed the dissolution of the panel, said the Council has also suspended its Director and Deputy Director in charge of Regulations to allow investigations into the issue.
The statement announcing the action read: “The attention of the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria (ARCON) has been drawn to the “All Eyes on the Judiciary” advertisements exposed on some billboards across the country.
“The Advertising Standards Panel of the Council also erred in the approval of one of the concepts as the advertisement failed to vet guidelines on the following grounds:
“The cause forming the central theme of the campaign in the advertisement is a matter pending before the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal. Hence, it’s jus pendis.
“A matter being jus pendis and awaiting judicial pronouncement is, by virtue of the Nigerian legal system, precluded from being a subject of public statement, debate, discussion, advertisement, etc.
“The advertisement is controversial and capable of instigating public unrest and breach of public peace.
“The advertisement is considered blackmail against the Nigerian Judiciary, the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, and particularly the Honourable Justices of the Tribunal who are expected to discharge their judicial functions without fear or favour over a matter that is currently jus pendis.”
Nothing could be farther from the truth. It is rather, dictatorship unfolding. There is nothing in the advertorial that points to blackmailing or intimidating the Justices of the Election Petition Tribunals. The billboards and the lessons in them are in line with the thinking of Nigerians. They only stand as reminders to the judiciary and everyone that has something to do with the cases in courts of their sacred responsibility in upholding the rule of law.
Democracy thrives on a tripod – the executive, legislature and judiciary.
Of the three, the judiciary is expected to be neutral, apolitical and non-partisan. While the legislature makes the law and the executive implements, the judiciary gives it interpretation, faulting or upholding it in line with the constitution.
That informs the principles of checks and balances – the very essence of democracy.
There is no doubting the fact that there are issues with the 2023 elections. It is expected that the judiciary would provide the clincher and the way out.
Unlike in the past, Nigerians are now, increasingly aware and interested on what happens around them.
They are keen on developments around the Tribunals. They want to know how the contending issues of the elections would be resolved. It is normal in democracy that when the people feel unfairly treated by the executive or legislature, they look up to the judiciary for justice. There is nothing abnormal in it. Tinubu as Lagos governor did so when the then Olusegun Obasanjo-led Federal Government blocked the allocations due the state, on allegation that it illegally created more local councils. At the conclusion of the 2007 general elections when Tinubu felt that the INEC played a fast one on the governorship elections in Osun and Edo, he and his party, the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), cried to the judiciary for justice. And the courts returned Rauf Aregbesola as governor in Osun and Adams Oshiomhole in Edo.
Even ex-governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti state, benefitted from the agitation. On such occasions, all eyes were on the judiciary to do the right thing.
The template cannot be changed now that the credibility of the election that brought Tinubu to power is being questioned.
Doing so would be hypocritical. Silencing the “#AllEyesOnTheElectionTribunalJudges” mantra, is not the way to go. It begs the question.
Nothing quells the quest for justice other than rendering it.
What the government is doing is simply acting the third prescription by Robert Greene in his classic, 48 Laws to Power, on concealing one’s intention.
It recommends to a power seeker to “keep the people off balance and in the dark by never revealing the purpose behind your actions. If they have no clue what you are up to, they cannot prepare a defence.
Guide them far enough down the wrong path, envelop them in enough smoke, and by the time they realise your intention, it will be too late”.
Government is merely hiding behind a finger. There is an obvious panic mode in the system, hence every measure comes handy.
But it is too late to pull the wool over the people’s eyes. Even without the billboards, all eyes will continue to be on the judiciary, till the last word on the election.
DURU is the Editor,
TheNiche Newspapers, Lagos