Reactions to the PEPT judgement across several platforms confirm the broad division in our land. The division is political, ethnic, and regional and takes other forms.
It is also historical. It reprises the 122/3 judgment of the Supreme Court then. It was similarly divisive and did not make much sense to critics, like today’s judgement.
On political matters, our higher courts stress system maintenance rather than justice. They quickly lean on technicalities.
In doing so, they leave citizens needing clarification about the law. Here are some examples of this judgement.
- The Court of Appeal ruled on 6 September 2023 that an opposing party cannot challenge the double nomination of Vice President Kassim Shetimma. It runs contrary to the verdict of the Supreme Court in 2020 when it annulled the election of David Lyon as the governor of Bayelsa State because of defects in the names of his running mate.
The Peoples Democratic Party, the opposing party, brought the case against Lyon and his deputy. Whatever happened to the legal principle of stare decisis or standing on the precedent of decided cases? Particularly a judgement of the highest court?
- The Appeal Court ruled that Abuja FCT is one of our states and shares characteristics with others. They stated that there is nothing special about Abuja, FCT. I rechecked the constitution. Abuja is NOT one of the federating states. Otherwise, we would have 37 states. The constitution expressly declares that we have 36 states AND the Federal Capital Territory. Chapter 1 Section 3 (1) lists the states and further down their capitals.
It also lists their Local Government Areas. There is no Capital for Abuja, FCT and only six Area Councils. In other words, the constitution makes it explicit that Abuja is different and unique, contrary to the appeal court’s ruling on 6 September 2023. That is my layman’s reading of the ordinary meaning of what the Constitution says about Abuja, FCT.
- There are many other areas of contention. Indeed, the ruling offers more contentious grounds than the 12 2/3 of that era.
- The 12 2/3 judgement was significant. Lawyers say the wise men in the Supreme Court then knew what they did and declared that no one should cite the ruling. However, it encouraged the winner so that impunity reigned four years later. It led to a catastrophic setback of the First Coming of Muhammadu Buhari and 15 years of military rule. That history instructs and should inform the actions of both losers and victors.
- It is good former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, and Peter Obi of the LP have committed to continue on the peaceful path of approaching a higher court.
- Many who did not expect an upturning of the status quo are benumbed. They “expected depth in the judgement to lessen the application of the law without justice.” Others hail it as brilliant.
- Nevertheless. As the court pleases. Please take it easy on people on the other side. They are not stupid, more partisan than you are, inflexible, or supporting injustice. Lower the temperature. Nigeria will march on. As Rotarians ask in their Four-Way Test, will this ruling “build goodwill and better friendships” in our land?
While the jury is out, we can ensure we reduce the hard feelings through what we say and how we say it to each other.
A cynic would say that the best prepared, in all ramifications, won the battle in the Political Jungle of Nigeria.
Significantly, compatriots, there is work ahead. We must become citizens in the best conception and traditions. We must monitor, evaluate, report, and engage our governments. Political parties must play their roles in the best practices: the governing parties through policies and programmes and the opposition parties by monitoring and offering alternatives. The press must revert to a professional watchdog role instead of lap or attack dogs.
Nigeria must work for its citizens despite current imperfections.
…Dr Chido Nwakanma is a respected veteran journalist, faculty member of Pan-African University, Lagos; a renowned public relations practitioner and a public affairs commentator. NNL.