“The ruling is deeply troubling, and undermines the integrity of the electoral process, weakens public trust in democratic institutions, accentuates voter apathy, and threatens the progress Nigeria has made towards consolidating its democracy….”
Today, the first in a series of essays about the curse of Nigeria’s political class, I want to summarize the implications of the September 6, 2023, Nigerian Presidential Election Tribunal ruling by focusing on one of the worst consequences of the verdict: The emergence of benign resignation, and of the despair that has led so many Nigerians to give up on the judiciary.
In modern democratic societies, the concept of citizen participation lies at the heart of a vibrant political process. It is through a free independent press, and the active engagement of citizens that governments derive legitimacy and policies are shaped to serve the collective interest. However, there exists a phenomenon known as “benign resignation,” wherein citizens adopt a passive stance and refrain from taking action in the political process. In Nigeria today, there is a palpable atmosphere of gloom –a downcast enveloped in despair and resignation, and you can feel it in the common refrain heard in popular responses of typical Nigerians when asked about the state of the political situation: “That’s how God wants it”; “Thank God”; “Let’s move on.”
Such opaque responses are forms of perceived inefficacy. And stem from the belief that individual actions will have negligible impact on political outcomes. Citizens may feel that their voices and efforts will be drowned out in the vast machinery of the political system –which they may perceive as corrupt, dishonest, and often manipulated, leading to a series of powerlessness and disillusionment.
As we have seen and read, media and independent organizations reported that citizens’ participation in the February 25 presidential was the lowest on record since the end of military rule. Bloomberg noted that “only 3 in 10 people turned out to vote in Nigeria’s elections…and about 29% of eligible voters cast their ballot on Feb. 25.”
Many Nigerians prioritize immediate personal concerns over broader societal issues, resulting in disengagement from the sphere.
The extent of political apathy –as demonstrated in the Bloomberg report and those of other media organizations and international election observers, increasingly shows that citizens are faced with an overwhelming array of issues competing for their attention. The battle to survive under depressing economic and security situations, coupled with busy lifestyles and information overload, can lead to lack of interest and apathy towards politics. Many Nigerians prioritize immediate personal concerns over broader societal issues, resulting in disengagement from the sphere. And, compounding the societal malaise, we have seen many of Nigeria’s key political, legal, and economic institutions abandon their commitments to the common good — and, along the way, abandoned the overwhelming 65 percent of the population who are young, poor, and restless– especially those without education.
The September 6 ruling by the Nigerian Election Tribunal in Abuja, upholding President Bola Tinubu as the winner of the February 25, 2023 presidential election, despite overwhelming evidence (polls and reports by domestic and international election observers) suggesting otherwise, is a disheartening blow to democracy. This decision raises serious concerns about the integrity of the electoral process and undermines the principles of fairness, transparency, and accountability that are essential for a functioning democratic society.
Yes, Nigeria is a relatively young player in the game, but the cornerstone of any democratic nation is the conduct of free and fair elections, where citizens have the opportunity to express their will through the ballot box. An electoral system that respects the rule of law and ensures the integrity of the process is vital for fostering public trust, promoting political stability, and safeguarding the fundamental rights of the people. However, when electoral tribunals fail to uphold these principles, it erodes the very foundation of democracy. Invariably, for a fledgling democracy such as Nigeria, the stakes are much higher. The implications of doing the wrong thing are dire.
What is the Role of the Election Tribunal?
The election tribunal holds a significant responsibility in ensuring the legitimacy of the electoral process. It serves as an independent body tasked with reviewing election disputes, considering evidence presented by all parties involved, and delivering unbiased judgments. The tribunal’s primary objective is to establish the truth, protect the rights of the electorate, and guarantee that the will of the people prevails.
Many stakeholders and supporters of the two major opposition parties – People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Labour Party (LP), see the Tribunal’s ruling as a charade, unjust and bereft of the principles of the law and the process set in place by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The leaders of both parties have indicated their rejection of the ruling and plan to appeal to the Nigerian Supreme Court.
Such a decision sets a dangerous precedent and sends a message that the rule of law can be disregarded.
Invariably, the decision by the Nigerian Election Tribunal to validate President Bola Tinubu’s contested victory, despite compelling evidence indicating otherwise, raises serious questions about the tribunal’s impartiality and its commitment to justice. In any democracy, evidence-based decision-making is crucial to maintaining public confidence and preserving the integrity of the electoral process. Ignoring overwhelming evidence undermines the credibility of the tribunal and raises concerns about the motives behind such a ruling.
The ruling by the presidential election tribunal not only undermines the legitimacy of the electoral process but also has wider implications for Nigeria’s democracy as a whole. It erodes trust in democratic institutions and weakens the public’s belief in the power of their votes. Such a decision sets a dangerous precedent and sends a message that the rule of law can be disregarded, paving the way for future electoral fraud and undermining the democratic progress the country has made.
To prevent the erosion of democratic values, it is essential to uphold the principles of judicial independence. The judiciary must remain impartial, free from undue influence or pressure, and act as the ultimate guardian of justice. Any Nigerian Presidential Election Tribunal must demonstrate its commitment to fairness, transparency, and accountability by reconsidering its decision and rectifying any potential miscarriage of justice.
Consequently, the ruling by the Nigerian Presidential Election Tribunal, declaring President Bola Tinubu the winner of the February 2023 presidential election despite evidence to the contrary, is deeply troubling. It undermines the integrity of the electoral process, weakens public trust in democratic institutions, accentuates voter apathy, and threatens the progress Nigeria has made towards consolidating its democracy.
Upholding the principles of fairness, transparency, and accountability is vital to safeguarding democracy and ensuring that the will of the people prevails. It is imperative that the Supreme Court, when presented with the petitions of the opposition parties in the appeal process, should review the Tribunal’s decision and take necessary steps to rectify any potential miscarriage of justice, thereby restoring faith in Nigeria’s electoral system.
♦ Chris Chinwe Ulasi, Professor of Media and Communication, is on the Editorial Board of the West African Pilot News.
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