A measure of the import of last Wednesday’s verdict by the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal (PEPT) was defined by two key parameters. In one vein were the palpable expectations that heralded it in the various camps of the contending parties, while in the other is the deluge of reactions that trailed it accordingly. The tribunal had scheduled that day for its ruling on the petition brought before it by the Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Atiku Abubakar challenging the electoral victory by Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC), in the February 2019 polls.
The PEPT eventually ruled in favour of PMB and thereby launched a gale of reactions from all and sundry, much of which conjured up, and thereby highlighted issues beyond the immediate circumstances of the case. Whereas the case before the PEPT was a matter of determining whether the evidence presented to the court was sufficient in the eyes of the law to nullify the electoral victory of PMB, the profusion of reactions spawned insights which dictate that whatever is ongoing as the review of the country’s legal system, needs to be reconsidered in terms of context, tempo and ultimate prospects of public take on it. Indeed, so much work remains to be done in that direction, to achieve the desired dividends associated with a robust legal system, that meets the expectations of Nigerians in contemporary circumstances.
Admitted that the verdict was controversial, it could not have been otherwise given the nature of the case as one of a political origin, which was built around the last presidential polls and in which people had taken sides before even the matter appeared in court. Some lawyers argue that in such a situation, wise judges simply take solace in confining themselves to the barest meaning and interpretation of the letters of the law. It is in such instances that judges often demonstrate that the court is not a Father Christmas that dispenses favours without the recipient’s request and specification, or a supermarket on clearance sale of goods where customers can avail themselves of free items. In the court, you even have to fight vigorously and convincingly beyond any reasonable doubt, to prove your case and earn just relief. So the PEPT claimed to have acted by its verdict.
However, now that the PEPT has cleared Muhammadu Buhari as the duly elected President of the country, the way forward remains as defined by the proclivities of the two camps and their principals. For Atiku and the PDP, feelers are that they may proceed to the Supreme Court, in furtherance of their search for justice in their own terms. At least his counsel indicated so after the verdict at the PEPT. Not surprisingly, this angle is not attracting as much support from even his supporters and the wider section of the PDP universe, not to talk of the rest of the country who may have no direct stake in Atiku’s political fortunes and are therefore nonchalant over his next move.
The foregoing notwithstanding, with respect to the wisdom in Atiku’s resort to the courts over his dissatisfaction with the outcome of the Presidential polls, not a few agree that nothing could have been better for his cause and the country’s electoral system. As a political leader of indisputable significance, Atiku had by the resort to the court, tacitly driven a welcome assault on the country’s imperfect judicial system with respect to electoral politics and law, and in the process exposed to the benefit of Nigeria, some of its better disposed features as well those for realignment. He therefore needs to be commended as a true statesman, whose contribution in this regard is a matter for another day. Hence, whoever berates Atiku for going to court, needs only to read Nigeria’s recent history and appreciate that even the incumbent Buhari went to court on as many as three different electoral seasons, each of which ended in futility, before his eventual success and incumbency as President.
As for Muhammadu Buhari, this judicial victory also remains significant as it provides not only further vindication of having been duly elected in accordance with extant laws, and as interpreted by the designated judges. It serves as a reminder that the office of the President is not a birth right of any Nigerian including himself. It is rather an office that is open to any Nigerian to aspire to and win, if circumstances of popularity and law permit. Hence, the benefit of incumbency imposes a bounding duty on him to see himself as in competition with other Nigerians who believe that they can do the job better than him.
Against the backdrop of the liberties arising from his clearance by the court, lies the imperative for downplaying partisan politics, and paying renewed attention on better and proper administration of the country. While politics as the game of who gets what, when and how has run much of is course with the polls and its afterglow, it is now time to administer the country through ensuring that law and order prevail in every part of its territorial claim, as well as all aspects of national life.
To put it in popular parlance, the next item on the agenda is the promised movement of Nigeria to the next level as promised by the President himself during the campaign for the second term. The Nigeria that is envisaged for movement to the next level refers to all citizens including those in opposition without whose participation, the enterprise becomes like attempting to clap with one hand. Only a meaningless wave can be achieved.
Hence, the enterprise of carrying the whole country along in every aspect of administration, and excelling beyond reasonable doubt, remains the final vindication for President Muhammadu Buhari in the rest of his second and final term in office. After all, the eventual verdict of history on his tenure, which supersedes that of the PEPT on his electoral victory, will be based just on that.