In 1979, when the Supreme Court panel led by Justice Atanda Fatai-Williams voted in a split 5-1-1 decision to uphold the ruling of Justice Bonyamin Kazeem-led Presidential Election Tribunal [five Justices agreed with the ruling, one Justice allowed the election on grounds of substantial compliance, one Justice upheld the appeal], UPN presidential candidate Chief Obafemi Awolowo emerged from the court room in Lagos, at which he was his own lead counsel. He took with him to the court a truckload of legal books. When he cited some of the books in his presentation, the judges asked him to deposit a copy in the Supreme Court library for their reference, because they didn’t have it. Reporters rushed to Chief Awolowo as he left the courtroom and one asked him, “Where will you appeal to now?” He said, “To God.”
The men who lost their election appeal at the Supreme Court last week were nowhere as colourful. Neither Waziri Atiku Abubakar nor Mr. Peter Obi made a memorable statement that will be remembered 44 years from now. Maybe it is the fault of today’s reporters, that none of them threw a piercing question at the former presidential candidates so that they could give an equally memorable answer. Instead, their parties later issued statements saying they “rejected” the Supreme Court’s ruling. Reject it, when the Constitution said its ruling on all matters is final?
Ok, since there is no court here on earth that anyone can take the 2023 election matter to, it makes sense to leave matters to God. Leaving matters to God does not mean one should do nothing. To be sure, Chief Awolowo did not leave everything entirely to God because he used other means to continue his appeal. For example, at UPN’s first convention in the Second Republic, which took place in Lagos in December 1979, Chief Awolowo read a 33-page speech, according to newspaper reports at the time. Five pages out of those were devoted to the former military Head of State, retired General Olusegun Obasanjo.
UPN leaders firmly believed that Obasanjo supported NPN. They had what they believed was concrete evidence, as reported by one newspaper at the time. In 1979 the Federal Electoral Commission [FEDECO] held five consecutive elections over a six-week period, for Senate, House of Reps, State Assemblies, Governors, and then for President. We saw General Obasanjo on TV, casting his votes in every election in order to set an example for citizens. According to that newspaper, UPN agents in the polling unit near Dodan Barracks noted the serial numbers of each ballot paper given to the Head of State. They sent the numbers to UPN agents at the collation centres, who were able to trace Obasanjo’s ballots. They said he voted for UPN three times, including for Senator Sikiru Shitta-Bey and for Governor Lateef Jakande. But in the all-important president election, he voted for NPN’s Alhaji Shehu Shagari. That’s according to one newspaper report at the time!
In his convention speech, Chief Awolowo quoted numerous Biblical verses to curse Obasanjo and he accused the Federal Military Government he headed of “perfidy.” He then devoted another eleven pages to Roman Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Anthony Olubunmi Okogie. Again according to newspaper reports at the time, Okogie opposed Awolowo’s candidacy because he feared that if Awo won the election, he will appoint Tai Solarin, proprietor of the famed Mayflower School, as Education Minister. Tai Solarin was a professed atheist but also worrisome for Okogie, he was opposed to the return of mission schools to churches. Government had taken them over years earlier. Hence Awo berated the Archbishop, again with copious quotes from the Bible. That was apparently part of appealing to God.
Now, I do not know what fora Waziri Atiku Abubakar and Mr. Peter Obi intend to use to launch their appeals to God. Part of the problem is that, unlike Chief Awolowo whose election grouse was essentially with two people, PDP and LP candidates and their supporters have been castigating every person and institution since the start of the campaign season and especially since the election. They castigated INEC, police, DSS, outgoing Buhari Administration, Central Bank [which they said deprived them of new notes but secretly gave them to APC], National Assembly, foreign powers, APC, traditional rulers, artistes, clerics, marabouts, party thugs and every tier of the judiciary. My fear is that before the Almighty God sits to hear their case, His Registrar could accuse these litigants of contempt of Court because they have already commented publicly on every aspect of the appeal.
There might even be cross appeals before the Almighty. From Supreme Court judges, for instance. I have been old enough to closely follow elections in Nigeria since 1979. In no previous case did I ever see a concerted attempt to intimidate the judiciary like in this one. The social-media campaign of “All eyes on the judiciary” was that, unless judges annul the presidential election, then they have not been just, are corrupt, have lost all integrity, and will put the country in trouble. This is similar to a football fan saying that unless his team wins the match, then the referee has not done justice. Nigerian politicians have the same mentality as Nigerian students. When a Nigerian student passes an exam, he will say, “I got an A in that course.” When he fails a course, he will say, “That lecturer failed me because we are competing for one girlfriend.” Nigerian politicians win elections on their own but someone else is responsible if they did not win.
Supreme Court justices suing anyone? Sounds preposterous to our youngsters, but it happened before. In January 1993, then Chief Justice Mohammed Bello and eight other Supreme Court justices filed a libel suit against Concord Press of Nigeria [CPN]. They sought payment of N50m each in damages because of a story in the weekly newsmagazine African Concord, which alleged that military ruler General Ibrahim Babangida bribed them with exotic Mercedes Benz cars. Their Lordships’ lead lawyer was Chief F.R.A Williams, while Chief Gani Fawehinmi defended Concord Group. The justices withdrew the suit when Concord apologised to them.
This time around, I cannot remember anyone specifically alleging that the election tribunal and Supreme Court judges were bribed, but in the wake of their rulings, overzealous LP social media warriors claimed that justice was subverted. The judges will find that strange. A young fellow who is struggling to pass General Studies 101 course in a recently established private university, believes he knows the law better than men and women on the verge of retirement after many decades on the Bench? Sorry, Your Lordships. You are only tasting what we, ancient newspaper editors, have been tasting for long. Young folks barely out of their diapers, with a smart phone, long ago took over the functions of editors and are now calling the shots in storytelling.
Actually, the Almighty God’s Appeal Court will be full because apart from PDP and LP candidates and Supreme Court judges, INEC Chairman and commissioners, Inspector General of Police and his DIGs and probably even the election case winner, President Bola Tinubu, will come before Him on appeal. Each and every one of them has a case. Let me tell you a secret. There is no better way to file an Appeal to the Almighty after the Supreme Court ruling then to sit down, study what went wrong and begin planning for the next election. A colleague of mine, who spent many years fasting and praying to become governor of his home state, finally wrote a letter to a bishop and complained to him that colleagues were mocking him because of his intense prayers. The bishop turned out to be more down to earth than our friend. He urged him to take practical steps to engage in politics, register with a political party, work hard in it and contest the election. Otherwise, bishop said, “the election will come and go while you are still praying!”
It is not very difficult for the two leading opposition candidates to determine what went wrong. In the case of Waziri Atiku, it was the three-way splintering of PDP. Peter Obi left with its most solid base since 1999, i.e. the South East. Nyesom Wike and four other PDP governors then took away another sizeable chunk of support, including Rivers, traditionally PDP’s biggest vote bank. It is easy to determine that cause but it is not an easy problem to solve. Why because, essentially what caused it was Waziri Atiku’s insistence of contesting, when PDP’s Southern leaders thought it was their turn to produce the party’s candidate.
As for Mr. Peter Obi, his overzealous social-media supporters will ultimately settle down to the truth: he did not win the 2023 election, could not possibly have with his miniscule support in 17 Northern states, and no “mandate” was stolen from him. Obi is politically less charismatic, much less adept at planning, less vigorous, a political newcomer in relation to and with a smaller base of support than Chief Awolowo. Yet, the latter finished second in the 1979 election. The path to possible victory for Obi in the future is to enter into strategic alliances and expand his support base to all or at least most regions of the country, as President Bola Tinubu did over several decades. Social media support, however intense, cannot get him into Aso Rock because as one INEC commissioner observed, there are no polling stations on social media.
As for President Tinubu, his appeal to God after the Supreme Court verdict is to thank Him for His mercies, work to maintain his 2023 support base, expand it if possible, and ensure that his election rivals do not coalesce against him by 2027, the huge mistake that President Goodluck Jonathan did in 2013-15.