Dr Kayode Ajulo, OON
In the intricate tapestry of Nigeria’s democratic journey, the ongoing presidential electoral petition tribunal emerges as a pivotal crossroads, testing the core principles of justice, equity, and democratic essence.
This phase symbolises the intricate interplay of law, politics, and public sentiment, encapsulating the nation’s ongoing saga of democracy. Within this context, it becomes imperative to unravel the complexities surrounding the tribunal – from the roles of the justices to the varying public perspectives and the challenges confronting the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in tackling spurious allegations against the judiciary.
*Examining the Nigerian Presidential Election and the Tribunal*
The year 2023 marked a pivotal moment in Nigeria’s history with the highly anticipated presidential election, which heralded a defining juncture in the nation’s democratic voyage. Beyond mere political contenders, this election resonated with Nigerian citizens exercising their democratic rights to steer their nation’s destiny.
Following the election, the establishment of the presidential election tribunal emerged as a consequential event. This legal platform was designed to address emerging disputes and allegations. It is a forum where evidence is presented, and arguments are advanced concerning the legitimacy of election outcomes. Consequently, all eyes in the nation have converged on this tribunal, with its proceedings overseen by the Honourable Justices of the Court of Appeal.
*Roles and Duties of Tribunal Justices*
The Justices overseeing the presidential electoral petition tribunal hold a profound duty in upholding Nigeria’s electoral sanctity. They are entrusted with impartially evaluating evidence, assessing the legality of election procedures, and making judicious decisions grounded in constitutional and legal tenets. Essentially, they function as sentinels of democracy, safeguarding the true reflection of the people’s will in the election outcomes.
These Justices are tasked with an intricate analysis of electoral laws, meticulous scrutiny of electoral conduct, and a thorough evaluation of irregularities or violations. Their rulings wield the power to validate or nullify election results, endowing them with an authoritative influence over the nation’s political trajectory.
*Public Sentiments and Diverse Outlooks*
The public’s response to the ongoing presidential electoral petition tribunal echoes a symphony of hopes, expectations, and reservations. While some harbor confidence in the tribunal’s potential to render justice, others are plagued by skepticism due to historical instances of perceived judicial partiality. It’s important to recognize these varied perspectives as emblematic of a vibrant democratic society engaging in discourse on matters of national significance.
Opinions range from cautious optimism to skepticism, reflecting the dynamic nature of a democracy grappling with history and present-day complexities. Certain segments exhibit optimism, viewing the tribunal as a bastion of integrity for the electoral process. They trust that the Justices will rigorously analyze evidence and render judgments in alignment with the rule of law. Conversely, skepticism arises from past instances where judicial impartiality has been questioned. Some members of the public fear political influence, corruption, and bias among the Justices, apprehensive that justice could be compromised for political convenience.
*Challenges of Disregard for The Tribunal, The Judiciary and Upholding Integrity*
Alas, a troubling trend of public disregard for both the ongoing tribunal and the broader judiciary has emerged. A particularly alarming trend is the growing disrespect for the judiciary, characterized by absurd conspiracy theories, slanderous remarks, and baseless allegations – often targeting the Honourable Justices. This trend thrives due to historical perceptions of partiality, polarization, and the rapid spread of misinformation via social media.
Regrettably, there has been a growing trend of public disregard for both the ongoing tribunal and the broader Nigerian judiciary. One malignant trend I have noticed, which is slowly becoming the norm, is the utter disregard and disrespect of the judiciary by Nigerian citizens, which is characterized by ludicrous conspiracy theories, slanderous statements and false accusations, which are majorly targeted at the Honourable Justices. This trend is fueled by various factors, including historical instances of perceived judicial partiality, political polarization, and the amplification of false information through social media. It is important to recognize that a healthy democracy relies on the judiciary’s independence and credibility, making it crucial to address and counteract these negative sentiments. The proliferation of misinformation erodes public trust in the judiciary and undermines the fundamental tenets of democracy.
In less than 24 hours, I have come across two separate posts on social media which are perfect examples of the negative sentiments in question. In the first post, the writer accused a former governor and minister of writing the judgment of the presidential election tribunal, which is yet to be announced. In the second post, which was a video, a pastor displayed the pictures of the presiding Justices, and asked his congregation to make certain declarations and ‘lay hands on the Justices’. In addition to these, I have also come across several comments castigating and berating the Justices, whilst accusing them of partiality and questionable practices.
What is most upsetting about these accusations and negative theories is the fact that the Justices in question, by virtue of their calling, the ethics guiding this prestigious profession, and the nature and sensitivity of their offices are not afforded the luxury of addressing these false and ludicrous claims which seek to stain their names, their offices and their integrity. The plight of the presiding Justices, and the judiciary is a sad one which has forced me to act as a voice to an institution that is unable to defend itself from this onslaught.
As stated earlier, the sensitive nature of the offices of the presiding justices is such that they are unable to defend themselves and give a reply to the numerous false accusations and stories which are an attack on their morality. This therefore begs the question, who then will speak on behalf of the judiciary and its judicial officers, and defend it against these fallacies?
After going through, a number of these posts, articles and videos, I have come to the conclusion that these attacks are premeditated and can be traced to have originated from, and are being sponsored by, some particular groups and political affiliations.
Another instance of the recent contempt suffered by the Nigerian Judiciary, although not related to the presidential election tribunal, occurred at the Niger State High located in Suleja, where I was a counsel in a matter. The Respondent in this matter who had never appeared before the Honourable Judge, went as far as writing a petition against the Judge accusing him of attempting to snatch his wife. Prior to this, the same person had previously accused two high-ranking police officers, DPOs of also attempting to snatch his wife, regardless of the fact but unknown to him that one of the officers in question was a woman.
This instance makes it evident that there is much disdain directed towards the judiciary, as well as a plethora of false accusations being peddled, which all seek to paint the judiciary in a negative light.
These examples and instances all point to the fact that the shameful manner in which the judiciary is treated and regarded by members of the public, must be addressed in order to prevent a total breakdown of law and order.
It’s crucial to acknowledge that a robust democracy rests on the pillars of an independent and credible judiciary. Addressing this issue is imperative to prevent a complete erosion of law and order. A recent example involves posts accusing respected individuals of manipulating tribunal judgments and even involving religious figures in influencing judicial outcomes.
The judiciary’s inability to respond due to ethical constraints only exacerbates this worrying situation.
*Countering False Accusations and Restoring Trust: The Role of the Nigerian Bar Association, The Body of Benchers, the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria and Judicial Institutions.
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) bears a critical role in countering unfounded accusations and reinstating trust in the judiciary. As the umbrella body for lawyers in Nigeria, the NBA is tasked with advocating for the rule of law and upholding the justice system’s integrity. To achieve this, the NBA should actively communicate the judiciary’s role, dispel misinformation, and foster transparency. Collaborating with the media, civil society, and educational institutions can bridge the gap between the public and the judiciary.
Moreover, the Body of Benchers, responsible for legal ethics and professional standards, must engage in proactive initiatives. This could involve public outreach, using various media platforms to educate the public about judicial impartiality and ethical standards. In supporting the justices, they should help navigate the challenges of public perception while ensuring justice prevails.
Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria is made of distinguished elites of the legal profession in Nigeria, its primary role is to serve as compass for others to follow, the role is better served in confronting the ills under consideration ditto the other formal judicial institution with full backing of the instrumentality of the law.
The NBA “National” and “Branches” can take a stand by publicly addressing the baseless attacks on the judiciary and its members. Collaborative efforts with media, civil society, and educational institutions can provide clarity and counter false narratives.
The Nigerian presidential electoral petition tribunal is a canvas capturing Nigeria’s democratic essence, principles, and sentiments. The Justices presiding over it are the guardians of justice, entrusted with the monumental task of upholding democracy’s core values. Amidst divergent public opinions and the perilous disregard for the judiciary, the NBA and other stakeholders should emerge as a powerful agent to dispel misinformation and fortify the defense of judicial integrity. Nigeria navigates this juncture with the hope that justice will triumph, democracy will flourish, and the rule of law will remain sacrosanct in the hearts of its citizens.