Neither a man nor a crowd nor a nation can be trusted to act humanely or to think sanely under the influence of a great fear.
It was quite a relief reading senior lawyers like Jibrin Okutepa, repudiating the strange judgment of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal. Lawyers call non-lawyers laymen and themselves learned. Law is not just an ass but also a strange profession. Facts and laws can be bent or made polar opposites. Facts and truths are also not in bed together. Our nation’s judiciary has now abandoned the laws, truths and facts to embrace technicalities.
Otherwise what can one make of the grounds advanced by the presidential tribunal in denying Atiku and the PDP the prayers of their petitions? Of all the 5 grounds adduced in the petitions, the Tribunal ruled that not even one held water. Who am I, an “unlearned” layman to disagree with the learned jurists? But must a judgment deliberately stand facts on their head and embark on a voyage of technicalities to justify an end?
Graciously, one is thankful that some learned silks are coming out of the closets to state the law. Posterity will be kind to those who rise now on the side of truth. Our hard earned democracy can only be saved by nothing but the truth.
One thing one knows in law even as a layman is that none can approbate and reprobate at the same time as the Tribunal clearly did on the 11th day of September 2019. The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal delivered a unanimous judgment in which their lordships dismissed the petition of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and that of his party PDP against INEC, President Muhammadu Buhari and APC for lacking in merit and for lack of proof as required by law.
One of the most startling and befuddling claims of the Tribunal was that a public document is inadmissible as evidence unless it is tendered by the maker of the document. Why then is a document called Certified True Copy (CTC) if it cannot be accepted by government instructions and courts as authentic? Even certified judgments of courts are unexpectedly tendered for execution by concerned parties as authentic and that has been the global practice. None ever expects the judges or registrars of courts to personally present the court orders and judgements wherever they are needed. So, it is impractical and unattainable for any tribunal to insist that public documents (except may be secret documents) must be tendered by the maker before it can command evidential value. This is a strange pronouncement: it is at variance with both general practice and precedence. What is more, for that ground to be used to set aside a major ground of Atiku and PDP’s petition is truly a travesty of justice.
Let us for a moment grant but without conceding that the Tribunal was in order. How would the courts admit documents of antiquities whose makers could be dead? Do the courts have to exhume the makers from their graves to be able to admit such documents in evidence? Take for instance the Principal of the Privissional Secondary School who issued President Muhammadu Buhari an attestation, part of the public documents with which the President entered the Army. The white Principal had long departed Nigeria and possibly this world as well. How would such a document be admitted by their lordships? Where do we find the Principal?
What is even more curious was the Tribunal admitting a document that was not before it, a document never pleaded by any of the parties in the case. The Tribunal relied on what a certain Brigadier said concerning Buhari’s certificate in 2015. Rather than order the Army to appear before the Tribunal to state whether or not the President submitted secondary school certificate while enrolling in the Army in 1962. The Tribunal conveniently relied on the public statement credited to the Brigadier, which was neither addressed to any court nor officially sought by the Tribunal or any of the parties in the case.
Even a layman knows that the issue of qualification is a constitutional requirement and fundamental in election in Nigeria. That is why the Electoral Act requires aspirants to fill Form CF001, a form made pursuant to the Electoral Act and therefore part of the Act) which mandatorily requires that the candidates attach all evidence of educational qualifications. A person desirous of standing for election must identify the best constitutional provision that makes him qualified. What this presupposes is: a candidate must choose which of the listings on qualifications he is going with and swim or sink with it.
It is important to also point out that President Buhari did not say that his qualification was being “educated up to secondary school certificate level”, or being “able to read and write”. He claimed that he obtained the secondary school certificate. So, he did not rely on his ability to speak, understand and write English language. Why then did the Tribunal create the leeway for him by inputting that on his behalf? What is more, is it the duty of the Tribunal to defend a litigant or rule based on the evidence before it and facts that speak for themselves?
One damning implication of the Tribunal’s wayward ruling is that as it is, Nigerians do not know whether their President has secondary school certificate or not. The farther implication is that it is now a precedence that candidates may no longer need certificates to run for elective offices, be it office of the President or Governor for that matter!
One other thing one cannot understand is why the Judges never made any reference to the defence of any of the Respondents in their judgment. They went on to obtain evidence that were never before the Court and relied on same to discuss the Petition and even inferred that Buhari must have got a certificate before the Army recruited him in 1961. They took this strange position despite the conflicting issues, including when exactly Buhari even joined the Army. One of the judges told Nigerians and world that an old witness cannot lie. This is speculative if not reckless for there are so many aged rogues all over the place.
Nigerians who first listened to the judgment on radio before getting to switch to television, would be awed by the adversarial, combative tone. It was quite bewildering. One would actually think it was the defence council pressing home his point. The tone certainly was more like that of a defence than a judge. The judge is an umpire and carries on without betraying any emotions. At appellate bench it is even more so. But in the intermittent incoherence while the judgment was read one cannot but wonder whether the judges were reading the judgment they themselves prepared and rehearsed. It sounded like a strange document even to the judges and that is what justified the need for further corrections of it, which was also alluded to. Only a hurriedly coupled document can be like that in a petition where both sides long made written submissions.
Even as an unlearned layman like my humble self could see that the judgment was out of limb with the facts and laws, and was more of a shopping for grounds to justification. The nation further waits to see what the Supreme Court would do: will they too kowtow to further vakidate rule of men; or rescue the judiciary, our democracy and insist on rule of law? The path the Supreme Court takes will make or mar.
God save Nigeria democracy!
Dr. Law Mefor
is an Abuja-based Forensic and Social Psychologist.