The PEPT decision, Peter Obi and Atiku Abubakar’s reactions

THE Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, PEPT, has given its final word on the presidential election conducted on February 25 after three anxious months. Its word for the petitioners, that is the opposition parties that contested the outcome of that election, has been damning. The five judges who sat on and made pronouncement over this case didn’t pull punches in giving their judgement.

While one couldn’t have been a hundred per cent certain of how the judgement would turn out (nobody could discount the human element in the case, which made everything unpredictable), the outcome was not at all surprising. Nor have the reactions of the petitioners been surprising.

 

Much of what went into the suit that was consolidated and reviewed by the judges has been pronounced upon in the past in bits and pieces of other electoral cases even up to the Supreme Court. All anybody needed to do to have a sense of where the decision would go was to look back at those previous suits. Which is to say that there was hardly anything in the complaint bowl of the petitioners that was new or that the tribunal could have viewed and been led to have adjudicated differently.

 

Is it the bit about the status of Abuja as the Federal Capital Territory vis-à-vis the 36 states (even this is a matter of common sense) or the question of the academic status of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu? Was he or was he not a student at Chicago State University, not the University of Chicago? Wasn’t this matter effectively debated and dispensed with during the current president’s time as governor of Lagos State?

Was he ever charged and convicted for a drug offence in America? Yes, he forfeited some funds to the United States government in a drug-related matter but was he criminally charged and convicted? How about the issue of double nomination, what did the Tribunal make of it? Was Kashim Shettima validly nominated as vice president at the same time as he was nominated a senator?

 

Was or is the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, legally bound to electronically transmit the results of elections in real time? By offering to do that as a way of assuring Nigerians of its good faith, does that place it under legal compulsion? And to what extent could its failure to transmit the result electronically, having promised to do so, undermine the integrity of the election?

Were the regulations and guidelines for the election substantially complied with bearing in mind that even the best or most applauded elections in the so-called developed democracies are still prone to errors? These were the facts before the jurists and the rest of Nigerians for and against the petition. In the end, the Tribunal struck out the petitions mainly for lack of or improperly marshalled evidence. The judgement which came to about 800 pages- just two pages short of that- took all of 12 hours to deliver. It was in a word comprehensive and addressed every bit of the issues raised by the petitioners about the election of Bola Tinubu as president.

 

The decision of the judges was unanimous (which some in the camps of the petitioners believe is evidence of its orchestration) and came with both verbal and monetary sanction to the petitioners. The detailed account of the judges’ decision makes it largely self-explanatory. There is, therefore, not much merit to reviewing it further here.

The issue at the moment is the reaction of the petitioners which, as I have mentioned above, is in no way surprising. For months since the election, they have been loud about their claim that Tinubu’s is a stolen presidency. They would not hear any contrary word no matter how well-reasoned. They have doubled down on their position since last week and have vowed to take the matter to the Supreme Court. That is within their right.

 

If the latest judgement of the Tribunal has done anything at all, it is that it has awakened Nigerians to an awareness of the law, to what is moral, what is legal and what separates both. It has helped in a way to sharpen our knowledge of how emotion could occlude our sense of judgement, leaving us blind to what is in plain sight. Every available option should be taken and exhausted and the Supreme Court, as the court of last resort, offers an opportunity to the petitioners to test the law to its very limit. This is much better than the attempt some of them have made in their brazen call for military intervention even in the wake of the decision of the PEPT.

It has been clear well before the election that today’s petitioners, particularly the so-called Obedient strand of it, as the followers of the Labour Party candidate self-identify, would be satisfied with nothing except the election of Peter Obi as president. It was with them a highly emotive issue that was buoyed by mere zeal rather than reason and this was evident in the manner they sought to bully and cuss just about anyone that had anything to say that was contrary to their wish.

 

They have since gone back to their vomit although their complaint has been muted. And here is where Peter Obi himself has to be careful. He has so far tried (in vain to perceptive observers, in my view) to present an urbane disposition to the outcome of the February elections. But Obi’s true disposition has been more of the do-or-die variant as President Olusegun Obasanjo characterised the 2007 election. It’s as if he doesn’t see himself ever coming as far politically as he had in 2023. He may well be right, if he continues in the manner he has so far,as he appears determined to with his supporters.

Atiku Abubakar and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, have played the part of democrats far more than Peter Obi and his Labour Party stalwarts. The Labour Party candidate in the 2023 presidential election is coming close to overdrawing on his goodwill in his subtle attempts at inciting and inflaming the emotions of his followers against current structures of governance.

 

Aggressive passion is the oxygen on which he appears he wants to sustain his political life and what is left of his failed but promising presidential ambition. Each time his “Obidient family” appears reconciled to the state of things, Obi comes out with his “personal” message to them that amounts to a rallying of the troops. This he does like a practised demagogue. They have not been their usually rancorous selves since last week’s PEPT decision (perhaps they are beginning to have some sense) but Peter Obi is again back to rouse them with his last Sunday’s “homily”.

 


Rotimi Fasan

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