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Democratic Culture Maturing, Say Stakeholders

Felix Nwadioha

Some stakeholders in the electoral process have hinged the dwindled litigation after the 2015 general elections on the credibility of the last electoral process supervised by the Attahiru Jega-led INEC. in Ibadan, Mr Kehinde Olaosebikan, a former governorship aspirant on the platform of PDP in Oyo State in the 2015 general elections, said the country’s democracy had witnessed an improved electoral process. Olaosebikan, who spoke in Ibadan, said: “there are no litigations in the presidential election and there are fewer litigation in the case of governorship elections because of the progress made in the electoral process.’’ The former Caretaker Chairman of Oluyole Local Government Council said that only Rashidi Ladoja of Accord Party challenged the victory of Gov. Abiola Ajimobi of APC in Oyo State.

“Why we don’t have many serious suits concerning the Oyo State governorship poll is because the best candidate won the election,’’ he said. On the impact of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s acceptance of the result on the fewer litigation, Olaosebikan praised the PDP presidential candidate for the gesture. “Jonathan impacted on the political process by setting up a credible INEC-led by Prof. Attahiru Jega, allowed free process and finally accepted the outcome.

“ The lesson from this is that Nigerians should not make political contest a matter of life and death while the government should discourage winner –takes- all syndrome and run an all inclusive government,’’ he said. An Ibadan-based lawyer, Mr Akin Ayedun, also said the dwindled litigation was based on the acceptance of defeat by those who lost the polls because of the credibility of the outcome. “Some politicians borrow money during campaigns and further waste money for litigation when they knew they lost. “Former President Goodluck Jonathan in accepting defeat also contributed to the low filing of suits against the outcome of the elections by some politicians who lost,’’ he said.

The legal practitioner said that less litigation on the outcome of the last election was   an indication that democracy in Nigerians was gaining ground. He advised politicians to file suits only when they were sure that they won an election. In Abeokuta, stakeholders in Ogun attributed the decrease in litigation arising from the 2015 general elections to the perceived credibility of the process. Some of the stakeholders, who spoke with NAN, noted that the card reader initiative as well as the high level of transparency with which the polls were conducted made the process substantially free, fair and credible. Mr Rotimi Paseda, the gubernatorial candidate of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in Ogun in the 2015 polls, said that gross malpractices that characterised the previous elections warranted the avalanche of litigation, which often followed them. He noted that there could not have been presidential litigation since there were two major candidates. Paseda said: “The former president’s action is noble and commendable as it doused tension that would have led to crisis in the already charged polity.

“That singular action permeated the whole structure of elective positions as it became the mark of good sportsmanship which was commended across board, even in international circles. “As for the states, no APC state lost to PDP while the PDP took a cue from their national leader’s action, so this accounted for low governorship suits,’’ he said. He said Nigerians had learnt how the country’s image could be enhanced internationally through the conduct of credible elections. He added that lawyers who often rely on post-election period to make money through   electoral litigation would begin to consider other aspects of law. The UPN chieftain noted that the reduced number of litigation had impacted positively on Nigeria’s democracy, adding that the development aided a smooth transition of government.

Paseda noted that it also enabled the ruling parties at the various states as well as APC at the centre to concentrate on governance rather than distraction by electoral litigation. “The development also enabled candidates who lost at the polls to appraise their strategies and return to the drawing board for necessary adjustments ahead of the 2019 polls,” he added. Dr Dapo Odukoya, a Senior Lecturer at the Tai Solarin University of Education, noted that the peace pact signed by the political parties and their candidates played a major role in the few suits that resulted from the 2015 polls. “It is one thing for INEC to conduct credible elections it is another thing for politicians to put country interest first before personal agenda.

“The peace pact signed by the political parties and their candidates was very significant in rallying everyone to put national interest first,’’ Odukoya said. Odukoya explained that the spirit of sportsmanship could be sustained in Nigeria’s democracy. The lecturer noted that the wide commendation, which greeted Jonathan’s admission of defeat had made such action fashionable and also made it easier to bear the loss. “If winners are consistently magnanimous in victory; then we will find out that the tendency to consider election as “a door- die” affair will diminish and the spirit of sportsmanship even in democracy will be promoted,” he said. The Secretary of the Ogun chapter of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Mr Bolarinwa Odeyale, said litigation was necessary in electoral contest if there was need. “Litigation is necessary where there is concrete evidence, witnesses and of course public outcry against an electoral process. “In this age of technological advancement, the use of video, audio, photographic and indeed forensic evidences makes good foundation for litigation.

“Electoral litigation serves as a check and balance in an electoral process. “It keeps the people and electoral agents vigilant in the whole process and serves as an impetus for electoral candidates to play according to rules,’’ he said. The secretary said that aggrieved candidates could institute legal proceedings where there was a clear case of willful disenfranchisement of the electorate and candidates. He said candidates could also challenge cases arising from use of state apparatus by an incumbent to harass or intimidate political opponents.

“Collusion between electoral officials and party agents to rig elections can also be challenged,’’ he said. In Akure, a cross section of respondents, also expressed diverse views on the downturn in electoral litigation. A lawyer in Okitipupa, Omowaire Odusola, attributed the development to the credibility of the 2015 general elections. Odusola also said that the permanent voter card, card reader and transparent electoral   process put in place by INEC reduced electoral fraud to a reasonable level. According to him, the process reduced court cases and petitions drastically at the election tribunals across the country because the electorate has confidence in the election.

“Although lawyers, who are always the beneficiaries have no cases now because of reduced litigation, I think this is good for our democracy,” Odusola said. Odusola, who urged INEC to sustain the current achievement, advised politicians to imbibe the spirit of sportsmanship in order to protect the nation’s democracy. The lawyer, however, said that it was not a crime for politicians to challenge the outcome of election results at the tribunals if they believe they had a good case. A human rights lawyer, Mr Marankinyo Ogele, however, blamed what he called corruption and irregularities in the nation’s judiciary system for the downturn in electoral litigation in the country.

Ogele condemned judges for dwelling “too much” on cumbersome procedure for filing election petitions and having to prove a case beyond reasonable doubt. “You have to file your report within 21 days after the election; there are lot of materials you will gather together to make your case stand, so by this short time, it may be difficult for lawyers to have enough materials or to research. “People don’t have confidence in the judiciary anymore. “The judiciary is not helping the issue, no matter how you prove your case; the judge will tell you that you have not proved your case beyond reasonable doubt,” Ogele said. According to the activist, this has discouraged politicians from filing their cases in court.

Ogele, therefore, urged judges to be liberal minded and review the issue of reasonable doubt in election petitions. He opined that “any malpractice such as bribing the electorate or snatching of ballot boxes in any election is substantial enough to set aside that election. “Once you have established a malpractice in an election no matter how small, we just have to garnish that with decency. “It is injustice to say that something is not substantial after you have observed that there is something substantial in it,” Ogele said. He also appealed to the judiciary to give 40 days to lawyers instead of 21 days in gathering their facts and evidence together before going to court.

Another legal practitioner, Mr Idowu Adedeji, said that the results of the 2015 general elections caused the drastic reduction in electoral petitions in tribunals. Adedeji recalled that the elections were fair compared with prior elections, which he said, were fraught with irregularities and violence. According to him, past elections in the country led to countless electoral petitions as a result of which some governors were removed by tribunals. “The electoral law does not stipulate 100 per cent conduct in elections but substantial compliance to electoral guidelines,’’ Adedeji said. He, however, said some of the petitions in the ongoing tribunals would not succeed because of the average compliance of electoral   guidelines during the conduct of the said elections. The lawyer, however, commended Jega for conducting credible elections, saying this had “shown that Nigeria’s democracy has come to stay’’.

In Ado-Ekiti, a cross section of lawyers and politicians attributed the few election petitions to increasing maturity of political actors and improved understanding of governance. A former National Secretary of the NBA, Mr Obafemi Adewole, told NAN that a candidate in an election might choose not to challenge his opponent in court if he was convinced that he actually lost. Adewole said a candidate might also not challenge his electoral defeat if he felt he might not likely get justice. The candidate, he added, might choose to accept the outcome of a particular election in good faith and in the sustenance of peace and harmonious relationship.

He criticised the manner some candidates, who lost in elections, usually rushed to courts for redress even when there was no cogent point of action to be raised. Another Ado-Ekiti-based lawyer, Mr Kolawole Adalemo, told NAN that former President Goodluck Jonathan could be referred to as the only factor that was responsible for the few petitions in the aftermath of the last polls. The Publicity Secretary of APC in Ekiti, Mr Taiwo Olatunbosun, said there was nothing heroic in what the former president did. He said President Muhammadu Buhari, indeed, defeated Jonathan in the last general election and he saw no need in pursuing empty redress.

In Osogbo, Dr Goke Lalude, of the Department of Political Science, Fountain University, Osogbo, said lack of spirit of sportsmanship amongst Nigerian politicians was responsible for instability in post-election litigation. Lalude noted that the spirit of sportsmanship displayed by the   former president had drastically reduced unnecessary litigation as many politicians were being forced to be good losers.

He said Jonathan’s gesture forced desperate politicians to lose gallantly and drastically reduced frivolous litigations. Also, Prof. Kadir Ayeni, an expert in political philosophy at the Osun State University, Osogbo, described the last presidential election as an eye opener. Ayeni opined that the last presidential election had opened the eyes of Nigerians to the power of conscious electorate in democracy. He said the election had put an end to voters’ oppression and gave credence to political sovereignty of the people. “The last general elections have made it possible for the voting population to know that the real political power belongs to the people,’’ Ayeni said. Another political scientist, Mrs Temitope Ajibola, said the last general elections had taught politicians a hard lesson not to take the people for granted. Ajibola said Nigeria had become a leading light in the democratisation process in Africa.

On his part, a lawyer, Mr Hamed Akeem, attributed the reduction in post-election litigation to a new political re-orientation following Jonathan’s early acceptance of defeat. Besides, Akeem noted that the financial requirement to pursue post election litigation was overbearing on many of the candidates who had spent a lot in contesting the elections. Another legal practitioner, Mr Olamilekan Ibrahim, also said Jonathan’s action in the last election had brought sanity into the political process in the country. Ibrahim said Jonathan’s action was not too good for lawyers because many would have benefitted immensely from upsurge in litigation.

“But notwithstanding, there is no need for litigation once it was glaring that the former president was defeated. “The average Nigerian believes that through the use of the card reader, the election emerged the most credible ever conducted in the country. In Ilorin, Kwara, a lawyer, Mr Deji Gbadeyan, said that the few petitions were due to politicians’ confidence in the electoral process. Gbadeyan told NAN that both politicians and the generality of Nigerians now had confidence in the political process. “Litigation had been a necessary tool that has played its part in the electoral process in the country. “From 1999 to date, post election reaction was not as violent as it was in the first and second republics.

“After the 1983 elections, post-election reaction by leading politicians shifted to litigation as a way of showing disapproval against the victory of the winner in an election. “These election petitions occupied the judicial and political space so much so that other cases pending in court suffered a lot of adjournments,” Gbadeyan said. Gbadeyan said the 2015 general elections witnessed fewer election petitions and violence because many of the players were comfortable with the outcome based on conformity with a transparent process.

“In as much as the rules are not mangled, vilified, violated or desecrated to a level that the umpire will be seen as biased, politicians will agree with the outcome of the election,” he said. The lawyer also said Jonathan’s acceptance of defeat would have far reaching effect on the post election reaction of other presidential candidates and parties in future. Gbadeyan, who described Jonathan’s gesture as a welcome development, said Ghana had long ago engrained what the former president did in the psyche of the people of that country.

“The parties that produced the losing candidates now appreciate that recourse to litigation after any election that is known to be free and fair is a waste of resources. “ Rather, the option is to re-strategise for future elections. I believe this is going to be sustained. “ With less political litigation, Nigerian politics will no longer be seen as dirty as generally believed in the past,” Gbadeyan said. The lawyer, however, said post election litigation had strengthened the confidence of politicians in the electoral process, adding that the courts have also effectively played their roles. Similarly, another legal practitioner, Mr Ahmed Olatunji, said that “so, many believed it was unnecessary taking any court action against their opponents’’. (NAN)

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