By Charles Ofoji
Ahead of the looming inauguration of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as president, Nigeria’ security chiefs, true to type, are talking tough and warning “troublemakers” opposed to his swearing-in. The Director of Defence Information, Brigadier General Tukur Gusau, issued the sternest of warnings, vowing that any threats to the transition plan, and by extension our democracy, by “dissidents” would be crushed.
Before that, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Faruk Yahaya, had promised to crack down on potential threats to national security, admonishing agitators not to test the will of the military.
However, the genuine question is: who are the real threats to our democracy? Those calling for the law to be followed? Or those who are ready to support the thumping of the law with State might and apparatus? Notwithstanding taking an oath to defend the Constitution and all laws of the Federation by virtue of the positions they hold.
We could find out by taking a look at the Nigerian Constitution of 1999. It clearly spells out the things that must happen before someone could emerge as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Some of those things did not happen, or put differently some of the conditions were not met, before INEC’s Prof Mahmood Yakubu declared Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, ‘president-elect’, and now the machinery of State has been set in motion to swear in an illegitimate president. Needless to mention the billions of public funds that would be wasted on such aberration.
Yes, it is an aberration. Prof Yakubu turned the constitution on its head and urinated on it when he hurriedly declared Tinubu, in bad faith, winner of the presidential election when he knew that S. 134 (2) (b) of the Nigeria Constitution made it mandatory for a candidate to score 25% of the votes cast in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. For the avoidance of doubt Sec 34 (2) states categorically: A candidate for an election to the office of President shall be deemed to have been duly elected where, there being more than two candidates for the election- (a) he has the highest number of votes cast at the election; and (b) he has not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election each of at least two-thirds of all the States in the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Lawyers, richly paid by those who orchestrated this electoral heist, have tried to read meaning into this express and unequivocal constitutional provisions – pretending to be searching for the true intention of the lawmakers. This, to say the least, is dishonest and misleading. Even a first year law student knows that, where there are no ambiguities in the provisions of a law, the literary rule of interpretation applies. Whereby, the enforcers of law and the courts simply look at the words of the statute and apply them as they are written, giving them their ordinary and natural meaning.
INEC chairman was once a professor at the university, and he knows that when admission requirements to study medicine for instance says, the candidate must have credits in five science subjects AND a pass in English – it simply means that not having a pass in English automatically disqualifies such an applicant for admission.
Seriously speaking, if Nigeria is a country of laws, or at least one that pays lip-service to the Rule of Law, Prof Yakubu and his co-conspirators would have been facing some kind of criminal charges – for deliberately taking steps to undermine the constitution and our democracy. Yes, the illegality was intentionally unleashed. INEC has a huge legal department, filled with lawyers, who live off taxpayers’ money. So why was it hard to comprehend the clear provisions of Sec 134 (2)? Okay, if they were in doubt, which any way could not have been the case, why didn’t INEC chairman approach a court of competent jurisdiction for clarification? As a neutral umpire, why was he in such a hurry to announce a winner? Despite deafening calls from the opposition to review the results over alleged manipulations – aside the Abuja question. Bearing in mind that the same INEC invoked its legal powers of review in the Adamawa governor election case, goes to support the presumption that Prof Yakubu acted in bad faith when he turned deaf ears to calls for review, due to widespread voter-suppression, violence, rigging, and the changing of the electoral rules in the middle of the game by the same INEC.
If we had an Attorney-General and a President, who put country first before party, Mr. Abubakar Malami would have whispered into Buhari’s ears that the law has been broken, and that the ‘president-elect’ did not emerge in a manner envisaged by the Constitution. In that case, Prof Yakubu would have been immediately sacked as INEC chairman, arrested and prosecuted. While a new election would be ordered. Unfortunately, both the president and his attorney-general have absolutely no understanding of of the offices they have occupied for almost eight years. If they did, they would have realized that they are not representatives of the ruling party, but the Nigerian people. And that one of their primary duties is to safeguard and uphold the law – at all circumstances, no matter the costs.
Curiously, President Buhari, who trumpeted his desire to leave a legacy of free and credible election, was mocking the opposition over the outcome of the 2023 presidential election, despite seeing how massively flawed it was. “The Transition Committee, made up of representatives of the outgoing administration and the incoming one is meeting on an almost daily basis planning the handover to the Tinubu/Shettima administration,” his media aide Garba Shehu added in a statement on March 24, 2023.
Also intriguing was the fact that those who broke the law, were the same people accusing those who were raising alarm that the Constitution had been breached of treason, dubbing them fascists. When in fact, their behaviour is the true definition of fascism. Lies as statecraft is one of the idiosyncrasies you see in a fascist regime. Recall that the minister of information Lai Mohammed even took public funds to carry such lies as far as the shores of United States and United Kingdom. Impunity is another trait of totalitarianism. A fascist government would flagrantly pursue and execute an illegality, robbing such malfeasance on the eyes of the populace, conscious of the fact that there is nothing the people could do, because those in power have all the arms of government, and its agencies in their pocket – including the judiciary, which should be the last hope of the commonplace people. Remember the slogan: “If you don’t like it, go to court”? Because they are sure, you would never get justice.
There was a consensus by both international and local observers that the 2023 general election was a sham. We all saw what happened in Rivers State, especially in Obi-Akpor LGA, where a sitting governor personally interfered in the collation of election results. However, I refuse to dabble into the allegations of monumental rigging. Especially, when based on the official results declared by Yakubu’s INEC, Tinubu should NOT have been declared president-elect, if the constitution provisions enumerated above are still part of our laws.
There has been attempts to justify Tinubu’s inauguration on the grounds that it would ensure that there would be no vacuum since President Buhari would be stepping down on May 29. This viewpoint is utterly misleading. Swearing in a new president on May 29 is not unconditional, in view of the provision of Sec 135 (1) (a) of the Constitution. It says, “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, a person shall hold the office of President UNTIL when his successor in office takes the oath of that office”. From the foregoing, it is easy to grasp that the Constitution refrained from saying “until May 29”. Rather, it used the word ‘shall’. It therefore follows that, if for any reason, which by the way was well contemplated by the constitution, a new president is not sworn in on May 29, Buhari SHALL continue to remain in office until a legitimate successor takes the oath.
An Abuja High Court has been called upon to stop Tinubu’s inauguration and the matter would be heard on May 18. Nonetheless, I doubt if the judge would have the courage to award the reliefs sought, more so, when the same issue is before a presidential election tribunal. That apart, the five plaintiffs, all Abuja residents, still have to scale the recalcitrant hurdle called locus-standi. Thus, as it stands now, nothing would stop the swearing in of Mr. Tinubu as president and commander-in-chief on May 29 – unless death, which we don’t wish him.
Tinubu, the Jagaban, has paid his dues in this country, and he is one of those who fought for the democracy we are enjoying today. Without doubt, he merits to be president, and he is competent too. And no one is against him occupying the Aso-Villa. However, he must emerge through the right process. That appears for now not be the case, based on the official INEC presidential election results. This explains the swelling opposition against his installation as president.
So, should the inauguration go ahead, as most likely it would, it would be a celebration of historic lawlessness; an anniversary of shame and a declaration of Nigeria as a cassava republic. It would also represent the lowest point in our democratic history. And Tinubu would forever remain an illegitimate president – no matter the eventual outcome of the election petitions.
* Charles Ofoji, a journalist and author holds a masters degree in European and International Law