In summary, the PEPT judgment is premised on the supposed independence of INEC and the legal imputation of regularity to its actions. So the first real question is whether INEC is truly independent or acted as a truly independent body in the 2023 elections to enjoy the presumption of regularity accorded to its actions in law? Given the fact that more than anything else, it was the conduct of INEC that sabotaged the outcome of the elections one wonders how INEC will convince people to come out and vote in 2027 when by the decision of the PEPT, they are free to issue guidelines and breach it without sanctions by the court and shouldn’t be held accountable to comply by their own issued and publicised guidelines. Where then is the legal doctrine of estoppel by conduct or convention?
No doubt, Obi and labour party team made some mistakes one of which was trusting that INEC would keep to its promise of Live Transmission of results on the IReV Portal. Their polling units agents failed to preserve their signed copies of the polling booth results which they would have used to impugn the results when APC/INEC and governors like Wike started manipulating the results on their way to the collation centres in the various LGAs/ States.
While, I know that their counsel team had difficulties getting necessary documents from INEC and had to seek the intervention of the court at some point, it sounded as if they left many open doors and that the judges captilised on to descend into the arena and delivered killer blows to their petition. Hence their resort to all conceivable technicalities to uphold INEC’s midnight declaration of Jagaban as winner, even against the notoriety of the fact that he didnt win the elections on the premise that Obi and Atiku failed to discharge the burden of proof placed on them by law.
Also, If in law one can not bring an application to subpoena a witness prior to filing a petition, how on earth does a court expect the same person to file along with a petition, witness statement of expert witnesses called by virtue of a court subsequently issued subpoena after the filing of the case as pronounced in the judgment? By the precedent set by the PEPT, it will be almost impossible to succeed in an election petition in Nigeria. It is therefore quite unfortunate how the judges have been used to pervert justice, turn the truth upside down, prevent our law from developing and inadvertently enthroning impunity by extreme reliance on technicalities and other procedural vices to evade engaging the real factual issues in a matter and by comforting themselves with the lie that INEC is independent and its actions should attract a presumption of regularity, even when there was notorious facts that they manipulated the process which the judges who live in this country ought to take judicial notice of.
It also bears stating that hindsight tends to be 20/20 vision and to be fair to the Obi’s lawyers they had only 21 days to file a petition. In my opinion, they were set up to lose no matter how hard they tried. Recall that even the breakdown of election results were not made available to them and they had to seek the court’s intervention after filing the petition for INEC to allow them access to some electoral sensitive materials.
It is most laughable for the court to say this INEC superintendent by Prof Yakubu is independent, even in the midst of notorious facts (which the judges are allowed to take judicial notice of in law) that it acted so dishonourably and was in fact the one more than anything else that sabotaged the elections by putting off the IReV system and changing the password that made it impossible for the live transmission of the results from the polling units by the polling unit officers.
In all these, what saddens me the most is that the outcome of the judgment instead of helping the country move towards electoral reforms (like we saw from previous judgments), it has just emboldened INEC to manipulate future elections the more without any fear of possible consequences or backlash. Every lawyer was taught in Jurisprudence Class that lawyers and judges should be instruments of social engineering and enthronement of justice. I query if by the PEPT judgment the justices have not only succeeded in dethroning justice and enthroning “grab it, steal it, fight for it and run with it”. This explains why even the pronouncements from the judges till tomorrow wouldn’t shift the public view that the 2023 presidential election was manipulated.
*OKC*(Transnational Litigator &Advocate for Justice)