By Babajide Balogun
With just President Muhammadu Buhari’s response the only one pending to complete the cycle of arguments and counter-arguments arising from the conduct and outcome of the 2019 presidential election, it may pretty well be said that the orchestra of the February 23 tragic-comedy is just beginning to set its own stage.
The highlights of the petition from the Peoples Democratic Party and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar against the Independent National Electoral Commission and the All Progressives Congress very well paint the picture that the February 23 presidential election was rigged to favour incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari.
Both Atiku and the PDP had raised some salient questions such as the allegation that the results that was officially declared by INEC was different from the result that was electronically fed into the back-end server of the commission and that the electoral commission did not follow its own guidelines on the use of card readers. The third major red flag that the PDP raised was that President Buhari lacks the basic educational requirement by the 1999 constitution that should have qualified him to participate in the election.
The PDP/Atiku legal team went a step further by providing the actual data captured on the server of INEC which shows that the opposition party defeated the incumbent by a margin of about one million, six hundred thousand votes. And so, expectedly, the sound-bite of the stolen mandate had rented the air and it was assumed that the response of both INEC and the APC to the petition will put paid to that sound-bite.
Regrettably, that was not to be.
In separate replies to the petition brought before the Court of Appeal presidential election tribunal, both the INEC and APC came up with two ludicrous claims that, other than bemuse public sensibilities, is very infirm to float an argument that the February 23 election was indeed free and fair.
In the case of INEC in its reply, the commission makes a shameless volte-face on its own guidelines concerning the use of card readers; and rather than dismiss figures being bandied by the PDP and its candidate by presenting the actual data captured in its server, the electoral commission retorts that its servers are blank of any data.
In its own reply, the APC made a more prostrate submission, saying that Atiku is not qualified to be elected as Nigeria’s president because he is a foreigner from the Republic of Cameroon.
Many commentators have been interrogating the topic of Atiku’s nationality since last week Friday when APC made the laughable claim. But it is doubtful if the intention of the APC was to actually make an issue out of Atiku’s Nigerian identity, but rather establish a construct in parallel with the allegation that Buhari’s educational background does not merit his being presented for election as Nigeria’s president.
However, whether Atiku is not a Nigerian or Buhari is too illiterate to be elected Nigeria’s president is better left for the court to decide. In either case, if Atiku is indeed a Nigerian, he will not require 15 senior advocates to prove his case in court and if President Buhari too has the requisite education he should simply give the country a breather by proving his case beyond all reasonable doubts.
What is even more interesting, if not stupid, about the argument being advanced by the APC on Atiku’s nationality and eligibility is that by saying that anyone who was born before 1961 around that specific place in Adamawa cannot contest for Nigeria’s president also implies that the ballot cast by those people is also null and void on account of universality of franchise in the Nigerian law – a good enough ground to throw out the entire election.
It is so disingenuous how the APC in aiming at just one individual will ram an entire electoral demography under the bus. And, to think of it, between Atiku and Buhari the latter has raised his fingers in the air high enough for all to see that he probably has a soft spot for a neighbouring country of Niger Republic more than Atiku has shown any inclination towards Cameroon.
If, as Vice President, Atiku had championed the construction of a railway line from Maiduguri straight into the heart of the Cameroonian territory or political VIPs from Cameroon had graced Atiku’s campaign rallies, one only wonders how plausible the allegation by the APC would have been. There is absolutely nothing in public record to accentuate the argument that Atiku is in any way related to Cameroon, but President Buhari’s profile in the last four years of his presidency is a rich lode of evidence that the president has some sort of affiliation with Niger Republic that is too cold for comfort.
Again, it is an insult to the intelligence of Nigerians when INEC came up to announce that the card reader was only for the purpose of authentication of the ballot process (whatever that means) and that nothing was transmitted electronically to the backend server of the electoral body for the purpose of vote counting during the election.
The director of public communication of INEC, Festus Okoye was unequivocal about it when he said, few weeks before the presidential election and indeed after, that the non-use of card readers in the 2019 election may lead to the outright cancellation of the election.
It was a major news item on every of Nigeria’s newspapers and blogs on March 5, 2019 that the electoral commission denied a selective use of card readers and even stated clearly that the technology will be a major fulcrum upon which the credibility of the election would rest.
The question to ask then is why is it that INEC is changing its words over a commitment to technology it had made to all political parties and stakeholders in the election?
Why would the electoral commission commit a whooping sum N27 billion into constructing backend servers when it knew that it would not transmit any result thereto?
It is thus not difficult to read the handwriting on the wall that in-between the fallacious claim by APC that Atiku is not a Nigerian and the fraudulent decision by INEC to renounce its commitment to technology for credibility of the election is a deliberate attempt to hamstring the course of justice at the presidential election tribunal.
Babajide Balogun is a solicitor who wrote in from Lagos, Nigeria.