The Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal’s tendentious and predictably predetermined judgement on September 11 that upheld Muhammadu Buhari’s electoral fraud was not such much a defeat of Atiku Abubakar as it was symbolic judicial violence on Nigeria and Nigerians.
As I pointed out in my April 20, 2019 column titled “Atiku’s Citizenship and Buhari’s Illiterate Lawyers,” Buhari assembled unbelievably ignorant and rhetorically impotent lawyers to defend him, not only because he loves to mirror his trademark incompetence in everything he does, but also because he knew that there was nothing at stake for him in the petition since the tribunal’s ruling was a foregone conclusion, as I pointed out in a social media post titled “WhyAtiku Isn’T Coming” a day before the tribunal’s verdict.
The tribunal judges, who were supposed to be neutral arbiters, were infinitely more effective defenders of Buhari’s stolen mandate than his own lawyers were. Imagine the severity of ignorance it must take for any Nigerian to make the case that someone born in the former British Northern Cameroon (and whose immediate ancestral provenance is traceable to the nucleus of the defunct Sokoto Caliphate) is not a Nigerian citizen even when the constitution explicitly confers citizenship on people that were born in British Northern Cameroon.
Even the unambiguously partisan tribunal chose to not touch such sophomoric legal and constitutional illiteracy with a barge pole. It dismissed it. That says a lot. Nevertheless, there are many fundamental respects in which the tribunal’s ruling has wounded the very soul of Nigeria.
When (not “if” because this is all prearranged) the tribunal’s verdict is upheld by the Supreme Court, it would mean that barefaced electoral fraud perpetrated through the arbitrary manufacture of fanciful figures for an incumbent office holder, intimidation of voters with the aid of the nation’s security apparatuses, and all the other unmentionably unconscionable electoral malfeasance Buhari perpetrated to hold on to power are now entirely legitimate.
The implications of this are many and varied. For one, it has destroyed the vaguest vestige of hope that democracy will grow and thrive in Nigeria. It will inaugurate unexampled voter apathy in the future since voting no longer matters. Buhari’s predecessors also did rig elections, to be sure, but they rigged elections that they would have handily won because they had no opposition.
Buhari was the serial opponent of his predecessors, but until 2015, he never even campaigned for votes outside the Hausaphone Muslim North (he routinely ignored even predominantly Muslim Kwara and Kogi states and, of course, snubbed the entire Christian North), so he couldn’t have conceivably won a national election with such an insular focus.
Even Nasir El-Rufai described Buhari in an October 4, 2010 article titled “Buhari Should Stick To Facts” as “perpetually unelectable because [of] his record as military head of state and [his] insensitivity to Nigeria’s diversity and his parochial focus.”
Perhaps the most distressing implication of the tribunal’s ruling is that education and even a pretense to honesty will no longer matter. Buhari’s claim to possessing a school certificate is supported only by an affidavit in his INEC forms, which turned out to be false. That’s a prima facie case of perjury.
He could very well have truly sat for his school certificate exam and received proof of this. But that is not the issue. He consistently swore under oath that his school certificate was in the custody of the Nigerian military. It has now come to light that this is entirely false. The tribunal said this lie is immaterial.
This doesn’t just legally endorse official mendacity, it also disincentivizes education. It means any Nigerian can claim to possess any qualification, and the only evidence that would be required for such claims would be a mere affidavit. That’s why Nigerian social media is now suffused with transgressively humorous affidavit-supported claimants to all sorts of bogus qualifications. The most humorous yet instructive I have read so far is from someone by the name of Osaze Jesuorobo.
He wrote: “First, I have a sworn affidavit stating that I have the required qualifications to… be admitted into… Law School and that my credentials are with the Director of Administration of NTA, the establishment I retired from.
“Secondly, I have a recommendation from the Vice Chancellor of the university I attended, the University of Benin that I WILL PASS the final Bachelor of Law degree with a Second Class Upper.
“Thirdly, since my records at NTA show that I have a Bachelor of Law degree, I will present a statement from NTA Director of Corporate Affairs to the effect that from their records, I have a Bachelor of Law degree and was educated to university level even though the original, CTC or photocopies of my credentials are not in their possession.
“If the Law School requests… the originals and copies of my credentials, I will tell them that there is nowhere in the 1999 Constitution (as Amended) that says I must accompany my admission forms with copies of my credentials. I will also tell them that their condition that I should attach copies of my credentials is a subsidiary condition inferior to the Nigeria Constitution.
“If the Nigeria Law School denies me admission for not producing the credentials to back up my qualifications claim, I will sue the Law School relying on the Atiku/PDP vs INEC & others (2019) per Garba Mohammed (or is it Muhammad or Muhammadu), JCA. I am waiting for the Nigeria Law School to dare me by refusing me admission.”
This reminds me of a community college president in California who sent out a mass email to the academic and non-academic staff of his school demanding that he henceforth be addressed as a “Dr.” because some nondescript university in the middle of nowhere awarded him a pay-to-play honorary doctorate. The response of the staff was as sarcastic as it was hilarious. Staff of the community college, most of whom didn’t have PhDs, decided to also prefix “Dr.” to their names; they said they too had been awarded doctoral degrees by some no-name university. The president got the message and dropped his title.
But Nigeria’s situation is graver. Buhari will get away with his subversion of law and decency, and the damage to the nation will be irreversible. Related to this is the controversy relating to the spelling of Buhari’s first name. The tribunal was reported to have said, “The question about whether the name in the certificate is ‘Mohamed’ or ‘Muhammadu’ doesn’t matter so long as the name Buhari is attached to the name.”
That’s a dangerously ignorant thing to aver. A more acceptable statement would have been for the tribunal to say “Mohamed” and “Muhammadu” are different spellings/renderings of the same name. Every time you use a different orthography to spell a name that was originally written in a different orthographic tradition, you often have several variants. Names originally written in Latin alphabets also have different variants when they are written using different scripts such as Arabic, Cyrillic, Chinese, Thai, etc.
I can relate to this. I insist on my name being spelled as “Farooq,” but my primary school headmaster spelled it as “Faruk” in my school leaving certificate. Again, to my utter annoyance, Bayero University spelled my name as “Farouk” on my certificate but, mercifully, my transcript has my preferred spelling. So this isn’t unusual.
Buhari obviously prefers to spell his name as “Muhammadu.” Even in 1961 when he applied for the Nigerian military’s qualifying exam, he spelled it that way. Nevertheless, his principal, who was a white man, spelled his name as “Mohamed” in his recommendation letter to the military on Buhari’s behalf. It was obviously the principal’s variant that went into the official school records.
The tribunal, being the gaggle of incompetent and compromised partisans that they are, couldn’t defend their benefactor on an issue as simple as variants of the spelling of his name.
Buhari shot democracy in 1983 with bullets and left it for dead. But it managed to survive his attempted murder after a prolonged convalescence. Then he came back in 2019 to finally kill it with rigged, poisoned ballots. But when the story of Buhari’s premeditated murder of Nigeria’s democracy is written, the role the judiciary played in endorsing and legalizing it will take up reams of paper or disproportionately large nibbles of bytes.