Adewole Adebayo, the Social Democratic Party SDP in the just concluded general election, explains, in this interview, why the petitions of the presidential candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party PDP and his counterpart in the Labour Party, Peter Obi couldn’t have made any impact on the Justices of the Supreme Court.
Q. Unlike the general elections, it takes less than a day while its aftermath litigation takes months before it is concluded. This one is quite short, especially the presidential election adjudication.?
A. Indeed, this is the shortest it has taken in the history of Nigerian presidential elections. With the government five months in office the litigation was finally resolved. It stayed less than 180 days at the Court of Appeal and far less than 90 days at the Supreme Court. The Honourable Justices of the Supreme Court took less than a week of the hearing to give their verdict. From that point of view, there are historical reasons to complain.
Q. What do you think of Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s recommendations to have a better election process and management?
A. The only one thing among his recommendations that makes sense to me is the only one I spoke about that we should shorten the time- election petitions. The most important thing we should do to help the system is that the burden which we call on law , the burden of prove that the election was credibly valid and any legal incumbrance because INEC is the agency conducting the elections, it knows what happened. It is its responsibility to convince the court. If we get to that stage, then it will be better than how we are doing it now.
Presently, the burden is on the petitioners. But if it is the other way round,it is easier because the petitioners won’t have to prove anything. It is closer to justice if the court actually gets to know how the winner became the winner because the errors of the petitioners are enough to throw the petitions away. Like the petitions filed by the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and former Governor of Anambra State Mr Peter Obi, as a lawyer, those petitions of theirs make no sense.
There is less than zero chance of succeeding. As a lawyer, the petitions are pedestal and pediatric. Nobody would have listened to them. But in actual fact, they have real complaints, but the petition is a mess. For it not to be contest of wit of intelligence and cleverness between INEC and the petitioners, the system should recognise that the ultimate beneficiaries of such litigation are the voters. The system needs to be changed in such a way that INEC can be allowed to demonstrate how it arrives at such decisions.
Q. Some believe that the candidates crossed the line in terms of their pursuit for certifications of the president.
A. As a lawyer, I know what legal proceedings are. I am a politician. I know what political attacks are. Politcal attacks have no place in legal proceedings. You can say during campaign that your opponents have two mothers, three fathers, you can say whatever you like but when you go to court, all of that has no business inside the court because the court deals with fact, legal and implications of the fact only. All these political abuses (as I would like to call it) they infused inside the petition does not advance the petition and because they have limited time, they wasted all their energy on it because they are salacious and entertaining to the public such that many of them focus on those things which have no basis in law.
It was more of whopping up the base and political attacks.
Q. Why would they go on that trajectory if the court won’t up turn the verdict in their favour.
A. I don’t know their minds. I know in law that there are some people who can just sue you just to embarrass you. I wasn’t happy and still not happy about the elections. If I wanted to go overboard, I could file my petition and talk about them. There is no limit to what you can do with it. I can’t really second guess their strategy. Again, what is wrong is not the candidate that won, but the system we set up that is wrong. If the system is interrogated, you will see that many people have benefitted from it, including the petitioners. Both of them have been beneficiaries of two terribly conducted elections in the past. The people who might be happy today in an election that is not up to the textbook prescription of it, is what produced them. They may encounter injustice next time. My focus is on how to create a system where we don’t victimise one another and do not hold the country hostage.
Q. Do you support the narrative that the highest office in the land, just like an average job applicant, must be made to go through rigorous scrutiny if the country must succeed.
A. I agree that if you are going for the highest office in the land, there should be scrutiny, but the scrutiny in quote has a legal limit or prescription. If you had a candidate whose parents didn’t marry each other and he was born by the roadside as a product of infidelity, you can use it to campaign. It is a form of scrutiny. If the president was fired from his job, you could use it to campaign. It is a form of scrutiny. If a person has a low grade in his academics, you can use it to campaign, it is a form of scrutiny. But you can not put all of them in election petition , that is what i am saying. Election petition is not the only place you can do scrutiny.
Q. How about academic qualifications. Can’t it be scrutinized.
A. If you have to go to the court to complain about academic requirements, you complain in the form in which the court recognises it. The court of law isn’t part of your politics. The judges are there just to listen to you and look at the law and tell you what the law says. They are not part of your narrative. The only thing the court can do for you, at worse, is a legal judgment or justice, but what the politicians are looking for is victory or power. All those things don’t belong in the hall of the court. The court can not guarantee you victory or access to power but it can give you the interpretation of the law and if you do your case in a manner that adds substance to it, it can give you justice. But justice to one person is a disappointment to another person. Justice is not for the petitioners only, it is for the other person you are accusing.
Q. Arising from the crisis between the Rivers State governor and his predecessor,Nyesome Wike who happens to be the FCT minister who said he would not allow anyone take his political structure from him, what is your take.
A. I am not a political scientist, and I am not from Rivers State, but I am highly interested in the matter from the point of view of what would I have done if I were the president? I won’t be bothered about the idle talks because I would set the rules. If you are a minister in in my government and you give me an impression that you have extra time of chasing shadows somewhere, I will just ask you to chose between the work given to you or going to fight for your political life from where you came from. If I find out that the governor of the state has a hand in the setting his own House of Assembly on fire just because the members are trying to exercise the constitutional previlege they had whether rightly or wrongly, then, I would have to call the governor to the State House and ask if he wants to be a governor or he wants me to give him a state of emergency.
Q. The president in all the speeches talked about tightening bets but in the supplementary budget sent to National Assembly where the government plans to spend N2.6b on utility vehicles for the villa, another N6.2b for cars in the Villa pool, N5b for new cars in the office of the first lady. A yacht is also to be procured for N5.5b, which is equivalent to the student loans in the proposed budget. Is the government tightening their bets at all.
A. I have said it many times that votes have consequences. If you are voting emperors, you will have imperial budgets. I have said it severally during the campaign that money isn’t the problem of Nigeria and that whoever says there is no money in Nigeria is lying. The minister of Budget Planning, Atiku Bagudu, had said Nigeria was broke to the teeth. Meanwhile, a lot of these monies you reeled out are tied to borrowing. It is the kind of government you voted for, and that is exactly what they are doing. I also stated that it is the way people campaigned that they would govern . At the expensive grand campaign, they did show that they are coming to govern people who can hardly feed once or twice a day. We have to make up our minds what kind of government we want to run because this is an imperial system that is not supportable by the economic base and that is not supportable by the average livelihood of the Nigerian people.