By Austin Isikhuemen
The general election of 2023 have come and gone. Or have they? What with numerous litigations across the land and judgements and justice, and in some instances, alleged injustice, being dispensed in courtrooms and election tribunals. Winners become losers overnight, overt riggers getting judicial affirmation in some cases. There is gnashing of teeth and loss of investment being rued by all manners of politicians and pretenders. In some cases, the angst is directed, not at the political opponent, but at the umpire who shifted the goalpost while the penalty kick was being taken or the wigged and robed umpires at the temple of justice.
The electoral process has become a very costly undertaking in Nigeria. For a general election involving the House of Representatives, the Senate and the Presidency in a vast country like ours, the cost runs into several hundred billion naira. This is made up of costs of ballot paper printing, procurement of ballot boxes, polling booths, printing of various forms, inks and ink pads, reflective jackets and several other requirements. Then add on the costs of authentication equipment (BVAS), Irev, servers and bandwidth. Consider the humongous logistics costs of distribution, storage and final across the length and breadth of this country with security requirements from arid parts of the north to the creeks of the Niger Delta. Aircraft, boats and canoes as well as lorries, cars and donkeys were all deployed. The crisscrossing of the country by air of INEC operatives and officials, meeting costs (venues, refreshments, posters, publicity etc.), Television appearances, advert placements and voter education engagements all cost a lot of money.
We must not forget to add other costs peculiar to Nigerian elections. We shut down the economy through statutory restriction of movements across the land. Shops close. Transportation businesses and markets close. So do flights, schools, railways, waterways, entertainment hubs and event centres. To enforce this and ensure public safety as well as to ostensibly curb cross-constituency violent rigging, the entire law enforcement arsenal of our country is mobilized and put on red alert with additional allowances for this special duty that lasts several days. These forces have to be moved around and so vehicles have to be hired, fueled and, in some cases, hotel or other accommodation provided. Is it any wonder that the cost of running our general election would be enough to run a geopolitical zone of 6 states for one year? Just to select our leaders!
That is not the end of the costs. On the candidate’s side, only they can tell how much they spend on consultations, mobilization, primaries (buying and selling), campaigns and the elections itself. Leaders need to be settled; party agents must get paid else they change colours like chameleons on election day to your own detriment. Then results are released, and you would think that these costs will abate. That is not the case for those who genuinely feel shortchanged through non-adherence to electoral guidelines by the umpire (INEC) or illegal manoeuvres by his opponent. They head to the courts. Lawyers and sycophants convince even the candidates with the slimmest or no chances of victory at all to head to the election tribunals. The costs here are enormous. SANs do not come cheap. Especially the ones with high visibility in such endeavours. Some candidates sell their real estate in order to pay for this last-ditch effort at getting elected and lawyers smile to the banks. Sometimes, recourse to appellate courts is embarked upon – a single appeal stage for Presidential candidates and two for Governors and Parliamentary candidates. All these steps burn millions of naira of our commonwealth and the resources of our compatriots offering to serve!
I have merely done a qualitative overview of the costs involved in our general elections and the list is undoubtedly inexhaustive. There are hidden ones that have the colour of bribery but, as such are never issued receipts, they are difficult to identify or quantify. The question is: are these costs worth it? Are there cheaper alternatives to the extant process that can give us qualitative leaders at less cost? This is imperative as this costly process does not even guarantee that thieves, vagabonds and drug pushers with deep pockets will not be thrown up as winners even after they lose at the polls. I have been thinking of such alternatives. But the recent judgement watched on national television which showed the mostly sleeping receivers of the judgement but hid the faces of the givers (had something to hide?) got me thinking again. I decided to borrow from our comedians this time. A lot of what we saw was funny in a very sad way. So, if you take my proposal seriously, you do so at your own risk. Caveat emptor the learned folks call it.
The Justices ensured those ‘eyes on the judiciary’ protagonists did not have a last laugh. The Justices did. They successfully hid behind the iron curtain erected judicially and put the lawyers and the journalists in the spotlight for ‘all eyes’ to see. They were shown sleeping and yawning and incapable of staying awake and alert for a mere thirteen hours! Perhaps, the eminent jurists were suspicious or had ‘intelligence’ that some of those lawyers and their associates were behind the erection of the audacious ‘all eyes on the judiciary’ billboards. Did they not put a respected SAN, my very own brother and university mate and the most handsome lawyer in the room to task for daring to make a suggestion? Such temerity from the bar? Did that rebuke not stall any further attempt to interject into the virulent and acerbic-toned delivery of the judgement? Did the justices not do better than the defence lawyers in the defence of the election results that local and foreign observers declared as fraudulent? Sorry, flawed?
I was called to the Guinness bar in 1990. So, I have been in practice too for thirty-three years. In that bar, those elders on the bench usually allow debate even during the final resolution of serious issues between respected members. I cannot remember when the adjudicator sounded so one-sided and loquaciously querulous as to be considered as the defendant’s representative. Even in the inebriated atmosphere of such an environment, we knew who was plaintiff (not plain thief, as that would be defending), who was defendant, and who was adjudicating. On the 6th of September, the lines were irredeemably blurred. It reminded me of my primary school days when the some teachers gave you a knock on the head for the noise made by another pupil seating near you. You could not challenge the teacher as his word was law.
That 6th September scenario has presented a cheaper alternative to the current costly democratic practice. We should adopt judiciocracy – a democratic system where judges select men of their choice for various offices and swear them in every four years. Anyone who have the ‘temerity’ to challenge such chosen men, warts and all, would be charged with contempt of court and summarily sentenced to a four-year prison, sorry, corrective service, term. By the time he serves out his sentence, his opponents would have also served their terms and be due for a second tenure. His first sentence would have served as a deterrent to a second challenge. In this new system, every politician would befriend the spouses of the justices and through them, get favourable considerations and judgements when necessary. I know a former Senator with enough experience who can be made a consultant in this respect.
See how cheap and sweet this judiciocracy would be? No long campaigns, no dollar-denominated primaries, no crookery and thuggery, no certificates would be demanded and any submitted will not be subject to costly verification. There would be no need for expensive litigations and appellate processes that drain the purse of the litigants. There would be no heating of the polity and big billboards calling for eyes to be on the judiciary as that would be classified as a treasonable felony. Please permit me to ask, why that is not even called treasonable rather than treasonous. We, who were called to the Guinness bar, like to speak simple English.
But, wait a minute. I see some of my lawyer friends challenging this proposal vigorously as they would claim that this does not accord with the national interest. Afterall, a system that does not allow for litigation or one that forecloses avenues for practice emoluments and pecuniary recompense is neither good for our bar nor the bench. After expensive university education followed by law school stints, Chambers capital and recurrent expenditures, this proposed home-grown democratic system can never be in the public interest. Are our dear lawyers not part of the public? Why propose this judiciocracy when I suspect it will not fly? It is the same spirit that drives some plaintiffs who lost to a querulous panel on 6th of September to appeal to a higher court. They will either get reproached again or get the justice they seek but which they considered denied last week. This is not a laughing matter, as one Justice pronounced at the 2023 PEPC.
Mr Austin Isikhuemen writes from Lagos.