The hearing of the case on the APC pesidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari's disqualification from the presidential race has been recently postponed to April 22. Will the disqualification make any sense if Buhari wins the presidential election? Japheth Omojuwa, a respected Nigerian social media expert, columnist and Legit.ng contributor, offers his point of view on various scenarios which may take place in this situation.
When the judgment on the consolidated suit praying to disqualify the APC’s presidential candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari, from Saturday’s presidential election was moved from Tuesday 24th March to Wednesday 25th, many feared the worst would happen. A disqualification three days before the election would have at least nullified the votes Buhari garnered on the election day. The APC would have had to go to the polls without a candidate, as there would have been no time for the INEC to qualify and accredit another candidate.
Wednesday came, and Nigeria learnt about another adjournment to Wednesday, April 22. It means that Buhari and his supporters can at have a brief sigh of relief. The General goes to the polls without the weight of a disqualification.
Buhari has won a battle, but even if he carries the poll on Saturday March 28, he would have this case to surmount later next month.
Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja, had four cases relating to Buhari’s disqualification to preside over.
He meanwhile dismissed the applications by a Lagos-based lawyer, Ebun-olu Adegboruwa, and the one Chukwuma Ochu to be joined as a defendants in the suit. Or something like that, as they were not proper or necessary parties. From this point of view, the Nigerian judiciary avoided a banana peel. The fact that many will forget the adjournment in a hurry does not necessarily mean that a disqualification would not have rocked the nation to its very limits.
What could all these mean for General Buhari and Nigeria’s political space?
A wise man has recently told me: "In this country, anything is possible”. Had the judge disqualified Buhari just some 72 hours before the presidential election, the nation would most likely have been thrown into a major chaos. That possibly explains the dispatching of soldiers to the strategic locations across the country on the Tuesday the judgment was earlier planned to be delivered.
Considering possible scenarios, disqualification of Buhari before the election is worse than his disqualification after his potential victory. Winning the election would mean Buhari has earned the people’s mandate. To disqualify him running for the election he has already won would be a steeper hill to climb, not only for the presiding judge and the arguments supporting the judgment, but also for the Nigerian political ecosystem. It would be an act almost reminiscent of an annulment. Is this enough for the APC to rejoice over? In many ways, yes!
Against a disqualified winner, the incumbent president who lost an election and does not have his mandate renewed would only be a matter for a hot legal contest. No court can upturn a mandate, only an election tribunal set up against technicalities around the conduct of the election. After all, in the case of Buhari vs. the INEC & Ors (2003), a Supreme Court Justice said: "The way politics is played in this country frightens me every dawning day. It is a fight-to-finish affair. Nobody accepts defeat at the polls…" Expect every trick to be out of the hat for this one.
While the president’s camp would look to set up a sort of confusing scenario that could result in one of two things already being muted in public discourse, the president has already been accused, by no less than former president Olusegun Obasanjo, of working out two alternatives: a military intervention or the formulation of an interim national government.
Both options are not desirable for Nigeria’s democracy, but they are juicy scenarios for the power hawks. The window of opportunity to justify that has closed. Our constitution does not make any provision for an interim government or a “doctrine of necessity."
What could President Jonathan and his handlers be thinking? Come May 29, 2015, the scheduled climax of the 2015 elections, three major options are available for him. The first one is obviously his most desirable one: to retain power and continue till 2019. This is why he has been trying to be a great president over the last 6 weeks, visiting soldiers he has not visited for months, “grieving" with parents over a year-old tragedy, meeting with celebrities and youths, supposedly supporting financially religious and traditional rulers. No one could accuse the president of not working hard enough over the 6 weeks to the election to retain his mandate.
The alternative has prison written all over it, as First Lady Patience Jonathan and a few other Jonathan campaigners want us to believe. That undesirable alternative is Muhammadu Buhari being inaugurated president on May 29, 2015. In President Jonathan's head, losing out to Muhammadu Buhari is not the worst scenario. Buhari’s inauguration is. That is where a case on Buhari's eligibility to run comes in handy.
The APC and its supporters are already experiencing the difficulty of beating an incumbent president. The hurdles before Buhari are many, but as long as he crosses the most important hurdle – winning the March 28 election – few people will bet against him being inaugurated president.
When April 22nd comes, whatever the court decides would only be for the courts and legal historians. There is no law in Nigeria that grants a court the power to upturn an election mandate. So then, President Jonathan must now throw his hat – without necessarily losing the one on his head – to the Saturday poll.
The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of Legit.ng.