PERSPECTIVE – Supreme Court verdict: Tinubu is the Diego Maradona of Nigerian politics

PERSPECTIVE – Supreme Court verdict: Tinubu is the Diego Maradona of Nigerian politics

By Olu Fasan

Professor Wole Soyinka, Africa’s first literature Nobel laureate, published his critically-acclaimed novel, Chronicles From the Land of the Happiest People On Earth, in September 2021. So, he probably didn’t have the 2023 presidential election and Bola Tinubu, who emerged president, in mind when he wrote the book. However, reading the novel, one gets the impression that Professor Soyinka foreshadowed the election and its aftermath.

In a post-publication interview with the Financial Times, Professor Soyinka said he wrote the book “to confront Nigeria with its true image”. Indeed, Sir Ben Okri, the recently knighted Nigerian-British writer, described the book as Soyinka’s “magnus opus on the state of his homeland”. Of course, when someone writes a novel, he or she has no control over how the reader interprets it, more so when the novel is verisimilitude, having an appearance of reality. Therefore, for me, Professor Soyinka’s novel provides a powerful framework for analysing the 2023 presidential election, the Supreme Court verdict and Tinubu.

This article is also an attempt to confront Nigeria with its true image. Some, ostrich-like, ignore the reality, but this year’s presidential election and its fallouts will have far-reaching consequences for Nigeria’s democratic development and political stability. So, let’s examine the situation through the prism of Professor Soyinka’s extraordinary novel.

The book’s main character is Dennis Tibidje, who later changed his name to Papa Davina. The narrator describes Tibidje as “the man whose origins remained a cause for endless speculation”. He claimed Lagos ancestry, but “his explanation for claims of Lagos origins was that he was sired into a Lagos household”. Tibidje left Nigeria for America under mysterious circumstances but got into problems with the US authorities. However, by the time he returned to Nigeria, Tibidje had: “A new name. A new history. A new beginning. A new life.”

Professor Soyinka says that “the novel includes one or two characters modelled on friends”. It’s doubtful that Tinubu is one of them. Yet anyone who follows the controversies around Tinubu’s identity and origins will conclude that the character Soyinka constructed in Tibidje has a striking resemblance to Tinubu. The Tibidje character is, well, Tinubu-esque!

The novel then gives insightful commentary on elections. In one scene, a character boasts that his party has done “its arithmetic, cashrithmetic and thuggerithmetic”. In another, a character says: “You know there are no elections. Everything is decided in advance.” Well, this year’s presidential election was characterised by arithmetic, cashrithmetic and thuggerithmetic. And few will swear that the outcome wasn’t decided in advance.

But the book’s most apposite analogy is the 1986 World Cup quarter-finals between England and Argentina when Diego Maradona scored a controversial goal, which he called “The hand of God”. Soyinka captures the story brilliantly in the novel. “There was a goal. Some cried foul. And so it seemed … How come the referee, the two linesmen, were so positioned that they did not see the foul? The ball had indeed been handled. The goal remained validated.”

The Maradona analogy is apposite because of its read-across with this year’s presidential poll. Put simply, there was a controversial presidential election. INEC, the referee, supported by Returning Officers, call them linesmen, ignored the blatant foul play, and declared Tinubu winner. And just like FIFA refused to invalidate Maradona’s controversial goal, the Supreme Court declined to nullify Tinubu’s controversial election.

It was thus baffling that Professor Soyinka accused Peter Obi, Labour Party’s presidential candidate, of doing “gbajue”, forcing a lie on Nigerians, by claiming he won the election. Yet, it’s Tinubu who has done gbajue on Nigerians and got away with it. He did gbajue in 2015 when he inflicted Muhammadu Buhari, a serial presidential-election loser and disastrously inept ‘leader’, on Nigeria in a quid-pro-quo Faustian deal. He did gbajue when he staked a claim for the presidency based on “emilokan” –  it’s my turn – and used his bottomless war chest to muscle his way through his party’s primary. He did gbajue when he declared his approach to getting power was “to grab it and run with it at all costs”, and actually grabbed and ran with the presidency.

In my considered opinion, Tinubu didn’t win the presidential election. The first results came in from the South-West, his supposed political base. He secured only 53.6 per cent. He lost Lagos and Osun states, only won Ekiti and Oyo states with the help of PDP renegades, led by former Governor Ayo Fayose and Governor Seyi Makinde. Then, the North’s results came in: he lost Kano, Kaduna and Katsina states. Despite his pernicious Muslim-Muslim ticket, he won only one of the six North-East states, his Muslim running mate’s geo-political zone. In all, he won only six of the 19 Northern states. The 5.6million votes attributed to him from the North thus lacked authenticity. Furthermore, he had just 927,327 votes in the South-South and South-East combined. He was losing the election, or it was tending towards a rerun. Then, INEC struck. The BVAS/IReV technology that worked for the National Assembly polls the same day suddenly failed for the presidential election. The rest is history!

Of course, the presidential election petitions were a monumental waste of time. Leaving aside Nigeria’s corrupt and dysfunctional judiciary, evidenced by Justice Dattijo Muhammad’s damning valedictory remark that the Supreme Court “has become something else”, truth is: no election petition court will remove a sitting president in Nigeria.

British courts have held that even if a claimant/plaintiff wins a case, they won’t grant a coercive remedy if it would cause huge disruption to public administration. Similarly, the Supreme Court should have declared that it will never remove a sitting president even if he’s invalidly elected. It should then have made prospective declarations that would safeguard future elections and recommended a constitutional change requiring all presidential election petitions to be concluded before a president is sworn in. Sadly, the Supreme Court strung Nigerians along and gave the impression it could deliver substantive justice. Yet, it delivered a perverse, technicality-driven verdict that undermined its integrity.

By validating this year’s deeply-flawed presidential election, the Supreme Court makes free and fair presidential elections elusive in Nigeria. But if INEC can’t guarantee credible presidential polls and the judiciary can’t guarantee justice, where’s the hope for democracy and political stability in Nigeria? Hard to see!

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