The 2023 Elections have come, but it doesn’t feel as if it has gone. It now appears that the voting has continued on social media, especially on Facebook and multiple WhatsApp groups. The 2023 elections will be remembered among others, for bringing out the worst in many Nigerians, or to put it more succinctly, for bringing out the beast in us. Many of us shamelessly bared our ethnic, religious and sexist fangs, without a care in the world for who is affected. It is as if there is a competition of some sort, for the ‘best vile misinformation spreader’’ in Nigeria. Nothing appears to be out of bounds. Everyday, our sensibilities are inflicted by lies, fake news and distortions, coming from our political sphere. The abnormal has become normal, in debating the outcome the elections.
The Lettered are Fanning Embers of Disunity
The identities of the purveyors of this bile, should be a matter of concern. They are sadly mostly the elites, or the supposedly well read. In their ranks you will find professionals of all works of life, including the academia. Those who should be leading Nigeria on the path of reconciliation and peace, or who should at the very least, ensure that our people are not fed fat with falsehood, are the ones who are fanning the embers of disunity. They continuously use their expertise and knowledge, to distort the reality of our current situation. Most times, reading and listening to these men and women of letters, leaves one speechless. There is certainly some truth in the saying that, it is not the number of certificates or degrees obtained that defines a person. Professional or academic qualifications that are not hinged on basic tenets of decency, integrity and honesty, will always amount to little.
About Bizarre Legal Theories and Legal Opinions
I am almost embarrassed to admit that a small, even if loud number of these trollers, are to be found in the legal profession. In the last couple of weeks I have had to remove myself from many WhatsApp platforms, largely made up of Lawyers. I simply could not in good conscience, continue to inflict on myself the migraine that comes with Lawyers loosing their sense of legal reason in pursuit of political gains. Regrettably, it would seem that some of my learned colleagues are too heavily invested in the prophesy that their preferred candidates were going to win certain elections, that their minds simply have been unable to comprehend different outcomes. The result of this mental disconnect has been a shocking preponderance of bizarre legal theories and legal opinions that defy common sense, and are unknown to law. Worse still, when they are made aware of their foolery, they double-down and resort to abuse and trolling.
Absurd ‘Doctrine of Necessity’
In a recent instance, a junior Lawyer and an active member of a Lawyers-only Whatsapp group had asked senior Lawyers whether the Adamawa State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) had the power to unilaterally declare the results of the gubernatorial election in that State, even while the process was ongoing. I thought the answer was a simple and obvious – No. That was until a senior colleague, who spends much time granting interviews on TV, took up the question and began a treatise on the “doctrine of necessity”. In his words, “the REC’s action can be justifiable, if in his (the REC’s) opinion, the returning officer was unable or unwilling to declare the results due to certain unforeseen circumstances”. I could not accept the absurdity of his reasoning. I politely asked him to kindly direct me to the relevant provisions of the Electoral Act, that made provisions for such intervention. Rather than respond in a manner worthy of his calling, his reply was that I was an embarrassment to the All Progressives Congress (APC), and as an APC Attorney-General, I should be sympathetic to his reasoning.
Scientific Computation of Results
This was not my first experience, at the receiving end of trolling from my colleagues. There was another Lawyers’ platform, where a call mate of mine in the academia wondered why the Labour Party’s Presidential Candidate, could not publish the results it’s agents authenticated at the polling units and wards across, and compare with what was subsequently uploaded by INEC. According to him, if this is done, there will be no need for all the current hullabaloo about a stolen mandate. it will be clear to the informed and uninformed alike to see. However simplistic, one cannot debate that this observation made sense. A senior Lawyer in his response, said that the party’s Lawyers were keeping this compilation until the address stage of the Presidential Election Tribunal, when they will surprise APC with the “scientific computation of the results”. My offence was to ask him to clarify the meaning of ‘scientific computation’ and whether such computation was limited to or included the results declared by INEC at the units and wards. Again, without making any attempt to respond to my question, he reminded all members of the platform, that I am from Ekiti State and an APC Attorney-General. He subsequently, invited all those sympathetic to the Obi cause to occupy my phone.
May 29 and Emergency Constitutional Lawyer
Only yesterday, I had to exit yet another platform, following a debate on the position of the law on the inauguration of the President-Elect on May 29. I am gobsmacked by the sheer number of Lawyers who have taken it upon themselves, to spread misinformation about the position of law. They have argued ingenuously that it is unconstitutional to swear in the President-Elect until his victory is affirmed by the court. Such is the absurdity of their reasoning, some of them have argued that there is nothing that prevents President Buhari from continuing in office, until the determination of the election petitions. Others more daring, have provided constitutional justification for an interim arrangement. Again, my sin was to ask whether the argument as put forward by this emergency constitutional Lawyer was one of general application, or simply limited to the Presidential elections. In other words, I asked if his ‘well researched’ legal opinion could be said to apply to Governorship, National and State House of Assembly elections. So that the current occupants of the offices would continue in their roles, until such a time that the various election petition tribunals decide the cases applicable. I asked this ‘legal luminary’ whether he finds the reasoning that victorious candidates should be kept out of office, because losers have exercised their personal right to ventilate their grievances in court, logical or commonsensical. I also asked him whether the mere pendency of a petition challenging an election in court, has greater legal force than the result declared by INEC, which to all intents and purposes enjoys presumption of regularity until set aside by a competent court or tribunal in a final and conclusive judgement. The ‘legal juggernaut’ did not respond to any of my questions. He simply ‘invoked the spirit of obidients’ to deal with me. They have not stopped cursing me, even after I exited the platform.
The Fear of Obidients, the Beginning of Wisdom
Aside from writing flawed legal opinions, some of our colleagues trade in fake stories on election petition matters. Rather than educate the non-Lawyers on matters they know nothing about, some Lawyers support the spread of fake news by forwarding fake stories to multiple platforms. I am considering whether to respond to a story forwarded by a Lawyer on the non-appearance of the President-Elect at the Petitions Tribunal, at its inaugural sitting. One obvious Labour Party sympathiser had gleefully come to the conclusion that, the rejection of the appearance of the Plateau State Governor for the President-Elect at the sitting of the tribunal, meant that the President-Elect will not be heard by the tribunal. This, according to him, meant ‘the road to Aso-Rock for Peter Obi is assured’. More than two days after this post was sent to our Lawyers’ WhatsApp group, there has been no response. My partner told me that this is a case of the ‘fear of obidients, is the beginning of much wisdom’. Sadly, the promoter of this post is a former Chairman of one of the NBA Branches. I have come across several others, including those who seek to discredit the election petition tribunal and the presiding Justices. All promoted by Lawyers.
In Defence of Professional Ethics
Our colleagues who have decided not to see beyond their political disappointment, should be told in no uncertain terms, that the politics of this moment will pass. The politicians will invariably, move on to the next electoral cycle. What will endure, is the legal profession and our legal system. They are doing much harm to the profession and justice system, by their ridiculous legal opinions and spread of falsehood.
The Nigerian Bar Association now needs to take decisive steps, in response to this trend. The adequacy of our rules of professional conduct should be critically examined, including the effectiveness of the existing procedure for referrals to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee. No less important, is the need for more Lawyers to speak up and speak out in upholding our rules of professional ethics.