Opinion

Much Ado About Abuja

The 2023 Nigeria presidential elections have come and gone but have left severe contestations in their wake. The post-election atmosphere has been as contentious and fractious as its pre-election counterpart.

Dissatisfied with the results as announced by the electoral umpire, INEC, the presidential candidates of the People’s Democratic Party(PDP), Waziri Atiku Abubakar and the Labour Party(LP), Mr. Peter Obi, along with their respective parties proceeded to the Presidential Elections Petitions Tribunal(PEPT) instituted at the Appeal Court and presided over by the honourable justices of the court to ventilate their grievances with petitions which presented various prayers seeking to discredit the results as announced by the INEC. Part of the petitions however also bordered on pre-election matters, requiring constitutional interpretations.

After a gruelling few weeks of court proceedings for the petitioners, respondents and the court, and what may have appeared as an eternity of wait for Nigerians waiting with bated breaths for the ruling of the Appeal Court judges, the court finally delivered its verdict in an equally gruelling 13-hour judgement.

In the lengthy judgement delivered by the Appeal Court judges covering 798 pages of documents, the prayers of the petitioners were dismissed in totality, upholding the election of president Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

In the wake of the monumental judgement, Nigerians have been, as expected, at opposite ends of arguments which border on whether or not the judgements as delivered by the PEPT represented justice for the people. While the supporters of the incumbent president believe the judgement to be fair and just, their counterparts across the divide think otherwise. Conversations have since reached fever pitch, either to justify the judgement or discredit it. In any case, the petitioners have chosen to seek redress at the Supreme Court for final arbitration on the matter.

While there are several contentious aspects of the judgement as opined by the aggrieved petitioners and their supporters, one area of concern, which is also the subject of this write-up, is whether or not a presidential candidate requires a mandatory 25% vote cast in Abuja, the federal capital territory, to become president. While a side of the conversational divide believes a mandatory 25% is the true interpretation of section 134(2)(b) of the 1999 constitution as amended, and ought to have been the position of the PEPT judges, the other side disagrees vehemently, wondering what made Abuja and its residents so special as to be accorded such electoral privilege over and above the states and their residents.

It is the intention of this writer not to delve into legal technicalities and legalese, not being a lawyer myself, but to stimulate the conversation around logic, provide what hopefully would be a simple and relatable analogy, with a hope of bringing clearer and less contentious perspective to the PEPT judgement on the subject matter, and hopefully present it in a more understandable light.

MANDATORY 25% FCT REQUIREMENT?

‘’Section 134(2)(a&b) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended states (with my emphasis on the subject matter, part b):

(2) A candidate for an election to the office of President shall be deemed to have been duly elected where there being more than two candidates for the election-

(a) he has the highest number of votes cast at the election; and

(b) he has not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election each of at least two-thirds of all the States in the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

To really navigate around this seemingly tenuous subject, it is important to bring proper perspective to the status of Abuja. I believe this would help to better understand the spirit of the law and the intentions of the crafters of the constitution in the hope that this would help bring better clarity to the letters of the law and the attendant interpretation.

While Nigeria is made up of thirty-seven (37) sub-national entities which comprise thirty-six (36) states and The Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the FCT however is unlike any states of the federation. Unlike the 36 states which were created to serve as independent geographical representations of people and regions, The FCT is a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) created solely to serve as the capital territory of the country and as the seat of Power. If Nigeria were a vast palace, Abuja would be the Throne Room, the president would be king, as it were.  It is Nigeria’s central command and the central focus of both domestic and international diplomatic liaisons. Abuja is Nigeria’s synonymous appellation in both local and international politics.

Nigeria comprises 36 states. Each state is headed by an elected governor who is the number one citizen and its Chief Executive Officer. The powers of a state reside in the office of the Governor and in the various institutions of that state, independent of the president, though bound by the constitution of the federal republic, over which the president presides. Abuja however has no status independent of the federal government the way the states do. Abuja is simply the seat of national administrative power. It cannot function outside the auspices of the federal power architecture. It does not enjoy the quasi-independent privilege of the states because it is a vehicle of necessity created uniquely for federal administrative purposes. It is an administrative block to oversee the affairs of the nation as a collective, even as the states function as largely independent entities.

By essence and functionality, this makes Abuja the true definition of a ‘’No man’s Land’’. Each state of the federation is a unique geographical character to which ownership through aboriginality or indigeneship and citizenship can be claimed. Though the constitution of Nigeria affords citizens the rights to move and reside freely within its broad geographical expanse and territories, states are nevertheless defined by unique indigenous characters and characteristics which form their overwhelming and fundamental identity. States, although being legally accessible to all Nigerians, have an identifying ethnic nationality or a combination of these nationalities.  Abuja however does not enjoy this defining characteristic ethnic national identity like the states. Abuja was purposely created as a true property of the Nigerian state, to be equally co-owned by the Nigerian people. Abuja belongs to no one because it belongs to all Nigerians, in equal measure. For this purpose, aborigines of the original geographies that would become Abuja were compensated and integrated into border states as indigenes of those respective states. In other words, no Nigerian is an indigene of Abuja. Nobody comes from Abuja. Everyone in Abuja is a resident. Abuja residents are indigenes of other states. Thus, an Abuja resident cannot lay more claim to it than another Nigerian resident in say, Sokoto or Umuahia or Ado-Ekiti. it is a national property through and through. For instance, in the highly unlikely event of a dissolution of the Nigerian state, Abuja would immediately cease to exist as it would lose its intrinsic quality and value and become subsumed by the states from whose territories it was carved.

The implication of this is that unlike the states, Abuja derives its intrinsic value as a corporate entity from the Nigerian state. It exists for the Nigerian state and becomes obsolete without it. This is not so for the 36 states who possess unique corporate identities, independent of the Nigerian State and the federal government.  Simply put, Abuja was designed to be Nigeria’s seat of Power to belong to all Nigerians in equal measure, irrespective of place of residency, creed or ethnic nationality. No state of the federation is so designated. This simply means that Abuja residency confers no special citizen privileges as Abuja itself derives its essence from corporate Nigeria. Nigeria itself, derives its essence from the federating thirty-six (36) states.

SYLLOGISM

Nigeria does not exist without the states. Abuja does not exist without Nigeria. Ergo, Abuja cannot exist without the states. This, in actuality, makes the states superior to Abuja, which is merely a federal capital territory for federal administrative purposes.

ANALOGY

If Nigeria were a company, it would be a company with thirty-six (36) branches and one (1) headquarters. Abuja would be this headquarters.

CONSIDERATION

From the analogy above,

  1. If the CEO of the company is to be chosen through an elective process by every company staffer, should a special right be accorded to the staff who work at the headquarters? If so, why?
  2. Should the company have a unique Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) for staff at the headquarters, different from the branches despite staff performing essentially similar tasks and working towards achieving the same objectives? If so, why?
  3. Should a staffer at the headquarters have access to higher perks and per diem than a staffer in a similar role and position solely on the premise that they work at the headquarters office? If so, why?
  4. Should staff at the headquarters be entitled to special privileges for no reason other than the fact that they work at the headquarters? What makes same job descriptions at the branches, unique at the headquarters?
  5. What is the intrinsic value of the headquarters?

 

THINKING IT THROUGH

From the perspective of Abuja as presented above, does it make sense for the crafters of the constitution to have made a separate reference to Abuja within same statement the way they did in section 134(2)(b) without necessarily intending to accord it any special privileges? If you find the crafting of that aspect of the constitution contentious in interpretation, how would you have crafted it in a more seamless way to remove any ambiguity, against the background that the states and Abuja are unique and one isn’t the other?

 

IMPLICATIONS

In having this conversation in hopes of arriving at a logical conclusion, we need to also look at the likely fallouts of a possible Supreme Court judgement in favour of a mandatory 25% vote requirement in Abuja as an eligibility factor to become president of Nigeria.

  1. Possibility of infinite impasse: as seen from the results of the 2023 presidential elections results as announced by INEC where Mr. Peter Obi of Labour Party (LP) was able to amass an overwhelming number of votes such that his two closest rivals, Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) could not so much as garner up to 25% in individual vote tally, yet Mr. Obi himself was unable to secure the requisite 25% vote cast in two-third (2/3) of the thirty-six (36) states, a mandatory 25% vote requirement in Abuja to become president presents a veritable challenge- what happens if no candidates in a presidential election is able to meet the mandatory requirements in both the states and Abuja, even after a rerun? do we continue an endless iteration of elections until a candidate is eventually able to pull it off? This challenge is an open-ended loophole that may linger without an easy solution.

 

  1. Political necessity: given that our politics is highly centered on identities where voting patterns have been known to go along regional, religious and ethnic lines, a mandatory 25% Abuja requirement for the presidency would very likely introduce a novel consideration for residency in Abuja by politicians. Not to be upstaged by the competition, politicians would seek to pull measures to ensure that residency in Abuja is carefully influenced or curated to reflect, at the very least, an equitable population distribution across regional, religious and ethnic considerations, to forestall real or perceived electoral advantage along these lines. This would lead to a politically motivated culling of the Abuja population. Another option would be for politicians to influence a population exodus into Abuja, either to create a numerical advantage or counter a perceived numerical advantage by the opposition. This would in turn adversely affect the socio-political character and atmospherics of Abuja as it would become unpredictable and unnecessarily tensed. Under such a political atmosphere, Abuja may very likely become a political battleground and hotbed with consequences which may prove dire. Given the strategic importance as the Federal Capital Territory, do we really wish for Abuja to evolve into a political hotbed with unpredictable outcomes given the fierceness and crude tendencies of our politics?

 

  • Violation of fundamental human rights: Should politicians succeed in regulating residency within Abuja in the bid to achieve population balancing out of political and electoral expedience, the inevitable consequence would be the violation of the fundamental rights of Nigerians to move freely and reside anywhere within the country; Never mind that achieving this population regulation would pose a modality nightmare and become inevitably inefficient and compromised with its own attendant consequences. I concede the reality of this happening is an extreme case scenario but have you met our politicians? Do they come across as people with limits to their pursuits of political ambitions and their actualization?

While any or all of the above could be dismissed as extrapolations of an overtly imaginative mind, no one should however be outrightly dismissive of these possibilities. After all, it was a usual refrain among Nigerians that Nigerians loved life too much to become suicide bombers. Well, no one is saying that anymore. Politics, like religion, has the uncanny ability to unravel primal recesses within our individual or collective subconscious that push us into frontiers of ‘’necessity’’ induced depravity that we never thought were there. It is best, therefore, that for our collective good, we let certain sleeping dogs lie so as to keep whatever may ail them at bay. It is unwise to go after Pandora’s box with hammers, pliers and chisels. It might just be a box of woes.

IN CONCLUSION…

It is my hope that on this particular subject matter, the Supreme Court would exercise utmost caution and conservativeness of interpretation. However the rulings go, I admonish that we all accept them in good faith, in recognition of the supremacy of our democratic institutions as the fundamental bulwarks for the preservation of our democracy and civilization, as we look forward to the next elections, but more so, as we strive to build a better country with better experiences for all.

 

Sunday Obaje writes from Lagos.

sunnyobaje11@gmail.com

 

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