Jeremy Bentham and Tinubu’s 100 days of uncertainty

That rainy morning during my second year as an undergrad, Dr Jibril Mohammed was introducing the theory of utility when he asked a young chap seated in the middle row, “Who conceptualised utility?” and he exclaimed, “P-Square,” without much thought.

As the class roared with laughter, I tried to hide my face so I don’t get called out. Even though I did not know the answer then, I knew that attributing such a theory to a Nigerian musical duo born in the 1980s was off the charts. It’s like saying Burnaboy created the first polio vaccine.

After laughing it off, Dr Jibril introduced us to Jeremy Bentham, a British philosopher, jurist and social reformer best known as the founder of modern utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is a philosophical theory that proposes that the best action is the one that maximizes overall happiness or “the greatest happiness for the greatest number.”

Since the 1700s, Bentham’s theories and writings have influenced law, economics and politics. One of his quotes goes, “The power of the lawyer is in the uncertainty of the law.” Bentham was simply saying the ambiguity and complexity that often characterise legal systems demand persons adept in navigating these nuances to deliver justice.

These attributes of the law confer a considerable amount of influence and power upon legal practitioners who must comb through mountains of evidence, interpret whole sections of the law and sometimes find loopholes in the intricacies of the law.

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However, this also means that lawyers are responsible for using their power wisely and ethically to ensure proper carriage of justice. Bentham’s words reminded all legal counsel to the presidential candidates in the February 2023 elections and the five justices of the petition court that the ability to interpret the law comes with both opportunities to uphold democracy and potential challenges in ensuring fairness.

So, that Wednesday, I sat in the Press Gallery of the State House alongside other journalists, watching the 12-hour session where the Presidential Election Petition Court decided who won the election.

Although the venue of the showdown was only five minutes away from us, the tight access to the courtroom meant that even Vice President Shettima, who sat in for the proceedings, hung a special tag on his neck.

For Shettima and his principal, President Bola Tinubu, who was in India at the time, it’s a weird way to mark your 100th day in office. Even though the national dailies were awash with advertorials to celebrate the milestone, the “celebrants” sat on the edges of their crested seats.

(*100*) were they?

Every side sounded confident in the days and weeks leading to the judgement. For instance, the Labour Party National Chairman, Julius Abure, said his party believes in the judiciary to deliver the proper judgment.

This is for the President-elect

In the Peoples Democratic Party, the prospects were no different. The Director of Strategy and Research of the PDP Presidential Campaign Council, Pedro Obaseki, expressed confidence that the five justices on the petition court would summon the courage to deal with the issues, facts and evidence presented by the opposition parties in their various petitions challenging the results of the election.

On the eve of the public showdown, the President’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, appeared on Channels TV to affirm that his principal was “not worried” about the outcome of Wednesday’s judgement.

Whether or not Abure, Obaseki and Ngelale were sure of their words is a question for another day. What cannot be questioned is that the court’s verdict, which upheld the APC’s victory, deflated the uncertainty surrounding the Tinubu Presidency, as it did the hopes of millions of PDP and LP supporters who anticipated a different outcome.

Talking about a different outcome, anyone conversant with Nigerian history and politics would have read the handwriting on the wall long ago. A part of me wondered why many young Nigerians expected “something different.”

Despite all the pump and anticipation in some quarters, presidential electoral petition tribunals often follow a predictable pattern: the incumbent takes the cake, thanks the judiciary for upholding justice and extends an olive branch to the aggrieved parties.

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In the ensuing days, public affairs analysts would argue in the media. Social media would be awash with counter-narratives while regular life continues as before.

No election since the dawn of the fourth republic in 1999—except in 2015—has slid without litigation. And each has unfolded in essentially the same way. If the petition court does not rule on substance, it would do so on technicalities. Either way, the incumbent remains. While senators and governors have lost their offices to court rulings in the past, the Presidency, history shows, remains untouchable.

Slowly, most Nigerians born in the 1990s and early 2000s perceive contesting an election in court to serve one purpose: officially registering your dissatisfaction with the outcome. Otherwise, accepting defeat would leave a bitter taste for your supporters and legitimise the election.

President Tinubu welcomed the verdict wholeheartedly and assured Nigerians that he is now more energised and focused on delivering his vision of a unified, peaceful, and prosperous nation.

He promised to serve all Nigerians, irrespective of all diverse political persuasions, faiths and tribal identities.

So help him God!

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