The learned Justice Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili of the Nigerian Supreme Court, officially left the
country’s judiciary on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Justice Peter-Odili, who is one of the earliest women to be elevated to the Supreme Court bench, stepped aside having attained the mandatory retirement age of 70 after serving at the apex court for 11 years. The Imo State-born jurist, whose meritorious milestone judgments have shaped the political, economic and social terrains of the nation, was hosted to an elaborate retirement event on the day.
The apex court officials had a farewell session worthy of her. The sitting was chaired by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, in the main courtroom of the Supreme Court that Thursday morning. Distinguished Nigerians, especially the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Body of Benchers, and Body of the Senior Advocates of Nigeria, among others, graced the valedictory court session.
Spanning 45 years in the legal profession, her total journey to the Supreme Court tracked a steady climb through the Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, in 1976 and was called to the Bar the following year. Shortly after, she enrolled in the mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and accomplished her primary assignment at the Ministry of Justice in Abeokuta, Ogun State, before proceeding to the Ministry of Justice in the old Bendel State as a pupil state counsel.
Upon being called to the Bar on July 1, 1977, Mary saw her dream of seeing her family become a reality. She and Dr Peter Odili, who had long been acquainted right from their days in the University of Nigeria, Enugu campus that housed both the medical and law colleges within it, decided to be joined in holy matrimony in Benin City, two months later (August 26, 1977). Both were said to have met at a campus feast and began a lasting relationship that resulted in a marriage. They received their first baby, Adaeze, in 1979. Not long after that, they had three more children — Chinelo, Peter, and Njideka.
For the first time since she became the second most senior justice of the Supreme Court, she had the privilege to speak about herself and the nation she had served dispassionately for over four decades. Born May 12, 1952, at Orieonuoha Maternity, in Onicha Ezinihitte-Mbaise, Imo State, young Mary’s father, Bernard Chigbu Nzenwa, was a reputable lawyer, sports enthusiast and traditional ruler while her mother, Bernadette Nwatuma Nzenwa, was a seamstress and textile trader.
Mary, a kind lady of glamorous qualities and eminence that surpass the legal profession, was well known for her irresistible voice in the temple of justice. She has offered the best of her intellect to the improvement of the legal profession through her many years of unparalleled rulings at various levels of courts in Nigeria. The retired legal giant is a specimen of hard work, industry, discipline and moral rectitude. We commend her for her contributions to the judiciary in Nigeria.
As well, Mrs Odili is a dedicated jurist and an example for the public service. She is an exceptional judicial icon whose service on the Bench will continue to be referenced as a result of her sense of balance, fairness, integrity and confidence in the nation’s judiciary. She has left the Bench as an outstanding jurist. Her devotion to duty took her to the peak of her career, having served creditably as a magistrate, high court judge and justice of both the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court of the land. Her support for women, advocacy for legal reforms and her crusade for positive change in society are part of her legacy that will continue long after her retirement.
Attesting the virtue of the retired jurist, the Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, revealed that Justice Mary Odili saved his political career in 2004, and vowed to remain grateful to her. The disclosure was made at the 70th birthday and retirement thanksgiving mass of Mary Odili as Justice of the Supreme Court at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Chaplaincy, Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA) in Port Harcourt.
Wike posited that in 2004, he cried to Mrs Peter-Odili after he got the clue that his name was left out from those approved to contest either as first term or second term chairmen of local councils in the state and the retired judge listened to him and took the complaint to her husband, Dr Peter Odili, who was then the Governor of Rivers State. Wike explained how the Mary’s presentation of the case led her husband to act immediately.
Citing a vital lesson of life he learnt from Justice Peter-Odili as the determination to build the capacity to be successful in one’s career while not ignoring giving requisite attention to the family, Wike said: “I have seen somebody who is very compassionate and very caring. The moment you are around her husband, she takes care of you. She sees you as her husband’s person, and so she will always relate with you. Some of us are direct beneficiaries of the care through our relationship with the husband.”
However, Justice Peter-Odili’s career was not exempt from a number of notable controversies. Her status as a judicial officer married to someone politically exposed made her an easy target in the intrigues of her husband’s and his party’s political rivals. An example was the knock-on effect from the All Progressives Congress (APC) following the Supreme Court judgment of February 13, 2020, that sacked the APC’s David Lyon as governor-elect of Bayelsa State, barely 24 hours to his inauguration. Justice Peter-Odili led the panel of the apex court justices that decided the matter.
The Tide joins all well-meaning Nigerians, the judiciary, the NBA, the international community and all illustrious sons and daughters of Rivers State to specially celebrate and congratulate our very own, Hon. Justice Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili, on her 70th birthday and her exit from the Supreme Court. Indeed, it has been a sojourn, and we are proud of her. She has made her indelible marks. Our best wishes for a successful and exceptional retirement.
That INEC’s Move To Protect Electoral Materials
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) lately declared that it would no longer reserve sensitive electoral materials in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The commission’s chairman, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu, announced this at a symposium tagged, “The Electorate: A Conversation on Elections in Nigeria,” held at the Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja. He said the decision would take effect with the just-concluded Ekiti State governorship election.
Sensitive materials stored with the CBN before elections include ballot papers, results sheets, and a braille ballot guide for visually impaired persons, among others. This development is strongly believed to have arisen from the controversy encompassing the interest of the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, to contest the 2023 presidential election under the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
“We are not going to use the CBN for Ekiti elections. The materials will be moved from our headquarters in Abuja to the airport and then to our state office,” Yakubu said at the event. “We are experimenting better ways in which we can secure the processes, so it is not necessarily related to what is happening in the Central Bank. Our intention is to always improve and take complete ownership of the process,” he stated.
Recall that Emefiele had reportedly purchased the N100 million nomination and expression of interest forms for the presidential ticket of the APC. His action was the culmination of several months of overt and subterranean marketing of his candidature, even while retaining his strategic CBN position. Many Nigerians considered the move unconscionable and inimical to the country’s interest to entangle the apex bank in partisan politics. That led to widespread calls for his resignation.
Emefiele attributed the payment of the N100 million presidential nomination form to a group of farmers lobbying him to run for the highest office. Documents filed before the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court by his lawyers, Mike Ozekhome Chambers, showed the CBN chief had been actively seeking to be president. This generated grave concerns about the sanctity of election materials being stockpiled at CBN’s facilities across the country.
Public suspicion of the CBN governor’s presidential ambition heightened when posters, billboards, and inscriptions on vehicles and business premises, promoting his candidacy appeared in cities across the country. In response to justifiable complaints that a sitting CBN governor should never, or even appear to have a partisan political affiliation, Emefiele had occasionally issued lame, unconvincing rebuttals. He did not exhibit the expected vigour necessary to shut down the “amorphous” campaigners.
The CBN Act expressly protects the bank and its governor from political influence, granting it considerable autonomy, including protection from arbitrary removal. But by being linked with any party, its vaunted independence is compromised, and its reputation takes a further battering. Citing the CBN Act, Chidi Odinkalu, a law professor, said the CBN governor is legally precluded from political activities and is required to give three months’ notice of resignation if he seeks to engage in political activities. Besides, the law expressly bars serving civil servants from politics without resignation.
INEC deserves commendation for its bold stride to relocate election materials from the CBN, currently headed by a consummate politician. There is no how those sensitive documents would not have been jeopardised if left in the hands of Emefiele who is now a full-blown political player. Moreover, ballot papers and biometric equipment are among materials considered sensitive and highly sought by criminals seeking to influence elections at different levels.
If a document or sensitive electoral material is in the custody of someone and the person is politically partisan, it speaks volumes. Even if such a one is righteous, has integrity, and is strict when it comes to keeping the materials, it still paints the picture of a tainted process. Surprisingly, sensitive election materials were always kept in CBN offices nationwide by INEC, unknown to Nigerians that Emefiele as governor of the apex bank had been a politician all his life.
Having divulged his initial intention to be elected president in February 2023, and exposing himself as a prejudiced political operative of the APC, the CBN governor should be kept under intense public scrutiny. Sadly, President Muhammadu Buhari has constantly rebuffed calls demanding Mr Emefiele’s resignation to avert further damage to the bank’s reputation as the country’s preeminent financial sector regulator. Experts said Emefiele’s ambition to be president has thrown the country into uncharted traits, as no incumbent CBN governor has ever sought partisan political office.
Voter apathy is blamed largely on a lack of trust in the electoral system and the calibre of people it produces as leaders. Therefore, bringing back the trust of the people is one of the key challenges before the commission. One way to ensure confidence in the system is to safeguard all the sensitive election materials. Building INEC to become an institution impervious to outside influence, including from the executive, should be fast-tracked. INEC must not only become an impartial institution but it must also be seen to be so.
The commission must take full control of the entire electoral process, leaving no aspect of it to any other institution to manage. A free and fair election does not only begin and end with voting, it also includes the storage, security, movement, and handling of sensitive election apparatus. The electoral body must understand that it has a gigantic responsibility to guarantee the safety and security of sensitive voting paraphernalia by collaborating with security agencies to prevent electoral fraud.
Ekiti Poll: A Post-Mortem
At last, the 2022 Ekiti State gubernatorial election scheduled for June 18, 2022, to elect the next governor of the state has come and gone. Former Secretary to the State Government, Abiodun Oyebanji, of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was declared the winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Oyebanji attained victory for the APC by a 30 per cent margin over first runner-up and Social Democratic Party (SDP) nominee, former Governor Olusegun Oni.
Recall that the primaries were scheduled for between January 4 and 29 with the All Progressives Congress nominating Oyebanji in a direct primary on January 27 while the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) nominated former Commissioner for Environment, Bisi Kolawole, in an indirect primary on January 26. Both primaries were beset by accusations of candidate imposition. However, Oni, who came second in the PDP primary, repudiated the results before leaving the party to accept the SDP nomination.
Nigerians, particularly indigenes and residents of the state, have been sharing mixed feelings about the outcomes since they were declared. According to political analysts, the PDP’s defeat was caused by candidate imposition and internal issues, while the ruling party won the poll based on party reputation and the achievements of the incumbent governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi. According to another set of public and political affairs observers, the ruling party won the election because of the approbation of Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the APC presidential candidate.
Information from observers disclosed that the general election was characterised by its incredible logistical organisation and peaceful voting, despite a turbulent campaign period marked by notable interparty clashes. By the early morning of June 19, collation had been completed and results declared. In total, Oyebanji obtained about 187,000 votes and 53 per cent of the vote as runner-up Oni received around 82,000 votes and 23 per cent of the vote while Kolawole came third with over 67,000 votes and 19 per cent of the vote. The ruling party won in 15 of the 16 local governments, and the SDP candidate only in one.
Before the ballot, 989,224 persons were registered to vote, according to INEC. An aggregate of 36.94 per cent of this group took part in the election. This means that the decision was determined by less than half of the registered voters. Qualified voters must carry out their civic responsibilities diligently. Sadly, those in the state, particularly youths, who used social media to express their opinions about the election were unable to mobilise themselves for physical voting. The result suggests that elections cannot be won through social media platforms.
A few unique things about the 2022 Ekiti governorship ballot are that it is the first election to be conducted by INEC under the new Electoral Act 2022, as well as the Regulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of Elections, 2022. It was also the second time INEC would be deploying the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) device statewide after the November 6, 2021, Anambra State governorship poll. Thankfully, unlike in Anambra, the equipment worked satisfactorily in Ekiti.
Many accredited journalists and observer groups including the electorate have commended the election as being free, fair, inclusive, credible and peaceful. INEC has been further lauded for getting the logistics right, as most polling units were reported to have opened by 8:30 a.m. when the voting exercise commenced. Electronic results transmission was effective. Again, INEC was fast in vote tallying and subsequent declaration of the election results. It could be the fastest gubernatorial poll conclusion in our history. This is a further confirmation of the efficacy of the electronic transmission of results.
An election monitoring group, under the auspices of Yiaga Africa, has described the governorship election as transparent and fair enough, going by statistics generated by over 500 ad hoc staff deployed on the election day. Also, the Centre for Democracy and Development said its data from election observation from the state indicated that 86 per cent of INEC officials arrived at their polling units by 8:30 a.m.
BVAS was also said to have worked optimally, although few people could still not be accredited. It is also heartwarming that the electoral body was able to provide assistive devices for persons with disabilities and that priority voting was accorded to the elderly, nursing mothers, and pregnant women. The acceptance of defeat by the PDP’s candidate yet underpins the credibility of the poll.
However, Ekiti 2022 was not all about successes. Although it is said that INEC is yet to get the redistribution of voters into the polling units right, unlike in Anambra and FCT Area Council elections where the commission said there would be no deployment into some polling units because they had no voters, there was no such thing in Ekiti. Regardless, there was lopsidedness in the redistribution exercise. Instead of having a maximum of 750 voters per polling unit, some units still had between 2,000 and 3,000 registered voters.
Furthermore, there was unbridled and open use of money by politicians, and their agents to buy votes as other routes of election manipulation, especially in votes transmission by INEC, appear blocked by e-transmission. There is a need to make scapegoats of those who commit this heinous offence. It is both an economic and political crime to engage in vote-trading. It has been criminalised by Sections 121 and 127 of the Electoral Act 2022. Under the law, both the giver and the taker are complicit and could go in for 12 months imprisonment or a N500,000 fine or both.
Nevertheless, we commend the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for the arrest of some mercenaries deployed by political parties to buy votes. We urge the anti-graft and security agencies to investigate and prosecute all citizens involved in electoral fraud, especially those implicated in vote-buying. We equally applaud the professionalism of the security agents who worked tirelessly to maintain peace on election day. They should remain non-partisan and professional towards the Osun governorship election next month.
Both the Ekiti people and INEC deserve gratitude for their resilience and commitment to a non-violent, free and fair election. Specifically, we encourage the voters to sustain their participation in the electoral process beyond the elections by holding political parties and candidates accountable for their campaign promises. INEC should always uphold the principles of transparency in all elections in the country. In all, the Ekiti governorship election sets a new benchmark for the conduct of elections in Nigeria.
2023: Now That Primaries Are Over
After all the drama of the last few weeks leading up to the presidential primaries within the political par-
ties in Nigeria, we now know who the presidential candidates are for next year’s election. Nigerians have learnt so much as our politicians crisscrossed the country searching for votes. As a result of what happened, it was discovered that some Nigerians no longer want their children or wards to be doctors or engineers. They would rather prefer them to be party delegates.
Although many Nigerians did not see money exchanging hands, there is a strong presumption that party delegates were ‘richly rewarded’ for their votes. Surprisingly, while the primaries lasted issues affecting the ordinary people did not feature prominently in the exercise that had on display the ruthlessness of the political class — the unconscionable and vulgar assault on the sensibility of the people with the way money became the main defining factor on who occupies which office.
The presence of security agents, in particular, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), at the convention venues, designed to be a smokescreen, however, meant nothing to these politically exposed persons who allegedly dared the anti-graft agency to stop the despicable jamboree in its immensity. In other climes in which democracy is important, this behaviour is sufficient to put an end to anyone’s political career.
Still, Nigerians looked on askance, helplessly pondering in their minds if ever this charade will end, so they could go on with their lives devoid of the insensitivity of those they have the misfortune of regarding as their leaders; those who eat their corn and throw the chaff in their faces. This has challenged the viability of the constitutional democracy that the nation has embraced as a system of government and administration.
Oddly enough, in our opinion, unemployment and, in fact, the economy in general, during this period, no longer dominated the media space in search of solutions. Insecurity began to be romanticised and talked about in a cavalier manner, suggesting that, perhaps, the ruling class appreciated the climate of uncertainty that has been the bane of peace in the country. Even the protracted closure of the nation’s universities took the back seatas those responsible for resolving the impasse were more intrested in seeking for the office of president of the country.
These troubling realities make the forthcoming general elections a defining moment for the country, which raises the need for a thorough and insightful search for who will preside over the affairs of the country after President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. This search has since begun for the political elite, hence, the intra-party tussle for the party ticket. While this is a party affair, Nigerians have witnessed how aspirants seeking to govern the country have crossed its length and breadth, talking to their delegates.
The Tide is dismayed that politicians appear to play as Nero while Rome burnt. A look at the polity today shows a near-failing state whose socio-political systems and cultures are collapsing hard and fast. Unfortunately, this is about more than just politicians. The so-called “masses”, comprising the broad spectrum of the Nigerian electorate, are complicit. What is important for them is being paid handsomely for the unpatriotic work they do.
These are the same people who were part of the infamous “cash for vote” case. They are those who choose to look the other way as members of the watchdog institutions, refusing, for whatever reason, to hold the political class to account. They are also the delegates who showed far more patriotism to the foreign currencies than to the country. However, there is every cause to believe that all is not lost. Some candidates, like Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, have displayed genuine desire for a better Nigeria.
As the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) formally declares Nigeria’s political space open for campaigns by candidates flying the flags of the respective political parties at the presidential, governorship and various legislative levels in a few months, what are Nigerians expecting from the candidates and political parties? Do we expect a resort by the candidates to vulgar abuse, indecent and indecorous words, exchange of inanities or presentation of ideas to solve existing national challenges, planning for the future and novel concepts of a societal organisation?
There is no doubt that Nigerians would like to see a firm commitment by political parties and their candidates to meet the challenges they face. The problems we are confronted with in this country are already well known. Unlike in the past, we do not expect to see candidates give superficial explanations to the issues or romanticise the concerns for cheap sound bites. We believe that the quality of election campaigns is a precursor to the quality of governance when a winner emerges.
Consequently, political parties must question the health sector, which is grossly underfunded, as well as almost every sector of the economy and society. How will the new government raise fresh and, maybe, novel funds to invest in the sector? Will we have special intervention funds or budgetary funds to improve the facilities? What are the short to medium and long-term health plans? In addition to universal health coverage, what are the ways and the logistics of realising this dream?
Education as the cornerstone of societal development needs should also be considered with urgency. How will the party extend ingress to education at all levels while strengthening the quality and content of the curriculum? Are we constructing new institutions, particularly universities and polytechnics, or are we growing the capacity of existing institutions? Which is less or more costly to implement? What is the plan for hiring workers at higher education institutions?
One of the main challenges facing the Nigerian economy is the high unemployment rate and low electricity supply in the industrial sector. For many decades, successive governments of the country have made futile attempts to fight unemployment. There is no doubt that power has an effect on unemployment rates in this country. Therefore, candidates have to tell Nigerians how they hope to improve electricity generation and ensure that the industrial sector is given a higher priority in the supply of electricity if the high unemployment rate is to be abated.
Insecurity has been a major obstruction to foreign investment in the country. Nigerians would like to hear from candidates who aspire to lead how they will manage this threat. This challenge must be adequately examined by political parties and their candidates seeking power if the nation is to witness positive developments. A complete list of challenges is not conceivable. This is just a cue to the candidates and political parties to concentrate on the fundamental issues.
Every election is a referendum, and the 2023 election will be a critical one. Not for the reasons some politicians have said it is. It will be a referendum on whether Nigerians are ready to make the necessary sacrifices to have the kind of leadership they yearn for; a leadership that will guarantee a better future not for them alone, but for their children and posterity. Or will they opt for a continuation of the pervasive shame and sham? Of course, 2023 will tell.
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