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Rogue Arithmetics By Sam Omatseye

Rogue Arithmetics By Sam Omatseye
  • PublishedMarch 25, 2019

Culled from TheNation, March 25, 2019.

His name is Peter Obiora, not Obi. He is not a former governor or the man who stumbled on his way to be vice president.

He is a judge, and he read the lead judgment over the governorship poll that declared Gboyega Oyetola as the governor of Osun State.

Some news organs that had fallen under the spell of the former governor of the effeminate voice had spelt the judge’s name as though he were the politician. Maybe they thought him one given the tendentious tenor of his verdict.

This Obiora reminds me of a book of logic that psychologists, philosophers, educationists and lawyers have read since Robert Thouless published it in 1930. I first read Straight and Crooked Thinking after I completed my School Certificate because I was fascinated by the audacity of its title and it rested imperiously on my father’s bookshelf.

I was to encounter it later at the University of Ife in the hands of law students who informed me it was a recommended text. The idea, I gathered, was to apprise law students of the wherewithal to navigate dishonest ways of reasoning and fortify their logical senses.

From Justice Obiora verdict, I wonder if he ever read Thouless. If he read it, I wonder if he understood him. Maybe he could understand but could not withstand it except by capsizing its logic in the exercise of his work as a judge.

Obiora inoculated himself against the august notions of Thouless and embraced illogic. He would have flunked out of a class that required straight thinking, and a crooked turn of mind informed his verdict.

In the first place, he based his verdict on two main planks. One of them nullified the rerun election after the number of cancelled votes exceeded the difference between PDP’s Demola Adeleke’s tally and Oyetola’s.

Adeleke had the edge but the returning officer, based on INEC’s guidelines ordered a rerun. It happened and it favoured Oyetola. The dancing Senator’s feet turned sore and he could only walk to the court in protest.

This was not only tendentious, it was a judgment in disenfranchisement. The logic that Obiora could not withstand is the reason we had rerun elections in a few states last weekend, including in Plateau, Benue and Sokoto states. INEC did the right thing because polls are about the people.

For instance, Simon Lalong won in Plateau State even though it was mathematically impossible for his septuagenarian rival – Jerry Boy – to catch up. But the governor submitted himself to the process. It is a process that Obiora and his folks did not understand.

It is called the rule of law and it is one of the planks of democracy if it is executed in good faith. Aminu Tambuwal of the PDP won by a hair’s margin, but he subjected himself through the process. That is the logic alien to Obiora.

The returning officer had the right to give democracy a full throttle. Obiora thought it was better to be arbitrary. The verdict also did something that Thouless frowned upon and he called it cherry picking evidence.

According to the 273 page judgment, there was what we called in high school ‘jomo jomo to the answer’ – that is, an arbitrary leap to the mathematical conclusion.

It seems, in a manner is speaking, he was shopping for conclusion. He cancelled some units of the polling and rendered the results null. He subtracted the numbers from the total.

In the same line of intellectual bravado, he cancelled the numbers from the supplementary election. The numbers favoured the dancing Adeleke.

No witness proved that there was any thumbprinting. About 80 witnesses came forward and stated there was no multiple thumbprinting, including the polling units the tribunal cancelled.

Even the petitioners abandoned this during the hearings and Obiora acknowledged this in his verdict. Yet, he decided to cancel without evidence of malpractice or tampering.

Again, polling agents in the 39 polling units came as direct witnesses and denied any foul play, and the common refrain, also acknowledged by the Obiora-led judgment, is that there was no over-voting.

It is unfortunate that, in all the reporting of the verdict, our court reporters did not see the value of pointing these contradictions and tilted reasoning of a man of court.

It is a measure of the shallow level of our reporting in today’s journalism that has cut across virtually all fields.

One of the powerful points about law is that it is not only about law but also about society and about justice. Lord Dening, for all his deference to technicality, heralded this point.

Hence, in his seminal book on jurisprudence, Ronald Dworkin, makes the point that every ounce of law proceeds from a moral concern.

The book, Law’s Empire, a must-read for not only lawyers but those concerned with justice, should be thrust on the desk of the two Osun tribunal wigs. Maybe a few points of law will illuminate their careers going forward.

The 17 polling units where the results sheets in eight columns were not filled referred to the number of accredited voters and usage of ballot boxes. How did that affect the total tally? Polling took place in all the units and the tallies were available to them.

If the numbers did not tally with the pink slips, the step to take was to cancel and rerun. But Obiora likes to cancel but does not like reruns. He likes to punish but not restore justice. He prefers wounds to healing, and so it is better to disenfranchise than to democratise.

He did not show that the numbers that did not agree with the results sheet made any substantial difference. So, the judge does not know how to define substantial if he has not substantially cancelled.

His is what I call rogue arithmetic. I wonder what made him make such a woolly reasoning. I can only say it is a fraud of judgement and disservice to the high standards of law.

He has asked INEC to hand over the certificate of return to the dancing fellow, a thing his naïve lawyers failed to ask. Even laymen know that the court is not Father Christmas and it does not give what you don’t ask.

The tribunal’s argument that it is implied and the presumed electoral argument of the prosecution erodes the plea against it points to Obiora’s questionable understanding of law in this instance. If the work of the law is to imply what you ask for without asking for it, law and judgement will turn into a chaos of desires.

I can always say what I did not ask for is implied from what I requested. It is a never-never-world of demands and a tailspin into judicial anarchy.

The judgment shows that mathematics should not be left to some lawyers unsupervised. An accountant once said in the United States that he could turn a million dollar loss to a profit and vice versa.

Hence Einstein noted with judges like Obiora in mind, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” The Osun tribunal verdict does not know the difference.

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