Awolowo vs. Shagari: The Day The Law Died In Nigeria By Seyi Olu Awofeso

Chief Obafemi Awolowo v Alhaji Shehu Shagari
By Seyi Olu Awofeso

Justices of Nigeria’s Supreme Court hunkered down in defensive crouch to interpret a set of impossible facts on September 26, 1979.

Justice Fatai Williams presided; flanked by Justices Irikefe, Bello, Idigbe, Obaseki, Uwais and Kayode Esho, to decide the 1979 presidential election petition brought by Chief Obafemi Awolowo against Alhaji Shehu Shagari.
According to the results announced on 16th August, 1979 by the Federal Electoral commission (FEDECO), Shehu Shagari scored 5, 688, 857 votes nation-wide whilst Obafemi Awolowo had 4, 916, 651 votes.
Awolowo did not dispute these figures but rather contended that Shagari’s scores were in-sufficient, because the law required a returned candidate must fulfil two conditions simultaneously; namely to have the highest number of votes, which Shagari had, but also have “…not less than one quarter of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two thirds of all the (19) states within the federation.” – which Shagari did not have, according to Awolowo.
By the declared results agreed, Shehu Shagari got 25% of the votes cast in twelve (12) states; namely: Bauchi, Bendel, Borno, Cross River, Gongola, Kaduna, Kwara, Niger, Plateau, Rivers and Sokoto. The 13th state was the issue. It was Kano state – where Shagari scored 243,423 votes, equivalent to 19.4% of the 1,220,763 votes cast in total.
On those agreed facts, Awolowo prayed the Nigerian Supreme Court to declare as follows:- that although Shagari received 5,688,857 nationwide at the said election, Shagari still had less than 25% of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two thirds of all (19) states in the federation, and, the Election Tribunal was wrong to declare, based on the result in Kano State, that “…. 25% of two-thirds of the votes in Kano State is 203, 460.5 votes….,” and, therefore:
·         "The Supreme Court should now determine that the said Alhaji Shehu Shagari was not duly elected or returned and that his election or return was void."
Awolowo argued that the phrase “…in each of at least two thirds of all the states within the federation.” means thirteen (13) states because there is nothing either in the Electoral Decree of 1977 or the Electoral (Amendment) Decree of 1978 authorizing fractionalization of a state for the purpose of determining two thirds of its votes.
Further, he contended that insofar as fractionalization of a state in this context is un-lawful, the phrase should instead be interpreted to mean that a candidate must score 25% of the votes in at least 13 out of the then 19 states in Nigeria.
It is wrong logic to determine two thirds of the votes in Kano by dividing the 1,220,763 total votes cast in Kano by two-thirds to arrive at 813, 842, and then declare Shagari’s own votes of 243,423 in Kano as greater than 25% of the total votes cast in Kano, since that will be tantamount to Shagari’s return as validly elected on the basis of one-sixth of the total votes in Kano State, contrary to law, Awolowo argued.
“The phrase ‘ each of at least two thirds of all the states within the federation’ does not mean ‘in each of at least two thirds of all the votes within the federation’ “, Awolowo averred, “because states are not equivalent to votes in that phrase by any literal interpretation”.
Shagari disagreed and contrarily argued that the word “states” indeed means votes within that phrase. Shagari submitted that his own total score of 243,423 in Kano state should therefore be held constant, whilst scaling down the total votes of 1,220,763  cast in all of Kano state by one third, to thereafter calculate and approve that he indeed scored 25% of the votes in Kano State.
“Oh, no!” Awolowo retorted. “To do so is nonsense, because in the event that states are to be treated as votes, contrary to law, the proper course would be to scale down Shagari’s own votes in Kano state by one third simultaneously with the scale-down of the total votes cast in all of Kano state by the same one third, so as to determine if Shehu Shagari scored 25% of the votes in Kano State.”
Shagari demurred. “If you do that, it will be an in-direct way of approving Awolowo’s interpretation that the law stipulating that a winning candidate have ‘not less than one quarter of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two thirds of all the (19) states within the federation’ means a winning candidate must score 25% of the votes in 13 states, which would impose on me a higher burden than the one required by law”.
Chief Justice Fatai Williams read the lead judgment of the Supreme Court after hearing these arguments.
He first of all admitted on court records, in writing, that the Electoral Law as phrased is a “clumsily worded section”, but then rather oddly said “this clumsily worded section” is (nevertheless) “devoid of any semantic ambiguity”.
This was the philosophic pivot of the resulting court judgment. Now, for starters, in a sound exegetical analysis, can a clumsily worded law or statement be devoid of semantic ambiguity at the same time, as the Supreme Court held?
The Supreme Court of Fatai Williams with Justices Irikefe, Bello, Idigbe, Obaseki, Uwais, concurring, said yes. But verbal reasoning till now says no, because ‘meaning’ is the sole and ultimate purpose of law or speech. A clumsily worded law or statement must necessarily lack meaning, for otherwise; it would be a contradiction of terms.
A law is a law only when it has a meaning. If a drafted law lacks meaning it is not a law. No duty falls on any court of law to render it a meaning since no court has legislative jurisdiction to enact a law. The Latinate maxim "ut res maqis valeat quam pereat" - clutched as straw by the Supreme Court - does not authorize judicial legislation.
A meaningless law is, instead, un-erringly void; pro tanto.
And so, by parity, a statement with 'no semantic ambiguity' cannot at the same time be 'a clumsily worded statement or law', as the Nigerian Supreme Court illogically decided, but instead, would be a well-phrased one, as a matter of logical consistency.
Reasoning properly is the sole means and purpose of adjudication - not the sterile quotations of precedents or sections of law. For after all said and done, justice is the full and final search of meaning of either an event, a fact or a law. No previous case displaces the need to reason afresh, not least because the law must follow the facts, but also that no previously decided case can be so controlling as to displace the need to reason a case anew since no set of facts is ever the same.
To mistake precedent of court cases for knowledge is to engage in something other than law, because previously decided court cases can at best guide on principles rather than control the gritty specifics of a present case.
Therefore, to reason afresh is more compelling in a case of first impression for having no previously case as guide. That class of cases thus calls forth all of the reasoning power of a human being who is authorised to decide; but once that reasoning power fails, for any number of reasons, society invariably loses faith in the future ability of that law decider.
As here, and tellingly too, the records before the Nigerian Supreme Court showed that the Election Tribunal, as the court of first instance, had found that “….25% of two-thirds of the votes in Kano State is 203, 460.5 votes…..”.
This crass finding by the Tribunal ought to have set alarm bells ringing in the Supreme Court, because 0.5 vote, as equivalent to half a vote, is a factual and legal impossibility.
Yet, none of the Supreme Court Judges nullified this atrocious finding on point of law.
As such, once the Supreme Court Justices then progressed to mix up logical reasoning in Awolowo v. Shagari, by declaring the law at issue as “clumsily worded” and yet “devoid of any semantic ambiguity” - thus meaning it has the same clarity as an excellently worded phrase - nothing else recommended that court’s declaration of law.
That’s why September 26, 1979 was the day the Supreme Court in Nigeria failed verbal reasoning the most.
For after absurdly declaring 'votes' as equivalent to 'states' - on the basis that the Electoral law did not stipulate rounding off a 'state' to the nearest number of 13 in the event of fractions - the court quickly entered into self-refutation by nodding in approval at the fractionalisation of a vote in Kano State; as 0.5, in calculating 25% of two thirds of the votes in Kano.
Then, without any clear or convincing reason, the Supreme Court gaily wrote down its reasonless assertion as legal conclusion.
More in levity than not, the Supreme Court declared that winning “not less than one quarter of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two thirds of all the (19) states within the federation”, means;
·         winning 25% of the votes cast in 12 states, and thereafter,

·         winning 25% of two thirds of the total votes cast in the 13th state, by scaling down the total votes cast in the 13th by one-third, without correspondingly scaling down the vote of the winning candidate by the same one-third,

·         dividing the scaled down total votes cast in that 13th state by the intact votes of the leading candidate in the 12 states.

In effect, the Supreme Court cancelled out one third of all the votes cast for Obafemi Awolowo in Kano State, and  then cancelled one third of the votes cast for the three other candidates in Kano State, but left all the 243,423 votes cast for Shehu Shagari in Kano state intact, as the denominator of the 813, 842 votes remaining in Kano State; after cancelling out one-third of Awolowo’s votes in Kano state and after cancelling one-third of the votes of the other three candidates, whilst leaving all of Shagari’s votes in Kano State intact.
………………Seyi Olu Awofeso is a Legal Practitioner in Abuja

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Awolowo Vs Shagari

The calculations made by the Nigerian Supreme Court was accurate and the best thing for the country.
Firstly 2/3 of 19 is not 13 but 12.667.
So calculating Shagari's vote in Kano over the total number of votes cast there would be unconstitutional.
His votes are direct votes and therefore should count in total while the denominator should rightly be 66.7% of the votes cast in that state.
The same rule will apply if any other candidates were in question. You have to calculate that candidates vote over 66.7% of the votes cast.
Secondly Shagari also won the majority vote.
Thirdly even if we rejected what the Supreme Court did the end result cannot be a win for Awolowo who not only didn't get the majority votes but also didn't even get 2/3 of the votes in 10 states.
Awolowo was simply trying to frustrate the process because he was rejected by the electorates.
It was simply a case of sour grapes, "if I can't rule, neither can you" type of politics.

Awolowo Vs Shagari 1979.

How much justice would it have been if Awolowo who didn't get 25% of the votes cast in even 10 of the 19 states were allowed to rule over a man who got that figure in 12 states.
Would it have served the nation better to have a new election under such a circumstance? Of course not.
The law was made for man not man for the law.
The Nigerian Supreme Court did the right thing by declaring Shagari as the president.

By Seyi Olu Awofeso Justices

By Seyi Olu Awofeso Justices of Nigeria’s Supreme Court hunkered down in defensive crouch to interpret a set of impossible facts on September 26, 1979.

No logic to the judgment

Start by considering the phrase " each", meaning that each state is to be considered separately. Note the next requirement of 25% as relating to each state, meaning a winning candidate must score 1 out of every 4 votes in each state considered separately.

To attempt to fracture a state into three parts for the purpose of deciding two-thirds of its votes, lacks commonsense, because there are over 20,000 ways of doing so, by using the unit or the wards or the constitutency or the senatorial district.

It is worse that the Supreme Court chose to fracture a state into two thirds for the purpose of deciding 25% of its votes by ANNULING one-third of the votes of only the opposing candidates, whilst leaving the votes of Shehu Shagari intact in Kano state intact as the denominator.

That is not judicial reasoning but judicial rigging shot through with brazen fraudulence.

Why complicate Simple Logic

A simple logic should tell you that the constitution is interest in two parts.

Simple majority across the nation.

25% victory in only two-third of the states.

Two-third of 19 is obviously not 13. Even a primary school child can tell this confused lawyer. Two-third of 19 is 12.666 states.

do we have a fraction of a state? Or fraction of a vote? NPN scored 25% in 12 states. Now the question is wether they scored 25% in the fraction of Kano state.

The only logical way you can arrive at 0.6666 of a state is to divide their votes as such.

Let the writer tell us a better way to divide a state and take 0.66666 of that state.

You want to accept the judgement of one and disregard that of 6. What kind of sentiment is that . It's even clear that Kayode gave that judgement because of tribalistic tendencies.

Thank God, such a man was not allowed to rule Nija. All could have perished except his brother Kayode and his likes.

My father Awo and Shagari

It was not justice denied Papa Awo. It was surely justice in favor of corruption,nepotism, tribalism, bribery and all sort of evil against the entire people of Nigeria. Do you know how much they took to twist those grammars?. And since, we have not got out of the trouble. Obasanjo was there again, to put the problems and sorrow he caused the nation right. But, he lost the opportunity the more. sad sad sad.

Awolowo -v- Shagari

That was the judgment that derailed the destiny of Nigeria. It has not been well with the country ever since. It was a lost opportunity to put the country right.

Thank you Mr. Awofeso! Are

Thank you Mr. Awofeso! Are all the corrupts bastards still alive? Akinjide,Shagari,Obasanjo. They think they won by enriching themselves and left behind the culture of corruption by recycling their children. The reason Shagari's son become a minister of agric, Obasanjo's daugther become a senator and Akinjide's daughter become a minister. All continue what their bastards parents initiated. They all have their bank accounts in Europe and their hospitals in Europe. Time will tell!

How about obasanjo v Buhari

How about obasanjo v Buhari


The AWOLOWO-SHAGARI Judgement was a "Judicial Coup D'etat". Only the revered late Justice Kayode ESHO differed and gave a Minority Ruling. What could have happened to Nigeria if the "judgement" had been truly FAIR? What would NIGERIA have gained from having a different government from NPN?
Let us always remember the travesty of 1979 called the "Twelve Two Third" Judicio-Mathematical ABRACADABRA whenever we look at the destiny of the "geographical expression" called NIGERIA...


THE drama over the escape of a top Boko Haram commander, Mohammed Sani, from police custody continued at the weekend with the police authorities admitting that the wanted Boko Haram man actually escaped in November 2012.The police had denied that Sani, described as a major commander of the dreaded Islamic sect, escaped last year, but the force came up later to declare that it was setting up investigators to check out the manner of his escape. It was, however, confirmed at the weekend that a police document sent to the Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) B Department by the leading investigator of the escape, Superintendent Saidu Sani, confirmed that Mohammed Sani, said to be connected to a number of bombings in Abuja and Niger State, actually escaped from police custody on 10 November, 2012.The investigation report confirmed that Mohammed Sani escaped police custody because of the failure of some men on duty to checkmate his disappearance.

Justice Kayode Esho Dissented.

Justice Kayode Esho dissented. He delivered a minority judgment.

Justice Kayode Esho Dissented

Justice Kayode Esho dissented. He delivered a minority judgment.

Justice Kayode Esho Dissented

Justice Kayode Esho dissented. He delivered a minority judgment.

if and only if we had Awo for just 4 yrs

The judges allowed sentiments to becloud their sense of judgement-sadly the same vultures who threw caution into the wind when they passed that judgement have their peers and the kids they left behind now yearn for an Egyptian style Arab revolution in Nigeria. By playing the blame game on GEJ. U now hear them say-Jonathan was the one who influenced that judgement. That for GEJ, we may have had light light, water, roads and educational institutions in 9ja like dubai

magic never fails

NPN won the in every mathematical aspect of the election. Is hunger a legitimate weapon of war? Wear your thinking cap my friend.

Awolowo vs Shagari

This whole write-up is a complete charade. If Awolowo was the great statesman his followers are trying to portray him as, why was he unable to build bridges with the Hause/Fulanis and Ibos in his quest to become Nigeria’s president. That was why he failed in his bid. This man should go down in history for what he is: an egocentric tribalist, an Ibo hater and a war criminal who escaped Justice on earth but will be judged ultimately by the Almighty. I hope he is burning in he hottest part of hell.

I am usually rather

I am usually rather restrained and try as much as possible to offer no rejoinder(s) to blogs/comments, especially on the internet. However, your treatise was so succinct that I could not let this pass. It was so well put as an example of another historical nugget that explains the folly that is today's Nigeria. The details you lay out should be familiar to any student of Nigerian history but you have adopted it as a call for the resurrection of the rule of law in our nation. So, I find myself not holding back my commendation for this effort. I hope Nigerians of good conscience would find it as illuminating as I did.

Old Wine, New Bottle

Its the same set of judicial goons and their wards that are at the helm of judicial affiars in Nigeria.

If there happens to be another judicial challenge, just be sure of what they'd decide.

welcome to internal colonization

Good morning,

Welcome to internal colonization.

government magic never fail

this fraud was necessary to bring corrupt NPN as worthy successor to corrupt OBJ, corrupt NPC and corrupt lord lugard. the "two thirds of a state" doctrine recalls "three fifths of a man" in U.S. constitution (art. 1, sect. 2, par. 3) founding that "democratic" nation on basis of slavery. in 9ja case, the legal rape of 1979 delivered an abiku second republic, followed by more illegitimate spawn called IBB, Abacha and PDP. he no finish, he no finish, he no finish...