Disputed election is not peculiar to Nigeria. It is a global phenomenon. We saw what recently happened in US after the November 2020 election won by President Joe Biden. I am referring to January 6, 2021 invasion of the US Congress by supporters of former president Donald Trump. When leftist Lula da Silva defeated his bitter rival, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, to secure his return as Brazil’s leader in October 2022, his supporters invaded some of the country’s democratic institutions wanting to prevent the inauguration of Lula da Silva. On Sunday, January 8, 2023, Bolsonaro supporters who refused to accept his election defeat stormed Brazil’s Congress, the Supreme Court and presidential palace. Some of them called for a military intervention to either restore the far-right Bolsonaro to power, or oust Lula da Silva from the presidency.
After the August 2022 presidential election in Kenya, supporters of former Prime Minister Raila Odinga who was defeated by William Ruto took to the streets of Nairobi and other cities in Kenya to protest. They claimed that Odinga was rigged out. Even after the Supreme Court of Kenya had confirmed Ruto’s victory and was inaugurated as president, Odinga’s supporters early this year claimed to have found a whistleblower who confirmed that Raila was rigged out by Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission of Kenya.
In Nigeria, starting from the First Republic, there has been no election conducted by the various election management bodies that have not been disputed. Election disputes led to the fall of the first, second and the third republics. Remember the Western Region crises over the disputed 1964/65 federal and regional elections, the Ondo and Oyo State post-election riots of 1983 and the political impasse of June 12, 1993 Presidential election won by Bashorun MKO Abiola but truncated by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida’s regime. Cumulatively, Nigeria in 63 years of independence has witnessed 29 years of military junta.
Nigeria is in her Fourth Republic which started on May 29, 1999. There have been seven general elections organised by the Independent National Electoral Commission. They were held in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015, 2019 and 2023. None of these were flawless. It was election disputes that led to the situation where there are eight off-cycle governorship elections in Kogi, Edo, Ekiti, Bayelsa, Ondo, Osun, Anambra and Imo states. Indeed, Supreme Court in 2019 nullified the party primaries of the All Progressives Congress in Rivers State and prevented the party from fielding candidates in all the federal and state political offices.
The Zamfara State APC case was worse, on Friday, May 24, 2019, barely five days to inauguration, the Supreme Court sacked all its candidates who won elections in Zamfara State. The five-man apex court led by the then acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, removed all candidates of the party in the state in the 2019 general elections due to the party’s failure to conduct election for nomination of candidates as required by law. In a unanimous judgment of the court, delivered by Justice Paul Galinje, the court ordered candidates of other political parties that came second to take over as the duly elected contestants.
In line with Nigeria’s politicians’ tradition and convention of disputing elections, those who lost out in the 2023 general elections have been unsparing in criticising the polls. While those who won praised INEC to high heavens and described the commission in superlative adjectives, those who did not win claimed to have been rigged out. They said it is the worst election in the country’s electoral history.
Anyway, it is already envisaged by the framers of our constitution that politicians will contest the outcome of elections. That’s why our jurisprudence makes provision for Election Dispute Resolution popularly called EDR. Anyone interested in knowing the details of the provisions of Nigeria’s EDR should read section 285, s. 233 ( e ) (i) and section 239(1)(a) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended as well as Part VIII (Sections 130 – 140) of the Electoral Act 2022 which deals with determination of election petitions arising from elections.
Lawyers will tell you that election matters are sui generis which means they are unique or in a class of their own. It can however be likened to criminal allegation where the petitioner must prove fraud or crime beyond reasonable doubt. It is important for those interested in electoral adjudication to understand the words of section 135 (1) of the Electoral Act 2022. It says, “An election shall not be liable to be invalidated by reason of non-compliance with the provisions of this Act if it appears to the Election Tribunal or Court that the election was conducted substantially in accordance with the principles of this Act and that the non-compliance did not affect substantially the result of the election.”
In Nigeria, section 239(1) (a) of the Constitution has given original jurisdiction to the Court of Appeal to exclusively hear petitions arising from presidential election dispute. That is what just started last Monday, May 7, 2023. Section 285 (5) of the Constitution says “An election petition shall be filed within 21 days after the date of declaration of results of the elections.” Subsection (6) says, “An election tribunal shall deliver its judgment in writing within 180 days from the date of filing the petition.” Subsection (7) says, “An appeal from a decision of an election tribunal or Court of Appeal in an election matter shall be heard and disposed of within 180 days from the date of delivery of judgment of the tribunal or Court of Appeal.”
The point here is that, unlike in other climes and jurisdictions, presidential election petition starts at the Court of Appeal and ends at the Supreme Court. Thus, the Court of Appeal is at liberty to hear the petition of the four opposition political parties and candidates who have expressed displeasure over the February 25, 2023 presidential election won by the APC candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu for 180 days starting from March 1, 2023 when INEC declared the result of the presidential election.
Now, the curious and unprecedented thing happening from the camp of the opposition candidates and their sympathisers is the call for Tinubu not to be inaugurated on May 29, 2023 as stipulated by Nigerian Constitution. The call was first made on Channels television by the running mate to Labour Party presidential candidate, Dr. Datti Baba-Ahmed. Last week, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, the Bishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Abuja said the imminent inauguration of Nigeria’s president-elect does not make sense. The cleric stated this on Thursday, May 4, during the Channels TV breakfast show Sunrise Daily. Furthermore, leaders of thought from the South-East, under the aegis of the Igbo Patriotic Forum, on Saturday, May 6, 2023 also called on the presidency to allow the court to complete its work on the presidential election petitions before anyone is sworn in as the next President of Nigeria.
Recall that on Friday, March 31, 2023, an unidentified passenger was whisked off the plane after he publicly spoke against the inauguration of the president-elect on Ibom Air flight. Some protesters also went to Defence Headquarters in Abuja to protests Tinubu’s victory. They even asked the military to take over government.
Do those who are against the inauguration of Tinubu know the implication of what they are doing? They want to create vacuum in governance and hold the country to ransom. There are those who have proposed interim government which the court has pronounced illegal, unconstitutional, null and void since 1993. Is 2023 presidential election the first to be held in Nigeria or disputed? Has any election petition been the basis of halting any of the previous government’s inauguration? Were the petitions against ex-presidents Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan and the outgoing Buhari not at the courts or tribunals when they were inaugurated? What makes 2023 different? I appeal to Nigerians not to allow politicians to truncate this fledgling civil rule or democracy.
- Twitter: @jideojong
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