Many Nigerians have kept their dreams alive weeks after the presidential election, believing that their favourite candidate can still be pronounced the victor—this time, not by the Independent National Election Commission, INEC, but by the court—the last hope of the average citizen.
By conducting, finishing, and announcing the winner of the presidential election, INEC complied with the laws of the country. During the collation of results, the electoral umpire is also required by law to reconsider some of the judgments it made in response to requests from specific political parties.
According to reports, there were instances of anomalies, vote suppression, extensive rigging, and manipulations during the election (in the form of rewriting of results and destruction of ballot boxes).
Several political parties staged a walkout during the results collation at the INEC’s national collation center in Abuja due to the Commission’s reluctance to pause the process and conduct a review.
Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a candidate for the All Progressives Congress (APC), was declared the victor by the commission after the procedure was completed.
According to the INEC, Tinubu received 8,794,726 votes in total, defeating Atiku and Obi, the PDP candidates who were his closest competitors and received 6,984, 520 and 6,101,533 votes, respectively.
Yet, both the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) Atiku Abubakar and the Labour Party’s (LP) Peter Obi’s intention to file a lawsuit in court was made public.
Peter Obi firmly declared that he had won the election and stated the hope of appealing the alleged theft of his mandate before the supreme court, promising to act in accordance with the law.
In Nigeria, meanwhile, very few presidential elections are challenged. This is true even if there must always be a challenge to the validity of the results and the fairness of the process after every election.
Nevertheless, there are two notable exceptions to this generalization that occurred in Africa: the controversial re-election of President Peter Mutharika was declared invalid by the Malawi constitutional court in 2019 and President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election was declared invalid by the Kenyan Supreme Court in 2017. Both decisions required a replay because they were final.
The election commission had announced incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta the victor by a margin of 1.4 million votes when Kenya’s Supreme Court nullified it due to irregularities and ordered a new one within 60 days.
The Kenyan presidential election appeared to be the first time on the continent that an opposition’s legal challenge against the outcome of a presidential election was successful. Other elections in Africa, including those for the governorship, Senate, and Houses of Assembly, among others, have been annulled or cancelled.
According to the court’s ruling in Malawi, there were significant irregularities during the election that led to President Mutharika’s election being ruled invalid in May 2019.
The ruling came after a legal challenge brought by Lazarus Chakwera, the chairman of the Malawi Congress Party, and Saulos Chilima, the leader of the opposition United Transformation Movement Party (UTMP).
The court reinstated former vice president Saulos Chilima and ordered new elections to be held within 150 days.
The majority of international and local observers, as well as members of the international community, did not give the Nigerian presidential election on February 25, 2023, a favorable review; some of them claimed it was tainted by anomalies.
For instance, the American embassy in Nigeria acknowledged that the election results fell short of what Nigerians had hoped for.
Upon the announcement of the outcome, Mary Beth Leonard, the US ambassador to Nigeria, observed that many people are dissatisfied with the election results.
Also, the UK, through its Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, called on the Nigerian authorities to resolve the opposition parties’ concerns with the election’s organization while congratulating Tinubu, who was proclaimed the winner by INEC.
The poll was hampered by technological issues, according to several civil society organizations and international observers.
A group of international election monitors had accused INEC of conducting the polls with little openness.
In a statement published in an official gazette following the election, Joyce Banda, a former president of Malawi, led the Joint Election Observation Mission (JEOM), which was composed of representatives from the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI).
Despite calls for changes to the Electoral Act 2022, the group claimed that 40 of its members were deployed across all six geopolitical regions of Nigeria to observe the voting process. They noted that “Nigerians were mostly not impressed by the conduct of the 2023 presidential and national assembly elections.”
The supporters of the opposing political parties and candidates will be hoping that the Kenya and Malawi judgments are replicated in Nigeria as Nigerians on both sides of the coin patiently await the Supreme Court’s final decision, while those on the winning side would not fancy such a historic ruling.
Barr. Olu Omotayo, President of the Civil Rights Realisation and Advancement Network, CRRAN, said in an interview with the Daily Post that it is possible for Nigerians to witness such a ruling for the first time, but added that the petitioners must be able to demonstrate their claims beyond all reasonable doubts.
It is extremely rare in world history for judges to declare presidential elections invalid. We’ve seen instances of nullified governorship elections in this nation on a number of occasions,” he remarked.
“It’s not impossible to annul a presidential election; it’s simply that you have to be able to back up whatever argument you make. Hence, if you claim that there is a problem with the election, you must provide evidence since it affects the entire nation.
“You can’t just claim that because there were irregularities in Lagos, the election should be canceled. Many are focusing on this perspective, that it is difficult given the population and size of the country, thus you should be able to demonstrate convincingly that the irregularities influenced the election nationwide.
“The petitioner will find it difficult to demonstrate that he has met the burden placed upon him because the law holds that INEC has performed its legal obligations. So, just as the presumption of innocence, under our law it is presumed that a person is innocent until proven guilty if they appear in court.
“So, there is this assumption that INEC has performed well and that once they announce the results, they have fulfilled their obligations. Hence, those of you who are going to court will now need to demonstrate that they broke the law and did not perform their legal obligations. You have a lot of responsibility as the petitioner to disprove them because of this. It is up to you to prove that you have filed a lawsuit against someone.
Criminal and civil matters are distinct from one another. In criminal cases, it is your responsibility to prove the defendant’s innocence; nevertheless, you are aware that this election-related matter is a particular procedure and not merely a civil matter per se, so if the law states this is what you are required to prove, you must do so.
“State is simpler since it is merely a microcosm of the entire nation. This makes it simpler for people to demonstrate instances of what occurred in local governments. There are 774 local governments in Nigeria. But although I’m not discounting the possibility, it does place a significant onus on the presidential petitioner to support their claims.
“In accordance with the law, INEC’s actions are presumed to be legal. Yet, the petitioner has the right to contest that presumption. INEC is protected by the law, but only a judge can declare that the [electoral umpire] made a mistake.
They are supported by the law. Political parties urged them to examine their decision, but if INEC believes there is nothing to review, only a judge may declare the Commission ineffective. Hence, it is up to the political parties to persuade the court.
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