And with the wave of reactions already generated by the imminent legal battle, it is safe to say that the presidential election is not really over until the judiciary resolves all unfinished business, thereby putting an end to the plethora of controversies that trailed the outcome of the election and for the gladiators to bury the hatchet.
No election in Nigeria’s recent history has faced many protests and rejections by those who lost and even those who won. So controversial was the 2023 general election that aggrieved candidates have headed to court to challenge the outcome of last month’s presidential election.
Nigerians demonstrated their dedication to democracy on February 25, but there are many angry and frustrated Nigerians who believe that the president-elect, Bola Tinubu, won the election due to widespread fraud and irregularities as well as many who are celebrating victories they believe were hard-fought and well-earned.
The two leading opposition candidates: runner-up Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and third-place Labour Party’s candidate Peter Obi have both refused to concede defeat; each claiming to have won the election and have sought the intervention of the courts to reclaim what they have described as their ‘stolen mandate’.
Interestingly, Tinubu and his party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, have acknowledged their right to do so.
The efforts to sow doubt over the outcome of the presidential election are not just historical curiosities. Post-election litigation is nothing new in Nigeria. Except for the 2015 election, every presidential election held since 1999 has ended in legal fireworks, but none quite as dramatically as this year’s.
Consequently, the judiciary, constitutionally positioned as the final arbiter in election disputes, oftentimes, ends up being the determiner of the winners and losers of elections. Though none of Nigeria’s presidential election results has ever been annulled or invalidated by the court, there’s a litany of situations when the third arm of government acted as a last resort in cases of electoral result disputes.
After Olusegun Obasanjo, candidate of the PDP was declared the winner of the February 27, 1999, presidential election, Olu Falae, who contested the election on the joint platform of the Alliance for Democracy, AD, and All Peoples Party, APP, filed a lawsuit disputing the result, but he lost the case. The presidential election of April 19, 2003, which was in favour of Obasanjo was also challenged by Muhammadu Buhari, the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, candidate, and Chukwuemeka Ojukwu of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA. The court, however, upheld Obasanjo’s re-election.
Atiku and Buhari who contested the April 21, 2007, presidential election under the platform of the Action Congress, AC, and ANPP, respectively, registered their grievances with the outcome of the election in court but PDP’s Umaru Yar’Adua’s victory was endorsed. In 2011, Buhari, candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, challenged the declaration of Goodluck Jonathan, the candidate of the PDP, as the winner of the April 16, 2011, presidential election. The court, regardless, affirmed Jonathan’s victory. Lastly, Buhari’s eventual victory in the February 23, 2019, presidential poll was also challenged by Atiku, who ran on PDP’s ticket, but the court ruled that the former vice president’s case lacked merit.
Undoubtedly, elections in Nigeria are consumed by post-election legal battles. This is because electoral malpractice has become part of Nigeria’s electoral culture. These malpractices take place before, during and after elections. Some of the most common include manipulation of voters’ registration, intimidation of voters, vote rigging, violent clashes between supporters, disruption of voting by thugs, and the snatching of ballot boxes and electoral materials. It is, therefore, on this note that political parties and their candidates, disfavoured by the election results, unhesitatingly head to the court to seek redress.
The February 25, 2023, presidential election has presented yet another opportunity for the judiciary to decide who won and who lost. Aside from the aforementioned malpractices, the last presidential poll was controversial because the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, threw the entire process into a web of theories by collating and transmitting the results manually despite assurances of an electronic real-time transmission of the results. This raised questions about the credibility of the electoral process. Hence, aggrieved parties are banking on the judiciary to address this intrusive malfeasance.
It is quite unfortunate that despite the grandiose plans of the INEC to conduct a credible, free and fair election – one that would provoke fewer or no disputes and litigations due to the amendment of the Electoral Act and the deployment of technology as part of the steps to tackle electoral fraud – we are still going to depend on the judiciary to determine the validity or otherwise of the presidential poll.
In saner climes, the electorate, through their votes, determine who holds a public office and judicial recourse is an option taken to rectify an electoral impropriety of some sort. This is relative to the state of affairs in Nigeria where politicians, desperate in their quest for power, either thwart the decision of the electorate or question their choice, resulting in murky litigations and counter-litigations.
Like all historical events, the decision of the court in the ensuing court proceedings will be monumental. And with the wave of reactions already generated by the imminent legal battle, it is safe to say that the presidential election is not really over until the judiciary resolves all unfinished business, thereby putting an end to the plethora of controversies that trailed the outcome of the election and for the gladiators to bury the hatchet.
Ezinwanne writes via email@example.com