Headline Nigeria Special Report

Implications of petition tribunals on 2023 elections

A voter casts her vote during the 2023 elections. Photo: Radio Nigeria Archives

Over the years, Nigeria consistently developed, amended, repealed, and re-enacted the Electoral Act to accommodate changes that come with modern-day challenges, developments, the system of governance, and democracy.

Such an example could be seen in Section 134 of the Electoral Act, 2022, which provides that a party who intends to challenge the process or outcome of an election can do so on the grounds that if a person whose election is questioned was, at the time of the election, not qualified to contest the election; if the election was invalid by reason of corrupt practices and non-compliance with the provisions of the Act; or if the respondent was not duly elected by the majority of the lawful votes cast at the election.

Unlike regular cases, post-election matters are handled by specialised courts known as Election Petition Tribunals.

According to Section 132(7 & 8) of the Electoral Act, 2022, an election petition must be filed within 21 days after the date of the declaration of the results of the elections.

The Tribunal shall also deliver a judgment within 180 days from the date of the filing of the petition and failure to comply with the time frame, the petition loses the right of action and will be statute barred.

A Public Affairs Analyst, Aondohemba Tsa described the timeframe as challenging and advocated amendment of enabling laws to allow for sufficient time to enable petitioners to present their case.

Pursuant to sections 285(2) and (3) of the 1999 constitution and section 130 of the Electoral Act, 2022, the President of the Court of Appeal, Monica Dongban-Mensem has the power to set up election tribunals.

Recently, 257 judges of the courts of coordinate jurisdiction across the federation, were drafted by the National Judicial Council to adjudicate disputes arising from over 400 petitions that were filed by 10 different political parties and their candidates to challenge the various election results that were announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

An Abuja-based legal practitioner, Marshal Abubakar said the nominations would slow down justice in other minor and non-political cases in each of the judges’ jurisdictions for about six to eight months.

Some of the major timelines of the governorship elections petitions were between Chris Ngige of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and Peter Obi of the Action Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), in 2003.

Ngige’s victory as governor of Anambra State was overturned by the Court of Appeal in 2006.

Also, Peter Obi and Andy Uba of Anambra State in 2007, Rotimi Amechi vs Celestine Omehia of Rivers State, Adams Oshiomole vs Oserheimen Osunbo of Edo State, Timpire Sylva vs Ebitimi Amgbare of Bayelsa State, Ibrahim Idris vs Abubakar Audu of Kogi State.

Others were Olusegun Mimiko vs late Segun Agagu of Ondo State in 2009, Rauf Aregbesola vs Olagunsoye Oyinlola of Osun State in 2010, and Sen Hope Uzodinma vs Emeka Ihedioha of Imo State, which occurred in 2019.

Meanwhile, the timeline of the Presidential Election Petitions was between Olusegun Obasanjo vs Olu Falae in 1999, Olusegun Obasanjo vs Muhammadu Buhari in 2003, Late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua vs Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar in 2007, Goodluck Jonathan vs Muhammadu Buhari in 2011, Muhammadu Buhari vs Atiku Abubakar in 2019 and the current petition which is between Bola Ahmed Tinubu vs Peter Obi and Atiku Abubakar.

Despite INEC‘s reassurances in every electoral year to conduct free, fair, and credible elections in the country, why were there still a series of petitions between rival political parties, their candidates and the electoral umpire?

Is the right of Nigerians to have a credible election as guaranteed by the law being violated by INEC?

A Lawyer and International Observer, Ifeanyi Okolie stressed the need for INEC to abide by its own rules.

Chairman of INEC, Prof Mahmood Yakubu promised that technology would be deployed from Voter Registration to Voter Accreditation and result management through the use of the INEC Result Viewing (IReV) portal.

The BVAS was introduced by INEC in line with Section 148 of the Electoral Act, which gives INEC power to make guidelines and regulations to ensure the full effect of the law.

A resident of Abuja, Andrew Orulua expressed disappointment in the conduct of the 2023 general election by INEC, adding that it was marred with electoral malpractices and irregularities.

However, Marshal Abubakar emphasised that there was no position under any law in the country that mandates INEC to post election results electronically.

Experts are of the view that INEC and other relevant stakeholders should do more by putting the right mechanisms in place and adopting best practices to ensure that subsequent elections are conducted in a credible and transparent process.

Writing by Ifeoma Nwovu; Editing by Muzha Kucha, Adeniyi Bakare and Julian Osamoto