A significant chapter of the 2023 presidential election was closed on September 6 with the outcome of the trial brought forward by petitioners who frowned at the Independent National Electoral Commission for declaring Bola Tinubu, the presidential flag bearer of the All Progressives Congress, as the winner of the February 25 election with 8,794,726 votes.
The People’s Democratic Party, its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar; Labour Party, its presidential candidate, Peter Obi; as well as the Allied Peoples Movement, challenged Tinubu’s victory at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal.
For about four months, the nation waited with bated breath as the five-member panel of the Court of Appealpainstakingly set about the different stages of adjudication; beginning with pre-trial, trial and the verdict.
As expected of such a matter of great seriousness and national importance, it generated fever-pitch interest at every turn, sometimes leading to inflammatory utterances from persons who are not familiar with judicial conduct and procedure.
Perhaps, a new twist to the outcome of the 2023 presidential election was the intense pressure on the Judiciary by vocal supporters of a particular litigant. The height of this provocative, subtle arm-twisting and blackmail was the infamous ‘All Eyes on the Judiciary’ billboards mounted in the FCT.
It is instructive to note that there was no dissenting voice among the five judges – Justice Haruna Tsammani, Justice Stephen Adah, Justice Misitura Bolaji-Yusuf, Justice Moses Ugo and Justice Abba Mohammed – as all of them unanimously upheld the election of Bola Tinubu as the President of Nigeria.
The Tribunal threw away the case of the APM for lack of merit, while it held, among other decisions, that Abubakar and Obi could not substantiate their claims of widespread irregularities by mentioning specific places that they occurred.
Perhaps, a new twist to the outcome of the 2023 presidential election was the intense pressure on the Judiciary by vocal supporters of a particular litigant. The height of this provocative, subtle arm-twisting and blackmail was the infamous ‘All Eyes on the Judiciary’ billboards mounted in the FCT
The judges declared that the Federal Capital Territory does not have a special status, necessitating that a presidential candidate must win 25 per cent of votes in that jurisdiction.
Another contentious matter on which the judges took a position was the issue of double nomination affecting Vice President Kashim Shettima, which was struck out.
Citing several legal authorities, including previously concluded cases by the Supreme Court, the PEPT judges delivered a 12-hour judgement, which has become a locus classicus in many respects.
According to Section 134 of the Electoral Act, 2022, a party that intends to challenge the process and/or outcome of an election can do so on the basis of the elected individual not being qualified at the time of the election; invalidity of the election by reason of corrupt practices and non-compliance with the provisions of the Act; and/or the respondent not being duly elected by the majority of the lawful votes cast at the election.
Section 132(7) and (8) of the Electoral Act, 2022 also provide that the election petition must be filed within 21 days after the date of the declaration of results of the elections and the Tribunal shall deliver a judgement in writing within 180 days from the date of the filing of the petition.
With the exception of the 2015 election, every presidential election held since 1999 has ended in legal fireworks, but none was as dramatic as the just-concluded presidential election.
As far back as 1979, in the presidential election that pitched Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Unity Party of Nigeria against Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria, contestants for Nigeria’s presidency have always followed the costly and querulous path of declaring dispute against election results announced by aproperly constituted body charged with the responsibility of conducting elections.
So far, no challenge to announced presidential election results has been successful, although the matter has often been pursued to the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court.
As the two major litigants in the 2023 presidential election have already indicated interest to exploit the 90-day window within which to approach the Supreme Court, The Point will keep its commentary within the pronouncements of the PEPT.
While acknowledging the right of the litigants to approach the courts to register their displeasure over the election results, it is very pertinent to caution presidential contestants to rein in their supporters, impressing on them the importance of decorous behaviours. Encouraging vicious attacks and spurious allegations on eminent personalities, particularly judicial officers, debases some of the institutions on which Nigeria’sdemocratic traditions are founded.
Having approached the courts, litigants must, in all their conducts and utterances, display implicit faith in the capacity of the judges to discharge their duties without fear or favour.
It is by seeking the interpretation from the courts that grey areas in the country’s laws can be illuminated.
Therefore, the petitioners on their own are necessary drivers that help to deepen Nigeria’s democratic culture.
Indeed, political parties that have approached the election petition tribunal at different levels have recorded a mixed bag of spectacular wins and shocking losses; which they should accept in the spirit of sportsmanship. However, every candidate has a right of appeal, particularly where there are credible grounds.
As the Judiciary is the last hope of the aggrieved to get justice, greedy politicians must not erode the confidence of the populace in its integrity.