Nigeria wobbles under weak electoral laws
On Wednesday, the world listened to Nigeria for eight hours as Nigerian lawyers took a landmark decision on the political future of Nigeria. But the long hours of wait ended without giving anyone any flicker of hope.
In 2018, President Buhari had the opportunity to scale-up Nigeria’s electoral laws by signing the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2018. But he declined. That was less than six months after the President rejected the first one amendment proposal.
Buhari’s reason was: “There is a cross-referencing error in the proposed amendment to Section 18 of the Bill. The appropriate amendment is to substitute the existing sub-section (2) with the proposed subsection (1A), while the proposed sub-section (1B) is the new sub-section (2A).”
There was an overwhelming acceptance of a review of Nigeria’s electoral system to make them easier for people to vote and harder for politicians to manipulate, using electronic means.
Nigeria carried-over the imbalances in the electoral law into the 2019 election and had a bad experience.
Nigeria’s 2019 general elections won by President Muhammadu Buhari and his All Progressives Congress were adjudged to be faulty, non-transparent and were marred by violence and harassment of voters.
Foreign election observers led by the European Union observer mission confirmed this.
“The elections became increasingly marred by violence and intimidation, with the role of the security agencies becoming more contentious as the process progressed,” the EU observers said Saturday in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, in their final report on the Feb. 23 and March 2 votes. “This damaged the integrity of the electoral process and may deter future participation.”
But the ruling party accused the international community of undue interference into Nigeria’s home affairs.
The elections gave Buhari, 76, a second four-year term with 56% of the vote, while Atiku Abubakar, a former Vice President and candidate of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, came second with 41%. The ruling party also won a majority of parliamentary seats.
Reports At least 58 people, including election officials, were killed in voting-related violence, according to the Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room, a coalition of civic groups that monitored the vote.
Abubakar and the opposition PDP have filed a court petition challenging the presidential election outcome, arguing he would’ve won but for rigged voting in Buhari’s favor.
Yesterday, the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT), dismissed the suit filed by the PDP and its presidential candidate, Abubakar, largely on the lack of substantial evidence.
The verdict brought to an end the six-month legal battle embarked upon by the PDP and Atiku, seeking to upturn the declaration of President Muhammadu Buhari as winner of the February 23 presidential election.
Vowing to seek redress at the Supreme Court, the PDP described the judgment as “provocative, barefaced subversion of justice, and a direct assault on the integrity of our nation’s justice system.”
Also, speaking shortly after the judgment, a member of Atiku’s legal team, Chief Mike Ozekhome vowed that his clients would appeal the judgment.
He said: “That we are appealing to the Supreme Court is as sure and certain as death. The only most certain thing in our lives is death, and our appealing this decision is as certain as death.
“We shall challenge many things in the judgment. We will challenge the misapplication of the Electoral Act. We will look at misevaluation and even non-evaluation of critical evidence, which would have swung the case in favour of the petitioners. So, it is not yet Ohuru for the respondents. We would rather say that this is the beginning of the struggle to liberate Nigerians.”
The tribunal dismissed the petition filed by the PDP and Atiku for failing to substantiate their petitions beyond reasonable doubt.
The five-man panel led by Justice Muhammed Garba, which took the grounds of the petition one after the other, dismissed the petitions in their entirety in the unanimous judgment that lasted about eight hours.
It described the issues contained in the petitions as mere allegations and lacking in probative value.
On the allegation that Buhari lied on oath when he filled in his Form C 001 that he possesses the West African School Certificate, Gaba resolved the issue against the petitioners on the ground that a school certificate is not a requirement for contesting the position of president.
The tribunal further stated that Buhari’s failure to tender his certificates while submitting compulsory documents to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) did not translate to not possessing the certificate or not being educated up to secondary school level.
“There is no doubt that the second respondent is not only qualified to contest the election, he is eminently qualified to contest,” said Garba.
He held that even the exhibits tendered by Atiku and the PDP proved further Buhari’s qualification.
The tribunal also struck out the petition that the February 23 presidential election results were electronically transmitted. The panel held that evidence put forward by the petitioners were unreliable and inadmissible because such were hearsay.
It stated that the petitioners’ position that the results announced by the INEC differed from the original results was based on information from a third party, therefore lacking in probate value.
“The method of collation and transmission of results according to the Electoral Act is manual at every level. There is no provision in the exhibit that results were transmitted electronically in the 2019 election.
“The petitioners have failed to establish the claim of electronic transmission of results at all levels of the election. Hence, the petitioners failed to prove this aspect of this case.”
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Albert Akpomudje, said: “The tribunal relied on the previous decisions of the Supreme Court concerning the use of the card reader. With that, how can the petitioners say the results were transmitted through the card readers to the server? The card reader is not backed up by the Electoral Act. If Buhari had signed the Electoral Act, which made provision for all that, it would have been a different case.
“So, there is no way the panel would have departed from the decision of the Supreme Court. If you noticed, they were quoting the Supreme Court justices all through. We are still using the same electoral law, so what has become different? That is the main issue.
“The issue of Buhari not being qualified was something they were just gambling with. How can you say that about somebody who has been head of state twice? How can you say such a man doesn’t posses the requirement to be head of state and he has held such an office twice under military and civilian governments?”
Another SAN, Mr. Chijioke Okoli, said: “I am not surprised at the decision. I didn’t expect anything contrary. Presidential election petition is a political matter, no matter how anybody sees it. How can you expect the court to rule in favour of Atiku when there are no nationwide sustained agitations? Judgment in favour of Atiku is not going to happen, no matter how the law favours him. That can only happen if there are enough crises and serious agitation and pressure from the citizens.”
On his part, a Lagos-based lawyer, Toluwani Adebiyi, noted: “It is a well and thoroughly delivered judgment. Counsel to Atiku are a bunch of disappointment, bringing 62 witnesses and none of them is an eyewitness, not even their own party agents or PDP voters. Even their own documents worked against them. It is a big shame. Atiku had a very good case but not well proved by his conglomerate of ‘SANs’.”