Now that the dust is settling, By Ahmed Sule
The dust raised by the declaration of Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress as the winner of the 25 February 2023 presidential election by the Independent Electoral Commission appears to be settling as the dispute is gradually moving from the noisy protestations on the streets and social media to the serene atmosphere of the courtroom for judicial review.
About three weeks ago, four of the defeated presidential candidates, Peter Obi of the Labour Party, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party, Solomon Okangbuan of the Action Alliance, and Chichi Ojei of the Allied People’s Movement approached the Presidential Election Petition Court with their petitions, asking the court to nullify the election of Tinubu.
The petitions, which came on the last day allowed by the Electoral Act for filing of complaints by aggrieved contestants, claimed in the main that the presidential election was fraught with irregularities and did not meet the requirements of the law and INEC guidelines guiding the electoral process. The complainants made heavy weather of the failure of the electoral body to upload results in real-time to the portal, claiming the act marred the credibility of the poll.
More specifically, Obi alleged that Tinubu was not qualified to contest the election because he had been indicted in a drug case in the United States around 1992 and that the APC ticket had been rendered invalid by the alleged double nomination of the running mate, Kashim Shettima. He also contended that the failure of the declared winner to score 25 per cent of the votes in the FCT, Abuja vitiated that declaration. His petition was filed by Livy Uzoukwu, a senior advocate of Nigeria, who is leading 12 other silks. Incidentally, Uzoukwu led Atiku’s legal team in 2019.
With the filing of the petitions, opposition politicians and their supporters effectively migrated from the streets to social media where they eulogised the submissions of their legal team even as Obi specifically admonished his foot soldiers to respect the sanctity of the court. The prospect of a favourable legal battle would seem to have calmed frayed nerves arising from the electoral routing of their principals.
The INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, had declared Tinubu the winner of the closely contested race on 1 March, saying the APC candidate, posted 8,794,726 votes to beat Atiku, who scored 6,984,520 votes; Obi at 6,101,533 votes; and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigerian Peoples Party, who gathered 1,496,687 votes. He also said the APC flag bearer scored 25 per cent of the votes cast in 29 states of the federation, four states more than the constitutional requirement.
Now, the first and second runner-ups want the declaration annulled by the court. Curiously, both are claiming victory, telling the court to do justice to their cases. For some moments their claims energised their supporters who saw in them a ray of hope that what they lost on 25 February could still be found in the courtroom. But Tinubu and INEC are damping that hope with their robust reply to the twosome petitions, saying they not only lack merit but that they are also frivolous.
The INEC in its response brief filed by learned silk Abubakar Mahmood, defended its declaration of Tinubu, contending that he met the requirements of the Constitution and the Electoral Act by scoring the majority of the votes cast, as well as met the second threshold of 25 per cent of the votes in two-thirds of the 36 states of the federation and Abuja. It punctured holds in Obi’s claim that Tinubu ought to have scored 25 per cent of the votes in Abuja to be declared the winner.
“The first respondent (INEC) denies that scoring 25 per cent of the votes cast in the Federal Capital Territory is a condition precedent to the declaration and return of a candidate in the presidential election,” Mahmood argued in the brief, contending that the FCT, beyond being the country’s capital “has no special constitutional status over and above the other 36 states of the Federation to require a candidate in the presidential election to obtain at least 25 per cent of the votes cast in the FCT before being declared winner of the presidential election.”
According to him, “The declaration and return of the second respondent [Tinubu] was not wrongful and was made in accordance with the provisions of Section 134 (2) (b) of the Constitution, the second respondent having scored one quarter (25 per cent) of the valid votes cast in 29 states which are beyond the constitutional threshold for such declaration.”
Tinubu and his APC’s lawyers were more brutal as they went for Obi’s jugular, contending that he was not even a validly nominated candidate since he was still a member of the PDP as the 30 April 2022 deadline for the submission of the register of members by all political parties organising primaries for the candidates vying for positions for the 2023 general elections.
Amongst others, the APC claimed that the LP lacked the necessary locus standi to initiate the suit on the grounds that it did not present a valid candidate for that election.
The party said in its preliminary objection filed by Thomas Ojo from the chambers of Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, “The 1st Petitioner[Obi] herein resigned his membership of the PDP on May 26, 2022, and joined the Labour Party the following day being May 27, 2022. The 2nd Petitioner [LP] herein conducted its Presidential Primary on May 30, 2022, which produced the 1st Petitioner [Obi] as the candidate it intended to sponsor in the General Election.
“By section 77(3) of the Electoral Act, 2022, the 2nd Petitioner [LP] is mandated to have submitted its comprehensive register of members to the Ist Respondent [INEC] 30 days before its presidential primary, that is to say, the said register of members must have been submitted to the Ist Respondent [INEC] on or before 30th April 2022.
“The 1st Petitioner as of April 30, 2022, was still a member of the PDP and his name was not and could not have been in the register of members submitted by the 2nd Petitioner [LP] to 1st Respondent [INEC].”
Besides, the APC argued that the LP and Obi’s petition was defective because they failed to join Atiku, who came second, contending that it was impossible to cancel the PDP candidate’s votes without hearing from him. “Alhaji Atiku Abubakar must be heard before his votes can be discountenanced by the Tribunal,” the winning party argued.
On the issue of double nomination by Shettima, the APC dismissed it as a non-issue, stating that it was not only statute-bared but had also been determined by the Court of Appeal last month in favour of the vice-president-elect.
Well, now that issues have been joined at the petition court created by the 1999 Constitution as altered, and the Electoral Act 2022, it is hoped that all aggrieved parties will relax their nerves in the belief that the judicial review will do what is right according to law.
Sule, a political analyst, writes from Kaduna
First published in Thisday Newspapers