After a long and intense election season, Nigeria has finally elected a new president and members of the national assembly. Bola Tinubu, the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, was declared the winner of the presidential election on February 25, beating out his closest competitors, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP).
However, the results of the election have been met with mixed reactions, with some Nigerians describing it as irregular, while others believe it was free and fair. The opposition parties, particularly the PDP and LP, have expressed their dissatisfaction with the electoral process, particularly the transmission of results. They are demanding that the presidential election be conducted again, stating that it was “far from being fair or transparent”.
Datti Baba-Ahmed, the vice-presidential candidate of LP, has claimed that his party won the election “but it was rigged”. Similarly, Atiku Abubakar has said that the election was marred by manipulations and should be challenged in court. It appears that both presidential candidates from the opposition parties are heading to court to seek redress.
But how does one navigate post-election disputes? In Nigeria, election matters are handled by specialised courts – election petition tribunals. According to Section 130 (1) of the Electoral Act, no election and return at an election under this Act shall be questioned in any manner other than by a petition complaining of an undue election or undue return presented to the competent tribunal or court in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution or of this Act, and in which the person elected or returned is joined as a party.
It is a statutory responsibility of the court of appeal to set up the tribunals not later than 30 days before the elections, as stated in Section 130(3)(a) of the Electoral Act 2022. The register of the tribunals is expected to be opened for business at least seven days ahead of the elections.
Only a candidate who participated in an election and/or a political party can file a petition to challenge the outcome. An election petition must be presented and filed within 21 days of the declaration of the result. If a petitioner fails to file their petition within 21 days, they lose the right of action, and that petition would be deemed statute barred. Additionally, an election petition must be heard, and judgement delivered within 180 days from the date of filing the petition.
If the judgement of the tribunal is not satisfactory, a petitioner is allowed to explore an appeal. However, it is important to note that only a presidential election petition can get to the supreme court. The court of appeal’s decision in cases involving national and state assemblies election petitions is final and cannot be further appealed.
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