In a devastating blow to Nigeria’s opposition parties, the presidential election tribunal has upheld Bola Tinubu’s victory in the highly disputed election held on February 25th. This decision has left opposition supporters disheartened and questioning the state of the country’s democracy.
The election was fiercely contested between Tinubu, who now holds the presidency, and the leading opposition candidates – Atiku Abubakar from the People’s Democratic Party and Peter Obi from the Labour Party. The opposition parties, in separate lawsuits, argued that Tinubu was not eligible to run for the presidency. They cited allegations of dual citizenship and drug conviction cases in the United States, as well as claims of over-voting, result manipulation, forged certificates, and Tinubu’s failure to secure 25 percent of votes in the capital city.
However, all of these arguments were dismissed by the court, leading to deep disappointment and frustration among opposition supporters. Many feel that the judicial process was biassed and predetermined.
“For a fact, I was not surprised at the result. I have little or no faith in the judiciary following the past judgments that have been passed. But I did not expect that the quality of the judgement would be as poor as it is,” said Armstrong Zittas, a 25-year-old teacher and PDP member in Lafia, a city located two hours east of Abuja.
Zittas’ sentiment reflects the sentiments of many opposition supporters who believe that the verdict was not based on the merits of the case, but rather on political considerations. They argue that the tribunal’s decision was a foregone conclusion and that the process lacked transparency and fairness.
“This was more of a pronouncement than a judgement. It is only in this part of the world that you will make a law and not abide by that law,” Zittas added.
The opposition parties have rejected the tribunal’s judgement and have vowed to continue their fight for justice. They are considering all available legal options, including appealing to higher courts and pursuing civil disobedience campaigns.
The outcome of this tribunal decision has far-reaching implications for Nigeria’s democracy. It raises concerns about the integrity of the electoral process and the independence of the judiciary. With the opposition’s faith in the judiciary shattered, it will be a challenging task to rebuild trust and confidence in the electoral system.
Furthermore, the upheld election results could deepen political divisions in the country, potentially leading to increased tensions and even violence. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, is already grappling with various economic and security challenges. A compromised electoral process could further undermine stability and hinder efforts to address these pressing issues.
The unsurprising outcome
The affirmation of Tinubu’s victory comes as no surprise to many. In Nigeria, the overturning of a presidential election has been a rare occurrence since 1999, despite ongoing challenges and electoral malpractice.
As per Nigeria’s constitution, a challenge to the electoral commission’s declaration does not halt the inauguration of the winner. This process presents a formidable obstacle for removing a sitting president.
“It was highly unlikely that they would have been able to unseat a sitting president, and all the evidence we have seen supports this,” noted Tunde Ajileye, a partner at SBM Intelligence, a Lagos-based geopolitical intelligence consultancy. “Once one of the defendants in electoral matters is sworn in and has state power at their disposal, the playing field is no longer equitable in a society like Nigeria.”
Motunrayo Koyejo, a Lagos-based software engineer who cast her vote for the Labour Party in the election, closely followed the proceedings online. She was well aware of past disputed elections but still held out hope for an unexpected outcome. However, her optimism quickly faded as she witnessed the proceedings unfold.
“Looking back at previous tribunals in this country where bad elections took place without any consequences, I was just hoping they would surprise me,” she lamented.
‘The real villain’
The electoral commission played a central role in the legal drama surrounding the country’s elections. With the power to determine the mode of result transmission, the commission introduced the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System, aiming to enhance transparency. This move encouraged a surge in young voters, who made up 40 percent of the voting population, resulting in a record-breaking 93.4 million voters.
However, on election day, widespread technological failures occurred, forcing the Independent National Electoral Commission to resort to manual vote transmission. The opposition parties argued that this decision opened doors for malpractice. Despite their claims, the tribunal ruled in favour of INEC, asserting that the commission had discretionary power over selecting modes of transmission.
This ruling was seen as a setback by some analysts, as it further compromised democracy in Nigeria. Ayisha Osori, director of Open Society Foundations, expressed disappointment and stated that BVAS and electronic transmission were seen as sources of hope for Nigerians leading up to future elections.
Furthermore, despite a court order mandating data disclosure to the opposition parties, INEC failed to comply with this request. One of the presiding judges highlighted how this refusal hindered the opposition’s chances during legal proceedings.
“If INEC was able to ignore a court order during a process of the tribunal, what is the evidence they were taking the tribunal seriously and that the tribunal was taking itself seriously as well? In this election, they are the real villains,” Ajileye said.
With a narrow victory margin of only 37 percent of votes, the lowest in Nigeria’s history, President Tinubu’s first 100 days in office have failed to convince his critics.
Since taking office, Tinubu has made unpopular decisions such as removing fuel subsidies and supporting currency devaluation, resulting in increased costs of living. He has also assembled the largest ministerial cabinet in the country’s history, a team of 42 individuals, at a time when the nation is grappling with inherited debts from his predecessor Muhammadu Buhari and concerns about public spending.
On the international stage, Tinubu, who chairs the Economic Community of West African States, has been criticised for rushing into armed conflict with Nigeria’s military government.
Many of his opponents were hopeful that the tribunal would overturn his victory in anticipation of an improved economic situation.
“The cost of living has become unbearable. Buhari was bad, but this is worse. I went out to buy soda yesterday and was shocked to see that the price had tripled,” said Koyejo.
The tribunal’s decision is expected to be taken to the Supreme Court for final judgement; however, opposition supporters have little confidence in the judiciary.
Furthermore, some argue that the electoral system itself needs restructuring before future elections.
According to Afolabi Adekaiyaoja, an analyst at the Centre for Democracy and Development, there is a certain level of disillusionment among some individuals regarding the outcome of the election. This sentiment is particularly relevant when considering that over 60 percent of voters did not cast their vote for the new administration. Adekaiyaoja emphasises that there is a substantial amount of work required to address election legislation in order to ensure future polls can be conducted with freedom and fairness.