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3,479 petitions filed in 4 election cycles

…Despite reforms A total of 3,479 petitions have been filed in the four election cycles in Nigeria, between 2007 and 2019, findings by Daily Trust…

  • …Despite reforms

A total of 3,479 petitions have been filed in the four election cycles in Nigeria, between 2007 and 2019, findings by Daily Trust have shown.

The number raises concern that despite electoral reforms of the post-2007 general elections, different infractions have continued to dent elections in the country.

Some experts and lawyers who spoke to Daily Trust see the high rate of election petitions as a sign of loss of confidence in the country’s electoral process, while others believe the petitions are used by politicians as bargaining chip or to keep their supporters together after an election.

In December, Senate President Ahmed Lawan said the National Assembly will from this month begin debate on the Electoral Reforms Amendment Bill, Amendment of the 1999 Constitution and the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).

He said the Electoral Reforms Amendment Bill remains a priority because of the urgent need to improve the electoral processes and secure the democratic gains made in the fourth republic.

“We want to pass the bill well ahead of the next electoral cycle in 2023 and avoid the political heat and pitfalls that imperiled the efforts of the 8th National Assembly to pass the same bill close to the last general elections,” he said.


INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu.
INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu.

List of petitions from 2007 to 2019

The 2007 elections were the most litigated elections with about 1,282 petitions received, according to records from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). There were eight presidential election petitions, a development that necessitated the electoral reforms commissioned by late President Umaru Yar’Adua.

A legal practitioner, Dr Daniel Bwala, said the loss of confidence in that election, which was admitted by the then president, Yar’Adua, who happened to be the biggest beneficiary, showed that the electoral process was flawed.

Bwala, who observed that pre-election disputes rose due to the level of injustice compared to the post-election process, explained that the reforms that followed that election reduced the number of electoral petitions in the subsequent election cycles.

He said the reforms that are being introduced in the electoral laws in the National Assembly will lead to better elections in the future and will also reduce petitions.

However, Ibrahim Sani Musa, a political scientist has a different view. “It is obvious why we had more petitions after the 2007 election. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo who was rounding up his second term wanted his preferred candidate (Yar’Adua) and by extension all candidates of PDP to win; so many things did not go well,” he said.

The 2011 general elections had 727 petitions in all – 53 in form of governorship election petitions from 24 states; 90 petitions on the senatorial seats; 206 petitions on the House of Representatives seats, and 377 petitions were filed for state assembly elections.

“Fundamentally, I think some of the reforms that happened between 2007 and 2011 helped a lot in reducing the number of petitions,” Sani Musa said.

In the aftermath of the 2015 general elections, a total of 663 petitions were filed in the courts. Of this, 41 petitions were filed against the governorship elections from 24 states, 81 petitions were filed for senatorial seats, 175 petitions were filed for House of Representatives seats, and 366 seats were filed for the House of Assembly seats.

“I think the card reader played a great role in 2015; it helped a lot this time around,” Sani Musa said, adding “when INEC said it will use the card reader, many politicians with ulterior motives were scared.

In 2019, a total of 807 election petitions were filed in the aftermath of the elections, according to INEC. Of this, 66 were from governorship elections in 26 states, 107 petitions for senatorial seats, 207 for House of Representatives seats, and 417 petitions were filed against House of Assembly elections.

Sani Musa said the reduction in the number of petitions showed that despite imperfections, Nigeria’s democracy is maturing. “But above all, politicians must change their mantra… Electoral reform is one thing and attitude is completely another,” he said.

A zone by zone breakdown of the petitions showed that the South East, with five states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo, has the highest number of election petitions in the four cycles with 819 petitions. The South South, with six states of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo and Rivers, followed closely with 772 petitions filed within the period.

The North Central, comprising Benue, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger and Plateau, came third with 542 petitions filed during the 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019 general elections. The zone is followed closely by the South West, which has six states – Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo – with a total of 524 petitions filed in the four election cycles.

The North West, with seven states of Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara, has the second lowest petitions filed in the four election cycles with 460 petitions. But the North East, which is made up of six states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe, has the least number of election petitions with 323.

The Federal Capital Territory registered a total of 26 petitions. The territory had 17 election petitions in 2007, three petitions in 2011, 2015 and 2019 general elections respectively.

A further breakdown of the lists by states showed that Anambra had the highest number of petitions in the four cycles with a total of 286 petitions, followed by Delta with 197 petitions, while Rivers is third with 186.

The tribunals and INEC received 154 election petitions from Anambra State in 2007, 68 in 2011, 28 in 2015 and 42 in 2019. They received 52 election petitions from Delta in 2007, 50 in 2011, 43 in 2015 and 52 in 2019. They also received from Rivers State, 67 election petitions in 2007, 40 petitions in 2011, 55 in 2015, and 24 in 2019.

These are exclusive of pre-election suits resulting from party primaries in all the election cycles. They are also without the petitions from the outcome of the governorship and senatorial re-run elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states. There was no presidential election petition in 2015 as Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) opted not to challenge the emergence of Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC). But there were eight presidential election petitions in 2007, one in 2011, and four in 2019.


Electoral reforms after 2007 general elections

Yar’Adua, who vowed to end electoral irregularities in Nigeria after the 2007 general elections, set up the Justice Muhammadu Uwais committee to look into means of enhancing elections in the country. The panel submitted its report on December 11, 2008.

The Uwais panel made some recommendations including: establishment of commissions to deal with Electoral Offences, Constituency Delimitation and Political Parties Registration and Regulation, which powers would be divested from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

The panel recommended proportional representation in elections to the federal and state legislatures and to the local government councils. It also recommended that the judiciary should appoint the head of INEC.

Not all the recommendations were accepted by the National Assembly when the full report was submitted by the then President Goodluck Jonathan administration prior to the 2011 general elections. Part of the grouse of the lawmakers was that allowing the judiciary, which is empowered by the constitution to hear election petitions, to also nominate the head of the electoral umpire, would breach the principle of separation of powers.

But the reforms kick-started by that process, such as the Electoral Acts Amendment Laws of 2010 and 2015, helped to restore some form of credibility to the country’s electoral process. Among these were: automation of voters’ data with the Permanent Voters Cards and Smart Card Readers, limit for election campaign spending, and capacity building for electoral officials and judges sitting on election cases.

The reforms also included a reduction of time for determination of election petitions by tribunals because of their special nature. Thus, 180 days was provided in Section 134 (2) and (3) of the Electoral Act, 2010. And similar provisions are contained in Section 285(6) and (7) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

The reforms were not too different from the recommendations of the Senator Ken Nnamani Committee set up by President Muhammadu Buhari which submitted its report in May 2017.

After the judgement of the Supreme Court on Wednesday October 30 dismissing the appeal to the petition by the PDP and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, a lot of experts noted that there are many flaws in Nigeria’s electoral and judicial process.  Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege in October co-sponsored an Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2019 with Senator Abubakar Kyari (APC- Borno) which seeks to recognize electronic transmission of votes in Nigeria’s elections. The bill scaled second reading at the Senate.


Experts, lawyers differ on post-election litigations

A Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Prof. Jibrin Ibrahim, said lack of transparent primaries, violence, fraud and vote buying are major issue responsible for the many election petitions in Nigeria.

“So, I don’t think it is a question of INEC. It is that there are series of issues that persist in our elections, and precisely because of that, the litigations continue to increase,” he said.

He said reform is not the main issue but for all stakeholders to commit themselves to following laws and regulations to increase the integrity of the electoral process without resort to the judicial process.

An Abuja-based lawyer, E.M.D. Umukoro Esq. said, “With the way more people have gone to challenge this (2019) elections despite the state of the economy, it tells you that people are not satisfied with the outcomes.”

He also said the statistics should speak to INEC and the government, adding: “You can’t have these figures staring the electoral process in the face and conclude that all is well with the system or claim there is progress in the electoral process in Nigeria.”

But a law lecturer, Abdul Mohammed, identified confidence in the judicial system, dissatisfaction with the elections and political expediency as three factors that may be responsible for most election petitions in Nigeria.

“Of course, there are many challenges pertaining to this very election (2019), but it doesn’t mean that elections are the end of the matter. Another thing is that some politicians go to court to keep their supporters together,” he said.

“Look at what happened at the 2019 presidential election petitions, the issues presented by the PDP. First, they said the president was not qualified by virtue of his certificate; second, they contended that the election was marred in 1,600 polling units. But they only called five witnesses to testify. So, you would see that they were not really serious to show any malpractice had occurred.”

For his part, Hamid Ajibola Jimoh Esq said “The rise in the 2019 election petitions above the past years is a proof that Nigerian electorate are becoming more democratic in electing their political leaders.”

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