THE Presidential and National Assembly elections were held in Nigeria on February 25, 2023.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the winner of the presidential poll, ahead of 17 other candidates that contested the election.
The Chairman of INEC, Mahmood Yakubu, announced the results in the early hours of Wednesday, March 1, 2023.
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According to the released result from INEC, Tinubu scored a total of 8,794,726 votes to defeat Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who polled a total of 6,984,520 votes, and Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP), who came third with a total of 6,101,533 votes.
It should be noted that the Nigerian Supreme Court has never overturned a presidential dispute.
Election petitions question the legitimacy of an election or contest the outcome.
It is a legitimate strategy for arguing that a declared or returned candidate did not win an election.
Election petition tribunals are specialised courts that handle election cases instead of regular courts.
Elections in Nigeria are governed by Section 288 of the Constitution and the Electoral Act 2022.
Setting up Election Tribunal
It is a statutory responsibility of the Court of Appeal to set up the tribunals 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 at least seven days ahead of the elections.
The Court of Appeal acts as the court to handle presidential election issues. In contrast, Tribunals handle National, State Assembly and gubernatorial elections.
Who qualifies to file an election petition?
No matter how passionately a citizen feels about an election, merely being a Nigerian cannot serve as sufficient justification for launching a judicial challenge.
Only a candidate who ran for office or a political party may submit a petition to contest the results.
Grounds for filing an election petition
Section 134 of the Electoral Act states the grounds on which a petition can be filed.
-That a winner of an election has been certified but is ineligible to run
-That the majority of legitimate votes cast in the election were not cast for the victor
-That the Election Act’s rules were broken or that corrupt practices tainted the election
-That the Petitioner or its candidate was unlawfully excluded from the election even when he was lawfully nominated
-That the person whose election is questioned had submitted to INEC an affidavit containing false information of a fundamental nature in aid of his qualification for the election.
Part 8 of the Electoral Act deals with the procedure governing Election Petitions.
Timeline for filing election petition at the Tribunal
An election petition must be presented and filed within 21 days of the declaration of the result.
When a petitioner misses the deadline to file his petition, and it is later ruled to be statute-barred, he forfeits his right to bring the case.
Time for determining election petition
An election petition must be heard and judgment delivered within 180 days from the date of the filing of the petition.
At the Tribunal level (Appeal Court in case of a presidential election) – 180 Days (6 months)
At the Appeal level (Supreme Court in case of presidential election) – 60 days (2 months)
In total- 240 days (8 months)
LEVELS OF APPEAL
The Court of Appeal hears presidential election petitions. Section 133 (2)(a) of the Electoral Act
However, it is pertinent to note that a presidential election petition can reach the Supreme Court.
Number of Judges
In case of a presidential election, 5 Justices of the Appeal Court will determine the petition, while seven Justices will sit to decide the appeal.