By: Jeremiah E. Aneji
Nigerians can attest that the 2023 general elections have been one of the most fiercely contested in recent history. This is evidenced by the massive voter
participation at every stage of the electioneering process. For many, the 2023 general elections present an opportunity for the long-desired change the country has been yearning for.
At the end of the elections, whether victorious or dissatisfied, the attention of the public has now shifted to the various Election Tribunals set up across the country, either to affirm the victory of their candidates or recover an alleged stolen mandate. At the risk of sounding petty, it would be recalled that during the collation of results for the presidential elections at the National Collation Center, some party agents protested the procedure for the collation of the results and called for a suspension of the process. The response of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, who doubles as the Returning Officer for the election, was that anybody who feels dissatisfied with the process should go to the Court.ᶦ
The final conclusion is that however aggrieved you are about the conduct of elections, the only option to seek remedy available to parties is to seek redress in a court of law, which in this case begins from the Tribunals. Over the years, especially in this fourth republic, we have seen the Tribunals make landmark judgments that recovered or reaffirmed the mandate of the people. Of particular mention is the recovery of the mandate of Mr. Peter Obi, in the case of Peter Obi v. INECᶦᶦ after 3 years of legal tussle, and most recently the affirmation of the mandate of Mr. Adeleke as the present Governor of Osun State.
The question on the minds of the Nigerians would now likely be, what are these election tribunals, who presides over them, what are they empowered to do when petitions are brought before them, and how long does the panel deliberate on issues brought before it? All these and more are what we would attempt to throw some light on so as to arm Nigerians with the foreknowledge of what to expect in the journey to affirm or recover their mandate, whatever the case.
Let’s begin this journey by addressing what an Election Tribunal is.
Election Petition Tribunals
Section 285 of the 1999 Constitution as Amended provides for the establishment of Election Tribunals with original jurisdiction to determine the questions as to whether a person has been validly elected into the several electoral offices provided for under the constitution. These offices are the membership of the National Assembly, membership of the State Houses of Assembly, governors or deputy governors of a state. This also includes questions bothering whether a person had been validly elected into the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Electoral Act, 2022 also re-stated the mandate of the Election Tribunals.
Types of Election Petition Tribunals
There are different Election Petition Tribunals and their composition, touching on the cadre of electoral offices provided for in the 1999 Constitution as Amended.These Election Petition Tribunals are:
A. The National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal – To determine petitions as to whether anyone has been validly elected into the House of Representatives and the Senate.ᶦᶦᶦ
B. The Governorship and Legislative Houses Election Petition Tribunal – To determine petitions as to whether anyone was validly elected to the office of
Governor, Deputy Governor or as a member of any legislative house. This is set up for each state of the federation save for the F.C. T ᶦᵛ
C. Presidential Election Petition Tribunal – This is set up to determine petitions as to whether anyone was validly elected to the office of President or Vice
President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Composition of Election Petition Tribunal
The National Assembly Election Tribunals and the Governorship and Legislative House Election Tribunal are constituted of a panel presided over by a Chairman and four other members. The members of these panels are appointed from judges of the High Courts, Customary Court of Appeals etc. ᵛ Unlike the other two tribunals, the Presidential Election Tribunal isstrictly constituted by a panel of five Justices of the Court of Appeal.
The Mandate of an Election Tribunal
An Election Tribunal is often set up where the victory of the winner of an election is contested. This victory, according to section 134 of the Electoral Act, 2022, can only be challenged on three(3) grounds which are;
1. A person whose election is questioned was, at the time of the election, not qualified to contest the election; – Where at the time of contesting the elections
it is discovered that the winner was disqualified by virtue of citizenship, age, academic qualifications, or was not the dully sponsored candidate of the political platform on which he won the victory.ᵛᶦ Some of the other grounds for disqualification Constitutional may range from the following;ᵛᶦᶦ
a. He/she had voluntarily acquired citizenship of another country and made declarations to such a country or pledge.
b. He has been convicted and sentenced for an offence relating to dishonesty for less than 10 years preceding the elections.
c. Where he is under a death sentence or serving a sentence for an offence relating to dishonesty.
d. Where he is an undischarged bankrupt.
e. He is a serving member of the public service within 30 days preceding the elections
f. He is a member of a secret society
g. He is been indicted for embezzlement or fraud by a judicial commission or administrative panel of Inquiry or tribunal.
h. He presented forged certificates to the Independent National Electoral Commission.
i. Or is adjudged to be a lunatic.
2. The election was invalid by reason of corrupt practices and non-compliance with the provisions of this Act;ᵛᶦᶦᶦ This applies where it is proven or becomes evidence that the elections were marred with violence, voters’ intimidation, multiple voting, the inability of voters to cast their vote, procedural flaws, multilation of electoral materials or the omission of candidates or their parties from the ballot papers etc.
3. The respondent (Winner) was not duly elected by the majority of the lawful votes cast at the election – This is proven when it is shown that the
candidate/winner did not get the majority of the valid votes cast but was erroneously declared a winner, due to suppression of figures, over voting or that
majority of the votes cast for him had now been declared invalid. It is worthy of note that even where the infractions mentioned under paragraph 2
and 3, is obvious, the Tribunals would not proceed to upturn the elections unless it is shown that such infractions were substantial enough to have affected the outcome of the elections. See the case of Buhari v. Obasanjo with regard to the 2003 election results.ᶦˣ
Now to our final question on the timeframe with which the Tribunal can deliberate and deliver its ruling;
The Duration of the Election Petition Tribunals
Any candidate or political party or candidate who wishes to challenge the outcome of an election is mandated to approach the Panel within 21 days after the declaration of the election results. The Election Petition Tribunal upon receipt of the Petition would commence hearing and deliver its judgement within 180 days.ˣ
The Decisions of the Election Petition Tribunal
Where the Tribunal has taken a position on the petition brought before it, it would do either of the following;
I. Nullify the elections and order the Independent National Electoral Commission to conduct fresh elections into the said office within a given timeframe.
II. Uphold the election of the winner by holding that the candidate was qualified to participate in the elections and or, that the elections were conducted with sufficient compliance to the Electoral Act. Or,
III.Declare the challenger as the duly elected candidate in the election where it is proven that the challenger scored the majority of the votes cast in the elections. Kindly note that the decision of the panel is often subject to appeal. In the case of the National Assembly Elections, aggrieved parties can appeal to the Court of Appeal and whose decision becomes final. While the decision of the Governorship nd Presidential Election Tribunals can be appealed up to the Supreme Court.
The Election Petitions Tribunals are the means through which petitions bothering on the qualification of candidates and electoral malpractices are upheld. Beyond the sentiments of the general public, they worm on the facts available to them and when there is convincing proof may give the reliefs sought in keeping with the requirement of law. At the end of the day, they affirm or restore the stolen mandates.
i Punch Newspaper publication on the 28th of February, 2023 reporting the elections https://punchng.com/nigeriaelections2023-seek-legal-redress-inec-advises-aggrievedparties/ accessed on the 3rd of May, 2023.
ii (2007) 11 NWLR (Pt. 1046) 560
iii Section 285 (1) of the 1999 Constitution As Amended.
iv Section 285(2) of the 1999 Constitution as Amended.
v Schedule VI of the 1999 Constitution as Amended
vi See Section 65, 106, 131 of the 1999 Constitution (As Amended)
vii See Sections 66, 107, 136, and 182 of the 1999 Constitution as Amended
viii The Electoral Act, 2022
ix (2005) 13 NWLR (Pt. 941) p.1
x Section 132(7) & (8) of the Electoral Act, 2022.
This article is for information purpose, it may, or may not reflect the current position of the law and is therefore not intended to provide legal advice or guidance on litigation or provide commentary on any pending case or legislation