Will the 2023 electoral petition break the jinx of an opposition winning a presidential petition in the courts?
●26th May 2023
Nigeria has held seven general elections since the beginning of its fourth republic, which is the country’s longest period of democratic rule. These elections were held in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015, 2019, and 2023. The elections were for the offices of president, governors, members of the national assembly (Senate and House of Representatives), and members of state houses of assembly. Each election was followed by a number of legal challenges. Most of the presidential elections held in Nigeria since the fourth republic have ended up in court. This trend has continued with the 2023 (presidential) election, which the two main opposition parties – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Labour Party (LP), are currently challenging at the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (see the work of Shola and Gbanga, 2023).
We are going to briefly review the various presidential electoral petitions by the losing parties since 1999 to see if following that trend there is any chance of winning for the various opposition parties contesting the recently held presidential elections in Nigeria.
There have been a number of election petitions in Nigeria since 1999, the year the country returned to democratic rule. Some of the most notable cases are highlighted:
1.The 2003 Nigerian presidential election was held on April 19, 2003. The incumbent president, Olusegun Obasanjo, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was re-elected, defeating the candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Muhammadu Buhari. Buhari challenged the results of the election, alleging that there were widespread irregularities and fraud. The petition was heard by the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, which dismissed the petition on December 20, 2004. Buhari appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which upheld the decision of the Tribunal on July 1, 2005.
3. The 2011 Nigerian presidential election was held on April 16, 2011. The incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was re-elected, defeating the candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Muhammadu Buhari. Buhari challenged the results of the election on the grounds of electoral irregularities and fraud. The petition was heard by the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal. The tribunal dismissed the petition on November 1, 2011. Upon appeal of the decision of the Presidential Election Tribunal to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Tribunal in December 2011.
4. In 2015, the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan lost the presidential elections and refused to challenge the electoral victory of Muhammadu Buhari. It became a first in the history of electioneering in Nigeria since the return to democracy in 1999. In fact, he became the first losing presidential candidate in the recent history of elections in Nigeria to congratulate the winner. The presidential elections of 2015 was the first time an incumbent lost a reelection bid in Nigeria.
5. In 2019, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, filed a petition challenging the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari in the February 23, 2019 presidential election. The petition was filed on March 18, 2019, and the tribunal began hearing the case on May 8, 2019. The tribunal delivered its judgment on September 11, 2019, dismissing the petition and upholding the victory of President Buhari. The case was appealed at the Supreme Court where it was dismissed in October 2019.
In all of these cases, the party in power has won the election petition. This has led to accusations that the electoral system is biased in favour of the incumbent party. There are a number of reasons why election petitions are common in Nigeria. One reason is that the electoral process is often marred by irregularities and fraud, making it difficult in many instances to determine the true winner of an election. Another reason is that the legal framework for election petitions is complex and very difficult to navigate. This can make it difficult for candidates to successfully challenge the results of an election.
The victory of the All Progressives Congress and Bola Ahmed Tinubu is currently being challenged in court. Will the 2023 electoral petition break the jinx of an opposition winning a presidential petition in the courts? If historical precedence is followed, the answer will be a resounding “No”, however, only time will tell.