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Nigeria’s Elections Were Once Again Disputed In Court, A Stark Reminder Of A Weak Electoral System

The Oasis Reporters


September 13, 2023









An election tribunal recently upheld President Bola Tinubu’s election victory in Nigeria. AFP via Getty Images


Damilola Agbalajobi, Obafemi Awolowo University

Nigeria’s presidential election tribunal on 6 September affirmed President Bola Tinubu’s victory in the disputed February 2023 polls, dismissing the petitions of three political parties. The Labour Party had filed its petition on 21 March; the next day the Peoples Democratic Party and the Allied Peoples Movement followed with theirs. The Conversation Africa asked political scientist Damilola Agbalajobi about the implications of this judgment.


What does the tribunal’s decision imply?


First, never again will anyone lose an election and base an election petition on frivolities. You have to be sure of what you are saying. Petitions are not meant to be based on sentiments. The court is not a Father Christmas and judgment will be based on the evidence. Anyone going to a tribunal will have to prepare very well.


The second implication is that this case has deepened the ethno-religious divisions in Nigeria. It will take a while before the country can overcome this. All the three top presidential candidates played the ethnic card. For instance the Labour Party candidate campaigned in churches. The Peoples Democratic Party candidate said while campaigning in the north that they should remember he was their son. The All Progressive Congress candidate told his people that “Emi lokan” – that it was his turn and consequently the turn of the Yoruba.


The third implication is that Peter Obi, the Labour Party candidate, has damaged the political future of his fellow Igbo. This is because he was whipping up sentiments and emotions, by telling his followers to “wake up and take your country”.


Why are Nigeria’s election results often challenged in court?


Almost all elections in Nigeria since 1959 have been challenged in court, except for the 2015 election when Goodluck Jonathan conceded defeat. I think this is because most Nigerian politicians are bad losers. No matter how clean an election is, the Nigerian politician will paint it as if it is the worst. Elections are always challenged globally. But we also have bad winners who are not magnanimous in victory.


The zero sum game played in Nigeria (winner takes all) is not good for our political system. Opposition is shut out completely. This is the reason why some are agitating for proportional representation, where the parliament should be composed of the percentage of the vote won by each political party. I feel this could assist in solving this problem.


Why were the challenges different this time?


This is different because there are two levels of transition. There is transition from a party in power either to a member of the same party or to another party. There was supposed to be a transition to the south, because there is an unwritten arrangement that if the president comes from a particular part of the country this time, then the next time it should move to another part of the country. Ironically, the party that codified this, the Peoples Democratic Party, was the first to violate it. It led to the emergence of a northerner, Abubakar Atiku, which created confusion in the party. The party’s presidential ticket was meant for the south but it jettisoned this arrangement. The emergence of a northerner created problems for the party, and this contributed to its loss in the presidential elections. A group of five Peoples Democratic Party state governors supported Tinubu’s election.


There were also attempts to stop Tinubu, who eventually emerged as the All Progressive Congress candidate and became president. The immediate past president, Muhammadu Buhari, never hid that he was not in support of Tinubu. But Tinubu had politicians who stood behind him to challenge Buhari and the party chairman. Also, if Atiku had not hijacked the Peoples Democratic Party and disregarded its constitution, the story could have been different and the party might have won. The popular sentiment was for a southern presidential candidate, which the party didn’t have in the presidential elections. This weakened the party’s support.


The courts have the final say again: what does it imply?


The consequences are far reaching because the sovereignty of the people would have been eroded. Who confers legitimacy: is it the people, is it the electorate, is it the law court?


Until politicians learn to play the game according to the rules, learn to accept defeat, we will keep travelling this route. Everybody must come together to agree and not allow the law court to continue determining the outcomes of our elections. The court is meant to adjudicate and resolve issues, but should not be consistently determining who wins or loses elections.


We need political education and to make our electoral system better. We need to learn from places where things are working better. Despite the acrimony and the aggressiveness of the Republican mob mobilised by Donald Trump in the US, the rule of law prevailed. I think this is the way we should go rather than resorting to self help through violence or the law court.


What are the likely impacts on future elections?


Political parties have not yet fully realised they have to sell their candidates to the people rather than resorting to self-help and ethno-religious and tribal sentiments.


Political parties must also learn to respect the constitution of their parties. This has a great impact on the primaries to elect candidates. If a political party goes into an election divided, there is bound to be a backlash. This was the case of the Peoples Democratic Party and to some extent the Labour Party.


This election has shown that we must learn to respect each other and change our winner-takes-all politics. Because Nigeria is highly divided, a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, we need inclusiveness in sharing power.


It is also important that the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission, demonstrate that it is truly independent. It must discharge its responsibilities without fear or favour.The Conversation


Damilola Agbalajobi, Lecturer, Political Science, Obafemi Awolowo University


This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Greg Abolo

Blogger at The Oasis Reporters.

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