The Presidential Elections Petitions Tribunal’s marathon 13-hour judgment, reaffirming President Bola Tinubu as the winner of the fiercely contested February 25 presidential election, has stirred debates and exposed the intricacies within the petitions process.
Tinubu, representing the All Progressives Congress, secured victory with a total of 8.7 million votes, defeating the Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate, Atiku Abubakar, who garnered 6.9 million votes, and Labour Party’s Peter Obi, who received 6.1 million votes.
The tribunal, consisting of five members led by Justice Haruna Tsammani, invalidated the petitions of Atiku and Obi in a comprehensive judgment delivered over the course of 12 hours. Both Atiku and Obi have vehemently rejected the verdict and pledged to challenge it at the Supreme Court.
The judgment has sparked heated discussions and mixed reactions among Nigerians, particularly on social media platforms, where some individuals resorted to posting sensitive information about the five justices and resorting to name-calling following the ruling.
Peter Obi’s strong following in the last election has led many of his supporters to express skepticism about accepting the Supreme Court’s decision if it doesn’t align with their expectations.
In the lead-up to the verdict, the justices provided various justifications for their decision. Justice Bolaji-Yusuf, for instance, emphasized that it was not the court’s responsibility to seek evidence for the parties and criticized the petitioners for not presenting credible evidence.
Justice Ugo dismissed the petitioners’ claim that the Independent National Electoral Commission manipulated the election results by closing its result viewing portal. He questioned the credibility of such allegations and pointed out the lack of concrete evidence presented by the petitioners.
Justice Mohammed echoed these sentiments, highlighting the petitioners’ failure to specify the number of votes affected and people disenfranchised by the alleged irregularities in their petitions.
A significant point of contention was the status of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and the claim that the election winner must secure 25 percent of the vote in the nation’s capital. Justice Tsammani clarified that the FCT is not superior to a state in electoral matters, dispelling the notion of special treatment for FCT electorates.
Despite diverse reactions to the verdict, analysts suggest that the justices’ decision relied on the facts presented before them. Dr. Alada Mohammed, a political scientist at the University of Ilorin, emphasized the need for concrete evidence in election petitions and called for electoral reform through amendments to the Electoral Act and election guidelines.
Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Rotimi Jacobs, praised the fairness of the judgment but expressed concern over the undue publicity and divergent opinions surrounding it. He called for a balanced approach, urging Nigerians to prioritize national interests over regional affiliations.
However, human rights lawyer Dr. Monday Ubani disagreed with the judgment, pointing out gray areas that could be grounds for appeal at the Supreme Court. He questioned the absence of remarks regarding INEC’s failure to transmit election results electronically, despite the significant investment in such innovations.
The 2023 presidential election case, marked by its intensity and high-profile candidates, has ignited debates about Nigeria’s electoral process and the role of the judiciary. As the nation awaits potential further legal proceedings at the Supreme Court, the discussions surrounding this verdict underscore the importance of electoral reform and the need for a robust and transparent electoral system in Nigeria.