An appeals court in Nigeria rejected two out of the three petitions Wednesday challenging the legitimacy of President Bola Tinubu's victory in the February election, with the last petition still under deliberation in a case that has put Africa’s most populous country on edge.
Three opposing parties challenged the election results which they said was illegally announced and argued that Tinubu was not qualified to run for president because he was a citizen of Guinea and allegedly did not have the required academic credentials. The opposition has hinted at possible protests if the court rules in his favor.
In the Court of Appeal in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, a five-member justice panel ruled that the third-place finisher Peter Obi and his Labour Party were not able to prove his claims that the Nigerian election commission did not follow due process in announcing the results of the vote nor that the voting was marred by irregularities and that he — not Tinubu — won the election with a majority of votes.
The court also rejected witness statements called by Obi, saying they were “incompetent” and ruled that he failed to prove his claim that Tinubu was once indicted on drug charges in the United States, thereby disqualifying him from running for president.
“It is clearly evident that the petitioners have failed to discharge the burden of proof placed on them by law,” said Haruna Tsammani, head of the panel. “They have not been able to leave any cogent, credible and acceptable evidence.”
It also rejected a petition by the Allied Peoples Movement which sought to nullify Tinubu's victory on the ground that his running mate — Vice President Kashim Shettima— was not legally nominated to contest. It said Shettima met the minimum constitutional provisions allowing him to run.
"Where the constitution has qualified a candidate to contest an election, no other law except the constitution can disqualify him,” Tsammani said.
Tinubu, who is currently attending the G20 summit in India, has denied all the allegations.
Amid tight security in Abuja, various support groups chanted songs near the court premises to show solidarity with their political parties and to urge the judiciary to “do the right thing.”
A Protester, James Mike, said they stood by the court to let the judiciary know “the last hope of the common man depends on” them.
The tribunal is empowered to either uphold Tinubu’s election win, declare someone else the winner, annul the vote, or to order a new election. Whatever decision they make can be appealed at Nigeria’s Supreme Court within 60 days.
If the judges uphold the last petition and annul the presidential election, it would be a first in Nigeria's history.
A presidential election can be annulled only on the basis of evidence that the Independent National Electoral Commission did not follow the law and acted in ways that might have affected an election's outcome.
Since Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999, all presidential elections but one have been contested in court. None were overturned.
Police in Abuja issued a statement Tuesday warning citizens “to be cautious in their actions and statements,” saying security forces would not “condone activities capable of inciting violence or causing a descent into anarchy.”
The 71-year-old Tinubu won the election with less than 50% of the vote, also a first in Nigeria’s history.
The opposing candidates filed separate petitions arguing that Tinubu was not qualified to become president and claiming the electoral commission did not follow due process in announcing the winner. The delays in uploading and announcing election results could have given room for ballot tampering, critics say.
The opposition has also alleged that Tinubu was indicted for drug trafficking in the United States, that he is a citizen of Guinea which disqualifies him to run in presidential elections in Nigeria, and that his academic qualifications were forged.
Since taking office, he introduced measures that he said would reform the country's ailing economy but which have further squeezed millions of poor and hungry Nigerians during his first 100 days in office. Most of the Nigerian leader’s reforms, though well-intentioned, have been poorly implemented, critics have said.
On Tuesday, Nigeria Labor Congress workers launched a two-day “warning strike” to protest the growing cost of living due to the removal of gas subsidies, threatening to “shut down” Africa’s largest economy if their demands for improved welfare are not met. It was their second strike in over a month.
The Nigerian government urged citizens to be patient with Tinubu. Mohammed Idris, Nigeria’s minister of information, said though steps taken by the government “to save the country from hitting the rocks brought momentary discomfort to Nigerians,” the president has “never failed in his appeal to Nigerians to see the current inconveniences as a price we must all pay to save our country from disappearing.”