Nigeria’s Court of Appeal, which constitutes the Presidential Elections Tribunal, yesterday began proceedings to hear the challenges brought against the declaration of Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the ruling political party, the All Progressives Congress, as the winner of February’s presidential elections. The elections were marred with irregularities, including violence at the polls and logistical and procedural shortcomings, including the inability to upload election results from polling units in real time.
There is a high level of interest in the tribunal process following what many have described as disappointing and unacceptable failings in the Nigerian election process.
Among the petitions brought before the tribunal are those of the two main opposition parties, the Peoples Democratic Party, and the Labor Party. Both parties claim that the election was fraught with corrupt practices, voter suppression, and noncompliance with the provisions of the country’s electoral law.
The United Nations has previously raised concerns about the independence of Nigeria’s judiciary and it is likely the Tribunal’s ruling will be closely scrutinized both inside and outside of the country. To build trust in the process, the Tribunal should ensure that the proceedings are carried out transparently and in accordance with the rule of law. In doing so, it can send a clear message that it is committed to the integrity of Nigeria’s elections.
The proceedings could last up to 6 months, long after the new President is sworn in May 29. It is therefore crucial that regional and international partners, many of whom deployed election observers as part of efforts to support Nigeria in strengthening its democracy, prevail on the government to ensure the Tribunal is able to work independently and that the government will respect the verdict, regardless of the result.
As well as ensuring that the electoral challenges receive a fair hearing, the Nigerian justice system should doggedly pursue those responsible for the violence that blighted the elections. Unfettered access to free and fair elections is critical to ensuring Nigerians are able to exercise their rights and is a cornerstone of a democratic nation.