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Nigeria election: Atiku goes to court

By Eromo Egbejule, in Lagos
Posted on Thursday, 28 February 2019 16:51, updated on Friday, 8 March 2019 12:09

Defeated Nigerian opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar, right, walks to his car after reading a post election statement in Abuja, Nigeria, Wednesday Feb. 27, 2019. Jerome Delay/AP/SIPA

Defeated Nigerian opposition presidential candidate is hoping his running mate is his legal ace-in-the-hole

Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has announced incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari as winner of the sixth election since the country’s return to democracy in 1999.

Contesting on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Buhari scored 15,191,847 votes to beat former vice-president Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), who came in second with 11,262,978 votes.

Atiku has however described the polls as a “sham election”, rejecting the results and stressing his resolve to contest it in the courts.

Here’s why

International observers described the elections as largely peaceful, however local observers have condemned the irregularities and call for an overhaul of the electoral process.

  • At least 35 deaths were recorded across the country during election weekend, as well as the kidnapping of electoral officers.
  • The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, a coalition of civil society organisations, said there were lapses in the conduct of the polls and has called for an urgent meeting of stakeholders to review the process for the sake of reforms, ahead of the 9 March state elections.
  • There were over a million cancelled votes across 18 states. “The pattern of this cancellation requires some close interrogation to show fairness and objectivity,” Situation Room said in a statement.
  • Sahara Reporters alleges that PDP agents had body cameras which have now collated video evidence of ballot box snatching, voter suppression and other violent acts during the elections last weekend. This evidence could be used in the PDP’s defence.

In love with the law

The PDP chieftain will be hoping to tap from his running mate’s good luck and become the first person in Nigerian history to get the presidential elections upturned.

  • Peter Obi, two-time governor of the south-eastern state of Anambra, made history as the first person to ever get the Supreme Court to upturn a victory in any gubernatorial election; it took three years to get the judgement.
  • Other politicians have followed suit, distorting what was once a uniform calendar but also strengthening the country’s democracy.
  • Obi was also the first person to successfully challenge an impeachment and be reinstated in office.
  • Atiku himself has a history of resorting to the law since his time as vice-president. After falling out with his boss Olusegun Obasanjo, the president declared his deputy’s seat vacant; Atiku took the legal route and won at the apex court back in 2007, along with thirteen other cases now seen as landmark constitutional rulings.

Counting on history

Should Atiku make good on his word, Nigerians will witness yet another protracted legal stand-off – all Nigerian presidential elections since 1999 have been disputed, save for 1999 and 2015. Buhari himself went to court in 2003, 2007 and 2011, losing each time.

The final say in the case will come from the Supreme Court. Earlier this year, the nation’s chief justice and head of the judicial arm of government was suspended unconstitutionally in a move believed to be making way for a pliant replacement who will do the bidding of the presidency.

  • Kanu Agabi, a former senator and two-time attorney-general of the federation during Atiku’s time as vice-president, will lead the PDP legal team.
  • In 2007, Agabi represented INEC in a legal tussle with Buhari who was suing for a restoration of his mandate. The 2007 election is widely believed to be the worst in Nigeria’s history; Buhari came second and Atiku a distant third.
  • Walter Onnoghen, the suspended chief justice, gave a minority judgement to annul the 2007 presidential election which Buhari lost. However, Onnoghen and other justices unanimously ruled against Buhari in the 2011 presidential election which he also lost.
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