AFTER a long wait, Nigeria’s Supreme Court has finally fixed a date to hear the petition against the election of President Muhammadu Buhari in the February 23 presidential election. Opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar, who lost to Buhari, had expressed worries over what he termed ‘the needless delay’ by the Supreme Court setting a date for the hearing of the 66-point petition, which a lower court rejected on September 11.
The country’s opposition parties had also accused the Supreme Court of an attempt to jettison the tradition of assigning presidential election petition cases to the seven senior justices of the court according to hierarchy.
Although the Supreme Court in Africa’s most populous nation has fixed Wednesday, October 30 for the hearing, the composition of the panel who would sit on the case is still being kept under the wraps until the last minute, according to local media reports.
The Court has until November 13 to deliver its verdict on the 66 points of appeal in accordance with the country’s Constitution and electoral laws.
The Supreme Court judgement is expected to be a watershed in the political and electoral history of Nigeria. Both the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) expect the Court to resolve the contentious issue of Buhari’s qualification to be president.
The PDP claims that President Buhari lacks the requisite educational qualification as stipulated by the constitution to participate in the election, but the President and the APC maintain that the President was qualified. Closely related to the issue of qualification is the allegation by the opposition that the President lied under oath about his qualification to participate in the election – a claim they contend automatically disqualifies the president.
Another matter to be determined by the Court is whether the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) deployed technology incorporating a central server to compute the results from all electoral wards and collation centres across the country.
Both the petitioners and respondents are referencing different versions of the Electoral Act to argue their cases on the issue, and it is up to the Supreme Court to give its verdict on which of the 2010 and 2015 Electoral Acts governs the conduct of elections in Nigeria.
The dilemma is further compounded by the fact that INEC is yet to publish a detailed breakdown of the results on a physical notice board in its office and on its website in compliance with the country’s electoral laws.
There are growing concerns across the country that the judiciary in Nigeria has been politicised, with judgements in political disputes shrouded in legal technicalities. This had led many to question whether the Supreme Court would deliver an impartial judgement.
Although the head of the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mohammed Tanko promised at his inauguration that the judiciary in Nigeria under his watch would be averse to political judgements based on technicalities, many watchers of Nigeria’s politics believe that the 2019 presidential election petition presents a deja vu of the 1979 episode when the Supreme Court delivered a compromised judgement for which it later apologised.
Political analysts contend that as in the 1979 case where the extant law defined the pre-requisite of a two-thirds majority in the election, in 2019 there are claims that the law is explicit on the requirement of educational qualification, which makes it mandatory for contestants to attach evidence of their certificates to documents to the electoral body for scrutiny.
While Nigerians wait on the Supreme Court to decide the path the future of the country’s democracy would take, fears are rife that there could be security issues that might tilt the balance of the country’s fragile peace.
The Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East of the country is still raging, while criminal acts of kidnappings and banditry are on the rise. The country’s military seems to be overwhelmed by insurgency and investors are being deterred.
The military has announced a nation-wide military campaign code-named Operation Positive Identification, which is essentially is meant to put the country’s intelligence community on high alert, but some observers see as an intimidation of the citizenry ahead of the Supreme Court verdict.