Avalanche of election petitions

A report published by Daily Trust on January 3, this year brought into sharp relief the problem of avalanche of petitions that follow the conduct of elections in this country. According to the report, which is based on data obtained from the Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC], 3,479 petitions were filed in the courts in the 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019 election cycles. INEC is a reliable source for this data because it is joined as a defendant in every election petition except those arising from local government elections, which are conducted by SIECs.

This figure of election petitions actually looks small to a casual observer, but that is because it does not include figures from the 1999 and 2003 elections, both of which were contentious. Even more seriously, it does not include what we call pre-election cases, in which aspirants sue their political parties and rival aspirants arising out of party primaries. Such petitions are often more numerous than post-election petitions and are also more likely to produce dramatic results.

The list of post-election petitions in the four election cycles shows an up and down pattern. There were 1,282 petitions in the 2007 election cycle, the highest of the four cycles. This was not surprising given the reported level of impunity in that year’s election. Many governorship election results, especially in the South West, were upturned by the courts in that cycle. The number of petitions fell to 727 after the 2011 elections and fell further to 663 after the 2015 polls, but it rose again to 807 after the 2019 polls. These figures do not include petitions from the Kogi and Bayelsa off-season elections of last year.

The report also showed there were regional variations in the election petitions. The South East had the highest number of election petitions, 819, followed by the South South with 772 and North Central with 542. The South West had 524 petitions; North West had 460 while the North East had the least number, 323. The FCT had 26 petitions, though it has no governorship elections. The states with the highest number of election petitions, according to the INEC figures, were Anambra, Delta and Rivers with 286, 197 and 186 respectively.

Election petitions are very costly in this clime. Lawyers’ fees are very high, the logistics of assembling evidence and calling witnesses is costly, not to mention the allegations of bribery. Why does Nigeria tend to have too many election petitions? Partly because political competition here is very keen because the stakes are very high; internal party democracy is quite weak; abuse of incumbency powers is rampant; our politicians’ attitude to winning and losing elections is medieval; while the election management agency [INEC] and especially its part-time officials as well as security agents often mess up the process. The actions of thugs often disrupt the voting process, leading to cancellations and declaring of results as inconclusive, which in turn leads to a rash of petitions and generally questions the credibility of Nigerian elections.

All these problems must be tackled together in order to improve this country’s election culture, make the election process as smooth as obtains in many other climes and drastically reduce the number of election petitions. The electoral reform bill the National Assembly is taking up again should be of help, but not too much, given all the other problems domiciled in political parties and in our political actors.


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