The five-man Presidential Election Tribunal, headed by Justice Mohammed Garba, delivered its ruling on the February 23, 2019 presidential election, hotly contested by President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Other members of the panel which delivered the judgement on September 11, 2019 were Justices Abdul Aboki, Joseph Ikyegh, Samuel Oseji, and Peter Ige.
Supporters of the former vice-president were highly optimistic that the tribunal could nullify Buhari’s victory. However, the tribunal’s decision that Buhari won the election aligned with the expectations of the majority of Nigerians. In the history of electioneering in Nigeria, no elected president has been removed from the exalted seat by an election tribunal. Last week’s judgement contained 12 main issues, the highlights of which include the decision that Buhari qualifies to be president; Atiku is a bonafide Nigerian and qualifies to be president, and that it was not necessary to join Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in the presidential election dispute.
However, there are several other decisions by the tribunal that will have implications on future elections, unless the Supreme Court decides otherwise. For instance, the tribunal affirmed that the use of electronic transmission of result was not recognized in law. Though this argument undercut Atiku’s allegation that the ‘authentic’ result of the presidential election was in some Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC’s) ‘server,’the propriety of the use of card reader in future of elections is in doubt. It would be recalled that the integrity of the 2015 elections was enhanced by the use of card reader to reduce incidents of ballot box stuffing that was the bane of previous elections in the country. With this ruling by the tribunal, mischievous politicians could sabotage any electronic process in future elections, and render all the billions of Naira INEC spent in procuring card readers and complementary infrastructure as sheer waste of resources.
Furthermore, the tribunal dismissed Atiku’s application on police and military interference, harassment and intimidation. From the point of view of law, the tribunal said Atiku did not join the security agencies in the suit, and, therefore, struck it out. A similar decision was taken on the allegation of vote buying made by Atiku Abubakar, as the tribunal claimed that the issue of Tradermoni distributed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in the run-up to the elections was outside its jurisdiction. However, civil society organisations that monitored the elections complained that security agencies played undignified and embarrassing roles in the elections. Also, vote buying by politicians was pointed out as one of the low points in the elections. Perhaps, these were not enough to upturn Buhari’s victory, but to say the law was blind to them would come as a shock to the ordinary Nigerians.
Every judicial pronouncement is meant to enhance an improvement on how the systems in the country could be more transparent and credible. It is for this reason that the tribunal’s positions on the issues raised about this year’s elections are very crucial. There were allegations of violation of the Electoral Act and many acts that defaced the election. These should not be swept under the carpet. It is good that the former Vice President has vowed to appeal the case to the Supreme Court. It is expected that the apex court would come up with a judgment that will help sanitise the electoral process and boost the integrity of future elections.