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09.05.2019 Nigeria

Focus On Africa: Nigerians Hopeless On Electoral Justice

By William Niba - RFI

Court hearings have begun in Abuja for complaints from the 23 February election, with opposition calls to overturn the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari.

Nigeria's Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) declared President Muhammadu Buhari re-elected by 56 percent of ballots cast, stating that the incumbent defeated his closest rival Atiku Abubakar by over 3 million votes.

Voter turnout in the nation of 190 million inhabitants was at just 35.6 percent lower than the 40 percent recorded in the 2014 elections, according to the heads the National Elections body Mahmood Yakubu, who announced the verdict from the polls.

Despite the strong case of legitimacy arising from the boycotted process, the INEC went on to declare the ruling All Progressive Congress party candidate the victor by an overall majority, after Buhari carried 19 states against 17 for Abubakar representing at least a quarter of the votes in two-thirds of Nigeria's states.

But the opposition People's Democratic Party quickly pointed to gross disparities between the precincts obtained from the backup servers of the electoral commission and the results published.

According to Abubakar, the figures he collected from INEC showed that he scored more votes across all the states in the country than Buhari.

As the judges appointed to the elections tribunal took their oath of office, Punch said a group of women staged a protest outside the building to denounce the INEC's alleged failure to obey a court order demanding that electoral materials used in the polls be made available for inspection by Abubakar's campaign.

The plaintiffs have assembled up to 400 witnesses to testify before the tribunal, according to Hamza Idris, group politics editor at the Daily Trust newspaper.

Scores of witnesses

Idris, who spoke to RFI from Abuja, underlined the presence in court of the opposition PDP's vice-presidential candidate John Obi during the preliminary hearing.

As judges appointed to the elections tribunal took their oath of office, Premium Times andSahara Reporters published a column by firebrand Nigerian political commentator Femi Aribisala urging the courts to “declare Atiku Abubakar President of Nigeria”.

“If Buhari and the APC are allowed to get away with this kind of daylight robbery, then every election in Nigeria will be decided by daylight robberies,” warned Aribisala. He praised Abubakar for resorting to the courts arguing that by so doing he is “providing some forlorn hope for democracy to survive in Nigeria”.

Supreme Court to decide

Daily Trust editor Idris notes that Nigeria's Electoral Act hands the five-man tribunal 180 days to hear and deliver its judgment, but points out that nothing can stop Buhari's inauguration on 29 May for a second four-year term.

“The decision the appeals court judges will arrive at is not sacrosanct”, argues Idris. He recalls provisions of the Elections Act making the final recourse of election litigations a preserve of the Supreme Court.

“There is no law in the statute books of Nigeria, which can stop the inauguration of any elected official after he has been declared winner, even if a case against him is running concurrently in the courts,” explains the journalist.

According to Idris, it's only the Supreme Court that can decide whether Muhammadu Buhari's election will be upheld or annulled.

Justice without fear or favour

Wednesday's Nation carries a message delivered during the inauguration by Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, President of Nigeria's Federal Court of Appeal, who is heading the five-man panel: a pledge to “work in accordance and within the dictates of the Constitution, the law and international best practices, to dispense justices to all, without fear or favour, affection or ill will”.