“THE 28 March 2015 elections mark an important step forward for democracy in Africa’s most populous country and a key member of the Commonwealth. Notwithstanding the organisational and technical deficiencies, the conduct of the Presidential and National Assembly Elections were generally peaceful and transparent.”
This was how the Commonwealth Observer Group captured the conduct of the Presidential and National Assembly elections, in its interim report signed by Dr Bakili Muluzi, its chairperson.
But are the polls really transparent, #free and #fair? This is the knotty question that #election tribunals across the 36 states of the country including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja have started answering.
Already, about 140 petitions have been filed at these #tribunals and the figure is expected to increase at the end of the deadline for filing petitions.
Section 134 of the Electoral Act provides that all petitions must be filed within 21 days of the declaration of the result of an election.
For the Presidential and bulk of the National Assembly election, the deadline lapsed last week. For the other elections held on April 11 and April 25, aggrieved candidates have up to May 4 and May 17 to approach the election tribunals.
Among Nigerians, notwithstanding the assessment of the observers, opinions are divided on whether or not the elections were free and fair.
While most of those who lost elections and their supporters deem the polls to be massively rigged, those who won and their backers think otherwise. Indeed, while some parties consider the exercise to be fair in places they won, they cry blue murder in areas that they lost.
How the polls were rigged
Candidates challenging the outcome of the polls in various parts of the country have enumerated the various ways the elections were manipulated.
These include non-conduct of the polls in some polling units and blatant writing of election results, wrong compilation and computation of results, snatching of ballot papers and boxes, preventing people from voting, denying would-be voters the Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs), under-age voting, and inflation of election results among others.
#President-elect, Major-General Muhammadu #Buhari (retd), penultimate week picked holes in the figures that were recorded in the South-East and South-South geo-political zones as well as the number of votes recorded by the Peoples Democratic Party (#PDP) in #Lagos, saying that he would prosecute election riggers when he takes over.
In many states in the North, allegations of under-age voting were widespread.
States where the incidents were alleged to have happened included Kano, Jigawa, Kaduna, Gombe, Bauchi, Katsina and #Kogi.
It was alleged that in these states, under-age people were allowed to vote in clear contravention of the Electoral Act, even as voting allegedly took place late in the night.
Tribunals begin work
Inaugurating about 242 chairmen and members of Election #Petition #Tribunal for the 36 states and Abuja recently, #Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), #Justice Mahmud Mohammed warned the members to ensure that justice is done.
“You must shun acts such as the acceptance of gifts or favours from counsel and politicians, and the exchange of illicit communications with parties, which acts will erode the integrity of the Tribunal irretrievably,” Justice Mohammed said.
He also reminded the chairmen and members of the tribunals that Section 285 of the 1999 constitution and Section 134 (2) of the EA 2010 are clear that all petitions must be heard and judgements rendered in writing and delivered in the open court within 180 days of the filing of the petition.
Is 2015 better than previous polls?
Despite the mixed views of Nigerians on the credibility of the 2015 election, it appears to be better than four previous elections.
Although more petitions are still expected, the 140 received so far is a huge improvement over the 400 received in 2011; 1250 got in 2007 and 560 filed in 2003.
No petition against Buhari
The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal which was originally scheduled to conduct its proceedings at the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal will soon wind up because it did not receive any case against Buhari.
The 21 days deadline for filing of petition expired last week, with none of the 13 losing parties moving to challenge Buhari’s victory at the tribunal.
It is the first time since the1999 return of civil rule that the outcome of the presidential election is going unchallenged atthe tribunal. Chief Olu Falae, who flew the Alliance for Democracy/All Peoples Party joint ticket challenged former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s victory in 1999. Buhari and other candidates challenged the victories of Obasanjo, late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and President Goodluck Jonathan in 2003, 2007 and 2011 respectively.
Complaints in the states
The scenario is different in the states where already, some of the tribunals have commenced sitting and the rest will begin sitting next week.
The Akwa Ibom Tribunal started sitting on Wednesday; Bayelsa, Tuesday; Plateau, April 27; Kwara, April 27 while that of Lagos will begin on May 5. The Borno, Adamawa, #Rivers and Yobe tribunals will sit in Abuja because of security concerns.
The number of petitions filed in states where the polls were highly contentious like Anambra, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, #Ogun, etc were not ready as of press time.
Are all these claims and allegations true? The tribunals will supply the answers six months from now.
*By Clifford Ndujihe & Charles Kumolu for VANGUARD.
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