By Clifford Ndujihe & Charles Kumolu
‘’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.
Many other observers including Local, ECOWAS, African Union and European Union said the polls, in spite of deficiencies, met acceptable standards for credible polls.
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 at the 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.
Among the states, Lagos and Rivers have the highest number of election petitions with 17, followed by Enugu, 15; Cross River, 13; Oyo, 12 and Taraba and Abia, 11.
Others include: Nasarawa (8), Bayelsa (6), Benue (6), Bauchi (2), Edo (2), Ebonyi (6) and FCT (2).
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.
In Zamfara, the Governorship Candidate of All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, Alhaji Sani Abdullahi Shinkafi has filed a petition challenging the April 11 results of the governorship election in the state.
In Kwara, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Senatorial Candidate for Kwara Central, Alhaji Abdulrahman Abdulrasaq is challenging the election of the APC candidate, Senator Bukola Saraki citing ‘’corrupt practices or non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act,” adding that the election was characterized by abnormalities, manipulation and irregularities.
In Kogi, Senator Smart Adeyemi of the PDP wants the election of Dino Melaye of the APC for Kogi West overturned claiming that “Melaye was declared the winner of the election because of wrong and/or incorrect computation of lawful votes cast and intentional omission of collating results of the polling units won by the petitioners and counting of spoilt ballots in his favour.”
Allegations of widespread rigging have continued to trail the outcome of the elections in Akwa Ibom State.
The main opposition APC said the April 28 presidential and National Assembly polls and the March 11 governorship elections were marred by high-wire manipluation.
The party pointed out that there were cases of ballot box snatching, organised violence, withholding of sensitive materials among other anomalies.
Condemning the election, the APC candidate, Chief Umana Okon Umana said: ‘’This went beyond elections, it was an organised crime against the people of my state. This was state terrorism. We did not have elections in Akwa Ibom State and the perpetrators of these crime should face justice in the International Criminal Court. This was not about elections. The example in Akwa Ibom is that the only way you can become a governor is that you must have a private army to terrorize people on Election Day,’’
It is against this backdrop that Umana filed petition against the election of the PDP candidate, Mr. Udom Emmanuel as the governor of the state at the Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Uyo.
In spite of claims by the APC that the elections were free and fair in Lagos State, the state chapter of the PDP thinks otherwise. Aside the PDP, some sections of the public also accused the APC of manipulating the process in the state. Instructively, the non and late arrival of sensitive materials in areas considered as PDP strongholds was described as deliberate. Allegations of multiple voting, use of manual accreditation in Ikate, Ibeju Lekki, Badagry and Mainland local councils were also rife.
There were also incidents of disenfranchisement of eligible voters in the state, especially during the presidential election.
The REC in Enugu, Professor Chukwuemeka Onukaogu was accused of handing over result sheets to the PDP candidates in all the senatorial zones.
Same manner of complaints are also trailing the outcome of the governorship election where the APC is calling for the cancellation of the entire result.
A PDP House of Representatives candidate Dr. Chukwuemeka Ujam who contested for Nkanu East/West constituency was reportedly caught by the military with 4000 PVCs at Ozalla, Nkanu East Local Government.
A former governor of the state Senator Chimaroke Nnamani also complained of massive electoral fraud in Enugu East Senatorial District where the incumbent, Senator Gilbert Nnaji was returned as winner.
The decision to reverse the cancellation of three local governments results by the Returning Officer, Prof. Benjamin Ozumba was also considered as manipulative.
Ozumba had announced the cancellation of results from Osisioma, Obingwa and Isiala Ngwa North local councils on the grounds of “incontrovertible evidence of violence” and reports from international observers.
The returning officer reversed the decision after Governor Theodore Orji-led chieftains of PDP consulted with the Resident Electoral Officer, REC, Prof. Selina Oko and Ozumba.
The APGA Candidate, Alex Otti is challenging the outcome of the governorship polls that was concluded last Saturday.
The REC in Imo State Professor Oyewusi Ibidapo-Obe, in a manner that could be described as corroborating claims of rigging in the state, cited complaints of irregularities that emanated from several polling booths across the 305 wards of the state as being responsible for the stalemated election in the state.
Ibidapo-Obe had cancelled 144,715 votes in various polling booths in about 23 local government areas. Consequently, elections were repeated in 23 of the 27 local council areas of the state.
The victory of Governor Rochas Okorocha at the polls, has been disputed by the PDP candidate, Chief Emeka Ihedioha, who claimed the exercise was characterised by irregularities.
Several cases of infraction of the electoral law were reported to have happened in Rivers where 16 people were reportedly killed.
During the governorship polls, heavy shooting was reported in Ozuoba and Rumuolumeni in Obio Akpor Local Council.
Soldiers moved into Buguma in Asari Toru Local Council where two persons were feared dead amid heavy shooting allegedly by political thugs.
A police patrol vehicle, the house of the State Commissioner for Women Affairs, Mrs Joeba West, and INEC polling centre in Kalabari National College in the town were razed by unknown arsonists.
It was learned that about 80 per cent of the card readers deployed in Okrika did not work.
Accordingly, INEC was accused of colluding with security operatives to compromise the integrity of the electoral process in virtually all the 23 local councils of the state.
Electoral officers in almost all the local government areas were said to have withheld the unit, ward and local government result sheets and handed over ballot papers to the PDP thugs allegedly guarded by armed soldiers, police and Department State Service operatives.
The grievances in Taraba were that soldiers deployed during the March 28 elections frightened and intimidated voters and allowed room for malpractices.
It was said that the army, rather than help make the elections fraud-free, were used to rig the elections in favour of the PDP.
Incidents where voters were openly threatened by trigger happy soldiers deployed in Wukari, Takum and other communities were also cited.
At the end of the supplementary election in the state, the APC also claimed that the process was fraught with violence, massive rigging, ballot snatching and abuse of the card readers in substantial parts of the state by the PDP.
Are all these claims and allegations true? The tribunals will supply the answers six months from now.