Nigerians in the last few days have fixed their gaze on the ongoing Presidential Election Petition Tribunal which is currently hearing petitions filed against the President-elect, Bola Tinubu and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The voting season has gone, however, Nigerians who believe the electoral process on the 25th of February was not credible are interested in the outcome of the Tribunal.
The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar and flag bearer of the Labour Party (LP), Peter Obi, who are not pleased with Tinubu’s declaration as winner have decided to file suits challenging INEC’s declaration.
However, there has been some controversy around the 2023 presidential election, with politicians, lawyers and interested Nigerians asking questions if a presidential candidate can be declared a winner without acquiring 25 per cent of votes in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
On the questions being raised with respect to the 2023 presidential election, Naija News took out time to speak with Institutional Reforms Advocate, Segun Awosanya (Segalink).
*What’s The Impact Of Petitions Before Presidential Tribunal On Nigeria’s Democracy?*
“Any sane legal practitioner, enthusiast, or objective observer of the times will tell you that every election over the years across climes has in one way or the other their outcomes challenged by parties that felt aggrieved and it is within their rights to do so as provided by law.
“No election is perfect in the world provided there are human elements that present vulnerabilities.
“In the case of Nigeria, every election we have ever had from the first republic has been deemed fraught with rigging, violence, and intimidation, and never have we had the decision of the electoral body upturned at the Presidential level.
“The reason for this is mainly for the fact that in the eye of the law, a President-Elect has been declared through the process and it is up to the contenders to prove that;
“1. the election is not valid due to the preponderance of irregularities with the subsequent prayer for cancellation of the entire election. (Note that this will not include the request of the petitioner to be declared the winner of an election he ironically deemed invalid. This would only demonstrate a chronic state of confusion and clinical delusion.
“2. the declared winner of the election is not qualified to contest given the violation of the prescribed criteria in the 1999 constitution (as amended). i.e. He is not a Nigerian, he has been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction of a crime within the last 10 years, he is not sponsored by a political party, etc…
“3. the candidate so elected was not validly returned as no valid votes were recorded etc
“The above and other criteria that are not listed here must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt based on the preponderance of evidence and balance of probability.
“In the wisdom of those that curated our laws, as well as other constitutions globally, there has never been a utopian dream of the expectation of a flawless election, so the challenge of the outcome of the election is not a dent on our democracy, but series of activities that form part of it.
“This is why the doctrine of substantial compliance, implicitly and admittedly holds that there must be flaws in the election but that once there is substantial compliance, then the election should be accepted as having substantially complied with the laws and the return should not be upset on that basis unless the petitioner can prove with substantial evidence that across the country, irregularities, violence, and voter intimidation was the order of the day.”
*Does The Legal System Of Nigeria Endorse Justice For Politicians Or does The Highest Bidder Wins The Race?*
“I believe in the judiciary which is thee third estate of the realm, especially as a legal researcher, law enthusiast, and panelist at various Tribunals on Police Matters bordering on human rights abuses.
“I wouldn’t say stricto sensu (in the narrow sense) that the affairs within the hallowed walls of the temple of our justice system are equitable, just, and fair, but by and large, Election Tribunals over the years have treated cases before them as ‘Sui Generis’ (in a class of their own based on their peculiarity and uniqueness).
“We must admit at this point the level of decadence in our society and how this has impacted our institutions across the board. The place of morbid sentiments must also be understood where elections declared in favor of some parties are deemed free and fair and those ruled against their favor will be deemed bought by the highest bidder.
“So, the short answer, is no legal system is designed to act for or against anyone. The system is governed by the law of evidence.”
*Do You See The Court In The Nearest Future Removing A Rig Presidential Candidate And Passing The Right Judgement?*
“As mentioned once before, the court acts based on law and the quality of the argument and evidence of the parties proving the declaration of the electoral body invalid based on some criteria in alignment with the provision of law.
“So if lawyers do their due diligence beyond reasonable doubt as backed by the preponderance of the evidence, I believe rigging in elections will soon be a thing of the past with the clear understanding that justice will prevail at the tribunal or the apex court.”
*What’s Your Take About The Petitions Filed Before The Presidential Tribunal*
“My optimism is measured if at all because rather than focus on determining a silver bullet and gathering evidence and witnesses in that regard during the election in preparation for the tribunals, a lot of time was burnt in needless propaganda and public incitement that created a scenario where the parties couldn’t tell the difference between reality and fiction.
“The majority of the counsels are focused on what they would earn from the process than advising on what works. I have strong doubts if the evidence required to prove most of the cases presented would be sufficient and also know that the majority of the prayers will be struck out for want of diligent prosecution.
“There are various schools of thought at every tribunal and their interpretation of the law differs from literalists, conservatives, and modernists in the consideration of the golden rule. The harmonization of these views is better explored than being fixated on a single track of assumed interpretation as often done in sport betting (baba Ijebu).
“You don’t for instance claim the election is fraught with irregularities and at the same time pray to be declared winner in the same election. If you are claiming there is no substantial compliance to the prescribed rules as enshrined in the electoral act 2022, then the prayer must be for the cancellation of the election if proven.
“The issue with 25% in the FCT will be determined by the tribunal/Supreme Court as we proceed but based on precedents, the FCT has no special criteria beyond being deemed one of the states in Nigeria.”
*Do You Feel There Is A Legal Stand Supporting A Presidential Candidate To Have 25% In FCT*
“I don’t think Lawyers have to interpret the Law. That remains the remit of the courts and if the decided cases don’t create enough illumination, the Tribunal/Supreme Court will clarify once again and hopefully for the last time to avoid future distractions, where parties that came distant third will seek to manipulate their way into the conversation with the hope to be declared winner in an election where they have no substantial/national appeal.”
*Do You Feel A President-Elect Should Not Be Sworn In Until Petitions At The Tribunal Are Dealt With And Concluded?*
“The swearing-in of the President-Elect is constitutional and must go on as scheduled. We have had several instances as a nation where Governors were sworn in despite pending cases/petitions at the tribunal. Governance will not stop neither will there be a vacuum in leadership because of any petition before a tribunal.
“Under normal circumstances, if litigators are diligent and responsible, they will focus on winning time by showing preparedness at the tribunal with their filing and presentation of witnesses. But the majority have over-padded their petition and would require too long a time to prepare evidence and witnesses promptly.
“Also, people still believe that the retinue of SANs on a case determines the outcome, as more time is wasted in recognition of counsel thereby abusing the court process with superfluous exhibition of counsels.
“The process itself takes time, especially the review of evidence and cross-examination of witnesses given the number of petitioners, but the counsels haven’t shown over the years that they respect the time of the tribunal in their conduct.”