US and UK lobbyists await the release of Nigeria's court verdict on the country's biggest contended presidential poll

28 October 2019
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AllAfrica InfoWire (Washington, DC)

After a long wait, the apex court in Nigeria has finally fixed a date for the hearing questioning the election of President Muhammadu Buhari in the February 23 presidential election. The opposition and its leading candidate can finally see justice being done. 

Atiku Abubakar had expressed worries over the needless delay in the Supreme Court not passing further communication on the hearing of its 66-grounds of appeal to the lower court judgement of September 11 which nullified all the grounds of their petition.

There had been anxiety, mostly from the opposition political parties in Nigeria which umbrella body, accused the Supreme Court of an attempt to jettison the tradition of assigning presidential election petition cases to the seven senior justices of the court according to hierarchy.

Although the apex court in Africa's most populous nation had fixed Wednesday, 30 October for the opening of hearing on the appeal, the composition of the justices who would sit on the case is still being kept under the wraps until the last minutes, according to information from Nigeria's media.

The apex court has until November 13 to dispense its verdict on the 66-points of appeal in accordance with the constitution and the electoral laws of the country.

The Supreme Court judgement is expected to be a watershed in the political and electoral history of Nigeria. Meantime, supporters of both parties and their candidates in the election are expectantly awaiting patiently the court to resolve a contentious issue which has remained thematic in the aftermath of the February 23 election in Nigeria. While the opposition party contends that President Buhari lacks the requisite educational qualification as stipulated by the constitution to participate in the election, the President and his ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) claim that the president was qualified. Also, closely related to the issue of qualification is the allegation by the opposition that the President lied under oath in aid of his qualification to participate in the election - a claim they contend automatically disqualifies the president.

Another hazy issue for determination is whether the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) deployed technology incorporating a central server to compute the results from all electoral wards and collation centers across the country.  Both the petitioners and respondents are referencing different versions of the Electoral Act to establish their cases on the issue and it is up to the Supreme Court to give its verdict on which, indeed, of the 2010 and 2015 Electoral Act governs the conduct of elections in Nigeria.

The dilemma is further compounded by the fact that INEC is yet to publish a detailed breakdown of the result on a physical notice board in its office and on its website as it was supposed to have done according to the dictates of the election laws in the country since Feb 2019.

There are growing concerns across the country that the judiciary in Nigeria has been imbued with too much political judgement that border so much on technicalities, expectation of such political judgement is rife as many Nigerians are of the belief that the Supreme Court would deliver what, at the end, will be more or less a political judgement.

Although the head of the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mohammed Tanko had promised upon his inauguration that the judiciary in Nigeria under his watch would be averse to political judgement based on technicalities, many watchers of Nigeria's politics are of the opinion that the 2019 presidential election petition is a deja vu of the 1979 episode where the Supreme Court averred a compromised judgement that it later came out to apologize upon.

Political analysts contend that like in the 1979 case where the extant law defined the pre-requisite of a two-third majority in the election, in 2019 again there are claims that the law is explicit on the requirement of educational qualification which makes it mandatory for contestants of election to attach evidence of their certificates to documents to be submitted to the electoral body for scrutiny.

While Nigerians wait on the Supreme Court to decide the path the future of the country's democracy would take, fears are rife that there could be attendant security issues that might tilt the balance of the country's fragile peace.

The Boko Haram resurgence in the North-East of the country remains at a crescendo while criminal acts of kidnappings and banditry has assumed worrisome levels. The country's military appears overwhelmed by these skirmishes and investors are being turned off by this regime of lawlessness.

The military has announced a nation-wide military campaign code named: Operation Positive Identification which essentially is meant to put the country's intelligence community on top of the security forensics, which some observers see as an intimidation of the citizenry ahead of the Supreme Court verdict.

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