By Chesa Chesa
As judgements in petitions over the 2023 general elections continue to tumble out of election tribunals and Appeal Courts, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Thursday expressed concern over a media report that the huge number of litigations has put the Commission’s reputation and credibility as an electoral umpire in equally huge jeopardy.
The Guardian had a day earlier in a report titled “INEC’s credibility sinks as 94% contested posts awaits tribunal“, declared that the election results and unprecedented flurry of petitions thereafter, have increased the public’s doubts about INEC’s competence to conduct a free, fair, and credible polls.
Reacting to this, INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman of the Commission’s Information and Voter Education Committee, Sam Olumekun, said the report “contains inaccurate figures, mix up of pre-election and post-election cases, skewed comparative perspective and a headline that suggests that election petitions draw from the action or inaction of INEC”.
In a press statement,, he explained that information easily available on its website showed that in 2023, INEC did not conduct elections in 1,280 constituencies, including 782 State Assembly seats, but conducted polls in 1,491 constituencies across the country.
The conducted polls included one Presidential, 28 Governorship, 109 Senatorial, 360 House of Representatives and 993 State Assembly constituencies.
The INEC spokesman said: “Similarly, the claim that State Assembly elections were held in only 28 States of the country is made on the lazy assumption that no such elections were held in the eight States of the federation where executive elections are held off-cycle”.
He pointed out that unlike the term of office of the executive (Governor) which begins from the date they take the oath of office, the tenure of legislators is tied to the legislative houses, which is a fixed term of four years from the date the Assembly is inaugurated.
Olumekun continued: “Secondly, the report blames the pre-election cases arising from the conduct of primary elections by political parties on INEC,” he stated.
“These are intra-party cases involving party members in which they join the Commission and seek for reliefs binding on it. As everyone knows, INEC does not conduct primaries for political parties.
“Thirdly, in pursuit of their right under the law, many litigants in Nigeria unfortunately file election petitions over the most improbable cases and later withdraw them or they are dismissed by the tribunals.
“If the report had taken time to analyse the outcome of the cases decided so far by the tribunals, it would have discovered that out of 1,196 petitions, 712 were dismissed and 179 withdrawn.
“This means that in 891 cases (74.4%), the tribunals found no merit in the petitions and affirmed the result of the elections conducted by INEC.”
He also stated that mere filing of petitions could not constitute a blot on the integrity of the recent elections conducted by the Commission when in fact they constitute an integral part of the democratic process.
Explaining his fourth point of disagreement,
Olumekun said the said report analysed the total number of petitions as if they were filed against the outcome of the election in 94% of all the elective positions, without considering details of the cases; whereas multiple petitions were filed by candidates and political parties as petitioners in a single constituency.
“For example, in one State in the South South geopolitical zone of the country, eight petitions were filed challenging the Governorship election out of which seven were dismissed and one withdrawn”, he noted.
Therefore, the number of election petitions filed in respect of all elective offices will certainly outnumber the total number of constituencies/elective offices, he argued, and described as “methodologically problematic and statistically illogical” the report’s resort to spreading them across the constituencies and proceeding to calculate the percentage, which eventually amounts to repeatedly counting some constituencies over.
The statement added: “Five, it is pertinent to note that the grounds for challenging the outcome of an election as provided in Section 134 of the Electoral Act, 2022 are not limited to the conduct of election by the Commission,
“An election may be questioned on the ground that the winner of the election was not qualified to contest the election by virtue of his academic qualifications, age etc. Many of the petitioners did not challenge the conduct of the elections by INEC but the eligibility of candidates or their nomination by political parties. Under the law, INEC has no power to screen candidates. Similarly, only the Courts can disqualify candidates.
“Six, a comparative analysis would have addressed the deliberate effort in the report to portray the 2023 General Election as regressive on account of litigation without empirical evidence. Over the last three electoral cycles, the number of election petitions may be rising but not the number of upturned elections.
“In 2015, 663 cases were filed at the tribunals, 87 (13.1%) were nullified and the Commission ordered to conduct re-run in some polling units or entire constituencies. In 2019, 807 petitions were filed but elections were only re-run in 30 (3.71%) consituencies (3 Senatorial Districts, 13 Federal Constituencies and 14 State Constituencies).
“While the 2023 post-election litigations are ongoing, all five petitions filed in respect of the Presidential election were dismissed while three are pending on appeal. As of Monday 16th October 2023, out of 82 Governorship election petitions, 72 (87.8%) were either dismissed or withdrawn by the petitioners. For Senatorial elections, 146 petitions were filed out of which 100 (68.5%) were dismissed or withdrawn. For the House of Representatives, 413 petitions were filed out of which 309 (74.81%) were dismissed or withdrawn while for State Houses of Assembly, 550 petitions were filed out of which 468 (82.4%) were dismissed or withdrawn.
“The Commission wishes to restate that it is inappropriate to solely assess the credibility of INEC or the conduct of the 2023 General Election on the number of petitions filed by litigants who, in any case, have the right to do so under the law.”