The pain of having lost an election may not be easily put into words. Although I haven’t lost any before, I cannot begin to imagine the thoughts that come with losing an election. These thoughts may range from the financial commitments already made to even more serious issues like the fact that the plans you had as a candidate for the elections may not be realized because another person may work from the exact opposite position. We may sometimes let things go and not pursue a recount of the elections. Other times, we are so sure something went wrong and are willing to go the extra mile to find out what happened.

This is the last part of the election series. By now, you’re probably able to reel off certain parts of the election series especially parts relating to qualifications, disqualifications and the tenure of elected officers. These areas seem quite similar but with some vital differences depending on the office being vied for.

Today we will be discussing something different and pretty interesting. Do you know that if you’re discontent with the results of an election in Nigeria there are different ways of expressing your discontent? To be more specific, the elections being referred to are those pertaining to public offices in Nigeria. Those offices we discussed earlier in the electoral series. When a person questions the results of an election legally, he is said to present an election petition. So basically, an election petition is the entirety of the processes for challenging the results of an election. This may be a federal, state or local election in Nigeria.

Who can question the results of an election?

Many people usually question the results of elections. Especially when their preferred candidate did not win the elections. Although people may grumble and complain at different fora, not everyone can lawfully appear before a court of law or tribunal to complain. Only those who have such rights under the Electoral Act can rightly bring an action questioning the results of an election in a court of law or tribunal. Those entitled to do so are:

  • A candidate in the election
  • A political party that took part in the election
  • A candidate that was unlawfully excluded from the election.

What do you have to prove?

Where a petitioner (the one who presents an election petition is called a petitioner) seeks to question an election or its processes, he has to prove one or more of the following:

  • That a person whose election is questioned was at the time of the election not qualified to contest. This may be because he did not pass the age requirement test or the educational qualification test or some other cogent reason.
  • That the election was invalid due to corrupt practices or non-compliance with the Electoral Act.
  • That the winner was not duly elected by majority of lawful votes cast at the election
  • That he (the petitioner) was validly nominated but was unlawfully excluded from the election.

Normally, a candidate is nominated by his political party and then he contests the elections upon this nomination. Where he is unlawfully excluded from contesting an election for which he was validly nominated, he may make recourse to the court to address that issue.

Where the allegation by the petitioner borders on a crime, he has to prove beyond reasonable doubt. But where there are no elements of crime, then he need not prove beyond reasonable doubt.

What do you do when you want to question the results of an election? Where do you go?

Election petitions are usually regarded as sui generis. This means they are one of a kind. This accounts for why not every court of law can entertain matters relating to election petitions. The appropriate courts to go to are:

  • Court of Appeal

This is the first recourse in petitions against the election of the President or Vice-President.

  • National and State Houses of Assembly Election Tribunals

This is the first recourse for petitions against elections into the National or State Houses of Assembly.

  • The Governorship Election Tribunal

This is the first recourse for petitions against election of Governors and Deputy Governors.

Despite having this delineated courts for election petitions in Nigeria, there are other courts that may be involved in elections in Nigeria.  The High Courts in Nigeria are not totally excluded from election matters. They are limited to disputes that may arise before the elections took place. These are called pre-elections matters. Examples of such matters are: matters relating to disqualification, nomination of candidates, substitution of candidates and sponsorship of candidates by political parties. A practical example is where it is alleged that a governorship candidate was guilty of tax evasion and is therefore unfit to contest the governorship elections in the first place. This is a pre-election issue because it occurred even before the elections took place.

Which laws apply?

  • The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended)
  • The Electoral Act, 2010
  • The Election Tribunal and Practice Directions 2011
  • The Evidence Act, 2011

Contents of an Election Petition

The contents of an election petition are:

  • Name of the Court/Tribunal having jurisdiction.

Jurisdiction is the right that a particular court has to preside and make binding decisions over a particular matter.

  • Description of the election and when it was held
  • The parties interested in the election
  • The right of the petitioner to present the election petition
  • The fact that the elections were held
  • The scores of the candidate
  • The person returned as the winner of the election
  • The facts of the election petition, the grounds upon which the petition is brought and the relief the petitioner seeks (in other words, what do you want the court to do for you?)
  • Signature of the petitioner or his lawyer
  • The petitioner’s address.

All of the above sum up the basics of contesting election results in Nigeria.