In Nigeria, government and political offices are filled by means of elections, which are challenged by petitions if the validity of the election or the return of a candidate is in dispute.
Election petitions are governed by a specific electoral law, making them unique. Section 288 of the Constitution and the Electoral Act 2022 regulate elections in Nigeria, while election petitions are also governed by the 1999 Constitution, and the Electoral Act of 2022.
Election petition tribunals are specialised courts that handle election cases, rather than regular courts.
Below is a timeline of presidential election petitions in Nigeria and their outcomes:
Olusegun Obasanjo vs Olu Falae –
Obasanjo was declared the winner, and Falae filed a suit at the Appeal Court, challenging INEC’s declaration of Obasanjo as winner of the poll, but the court struck out his application based on technicalities. Falae later claimed that the election result was altered while he was asleep in the night.
Olusegun Obasanjo vs Muhammadu Buhari –
Obasanjo was declared the winner, and Buhari challenged his re-election at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, which dismissed the petition Buhari filed.
He again went to the Supreme Court, but the apex court delivered a judgment that validated the Tribunal’s earlier ruling.
Umaru Musa Yar’Adua vs Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar –
Yar’Adua won a highly controversial presidential election; local and international observers said the election failed to meet international standards. Buhari and Atiku challenged the election at the Supreme Court, which eventually upheld Yar’Adua’s election into office as president.
Goodluck Ebele Jonathan vs Muhammadu Buhari –
Jonathan was announced winner, but the defeated parties rejected the result. Buhari challenged Jonathan’s victory, but the Supreme Court dismissed his appeal and affirmed an earlier decision by the Court of Appeal which upheld Jonathan’s victory.
Muhammadu Buhari vs Atiku Abubakar
The 2019 presidential election held on February 23, 2019, and featured incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the main contenders. Buhari won the election with 15.2 million votes, while Atiku polled 11.3 million votes.
Atiku and the PDP, however, challenged the result of the election at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal. They claimed that the election was marred by irregularities, violence, and rigging. On September 11, 2019, the tribunal dismissed Atiku’s petition and upheld Buhari’s victory.
Bola Ahmed Tinubu vs Peter Obi and Atiku Abukarkar
The announcement by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declaring Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the president-elect has been contested by Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP).
Atiku rejected the outcome of the election and claimed it was the worst election since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999. He led a protest to INEC’s headquarters in Abuja, and his legal team filed a suit against INEC at the Appeal Court, requesting access to inspect the sensitive electoral materials used during the exercise.
Peter Obi also rejected the result and filed a petition, challenging the declaration of Tinubu as winner of the February 25 presidential election.
It is worth noting that the party in power has won all election petitions that followed presidential elections since 1999.
Also, the 2015 presidential election won by Buhari was the only time in the history of Nigeria’s fourth republic when election results were neither rejected nor challenged in court by a formidable contender.
Governorship election petitions
Chris Ngige vs Peter Obi (Anambra State)
In 2003, Peter Obi ran for governorship in Anambra State under the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) party, but the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Chris Ngige of the People’s Democratic Party the winner. After a three-year legal battle, Ngige’s victory was overturned by the Court of Appeal on March 15, 2006, and Obi became governor two days later. However, after seven months in office, he was impeached by the State House of Assembly and replaced by Virginia Etiaba, his deputy, who became Nigeria’s first female governor. Obi challenged his impeachment and was reinstated as governor by the Court of Appeal on February 9, 2007, after which Etiaba handed power back to him.
Peter Obi vs Andy Uba (Anambra State)
In the 2007 elections, Obi lost to Andy Uba of the People’s Democratic Party, but the Supreme Court declared him governor of Anambra State and ordered Uba to vacate the office. The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision came two months after the general elections and was based on the constitutional requirement that a state governor’s tenure last four years, thus allowing Obi to stay in power until March 2010.
Rotimi Amaechi vs Celestine Omehia (Rivers State)
Rotimi Amaechi, a former Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly, challenged his substitution by Celestine Omehia of the People’s Democratic Party, who was declared governor of Rivers State after the general elections in April 2007.
Amaechi failed to restore his mandate in both the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal but was ultimately successful in his appeal to the Supreme Court, which ruled him the legitimate PDP candidate and winner of the gubernatorial election in Rivers State, even without contesting the elections.
Adams Oshiomhole vs Oserheimen Osunbo (Edo State)
Adams Oshiomole of the Action Congress (AC) was declared the duly elected governor of Edo State by the State Election Petition Tribunal after it relieved Oserheimen Osunbo of the People’s Democratic Party of his position in March 2008. The Appeal Court later upheld the decision, ruling that Oshiomhole scored the highest number of lawful votes in the April 14, 2007, governorship poll in Edo State.
Timpire Sylva vs Ebitimi Amgbare (Bayelsa State)
When Timipre Sylva won the governorship election in Bayelsa State in 2007, his opponent, Ebitimi Amgbare, challenged him in court. Although Amgbare lost at the tribunal, the Appeal Court ordered a fresh election in 2008, which Sylva won, allowing him to return to office.
Ibrahim Idris vs Abubakar Audu (Kogi State)
In Kogi State, Ibrahim Idris won his re-election into office as governor in 2007, but the election was cancelled because the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) wrongly excluded Abubakar Audu from the ballot. A new election was conducted while Clarence Olafemi, the state’s Speaker of the House of Assembly, served as governor.
2009: Olusegun Mimiko vs late Segun Agagu (Ondo State)
In 2009, Olusegun Mimiko was declared the governor of Ondo State by the Court of Appeal, which upheld the earlier ruling of the election tribunal. The tribunal had sacked the incumbent governor, Segun Agagu, and declared Mimiko, the candidate of Labour Party (LP) in the April 14, 2007 governorship election, as the duly elected governor of the state.
Mimiko won the valid votes in 12 out of the 18 local governments in the state, fulfilling the constitutional provision that a candidate must win at least two-thirds of the votes cast in 13 local governments. The tribunal ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to issue Mimiko with the certificate of return as the winner of the governorship election in the state, and thereafter be sworn in as the governor.
2010: Rauf Aregbesola vs Olagunsoye Oyinlola (Osun State)
In 2010, the Appeal Court sitting in Ibadan declared Rauf Aregbesola of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) winner of the 2007 governorship election in Osun State, awarding him 198,799 votes against the ousted incumbent, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, who was asked to vacate the seat after his election was declared null and void by the court.
Aregbesola had prayed the court to cancel the elections in 10 local government areas of the state where violence and electoral malpractices marred the elections.
The court affirmed that INEC did not conduct the election in accordance with the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and in accordance with the Electoral Act, and thus annulled the election held in 10 local governments in dispute, saying that the allegations against the election in the 10 disputed local government areas were valid and genuine.
2019: Hope Uzodinma vs Emeka Ihedioha (Imo State)
In 2019, the result of Imo State’s governorship election was contested by Hope Uzodinma, who finished fourth with almost less than double Emeka Ihedioha’s number of votes.
The Supreme Court awarded the victory of the election to Uzodinma in January 2020, thereby resetting Imo’s future election timeline. In the unanimous judgment of the seven-member panel, the apex court agreed that results in 388 polling units were unlawfully excluded during the collation of the final governorship election result in Imo State. With the results from the 388 polling units added, Uzodinma polled a majority of the lawful votes and ought to have been declared the winner of the election by INEC.
Consequently, the court voided and set aside the declaration of Ihedioha as the winner of the 2019 governorship election in the South-East state, and ordered that the certificate of return wrongly or unlawfully issued to Ihedioha be immediately withdrawn by INEC and a fresh one issued to Uzodinma as the elected governor of the state.
It is noteworthy that election petitions have changed the governorship election calendar in Nigeria since 2003. Election disputes take months to be resolved in Nigeria, despite the constitution stipulating that they should be concluded, where possible, before a candidate is sworn into office. However, eight states won’t participate in the governorship elections in 2023 like everyone else.