Few weeks after the conclusion of the general election, attention has now shifted to the election petition tribunal where candidates who contested in the elections and are dissatisfied with their results have turned their attention to the tribunals.
For many of the candidates, there is an air of optimism that justice would be served at the tribunal and most of them are going all out to make sure they prove their cases.
Despite promises by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), observers say the 2023 general election was below the expectation of Nigerians.
Consequently, observers expect that there will be a high volume of petitions from aggrieved candidates at tribunals across Nigeria, just like in previous elections, considering the alleged irregularities which trailed the polls.
Across the country, several individuals have already filed their petitions to the tribunals.
In the March 18 poll, the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Sanwo-Olu polled 762,134 votes to defeat his closest rival, Rhodes-Vivour, candidate of the Labour Party (LP), who scored 312,329 votes while
Olajide Adediran, the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party ( PDP) came third, after garnering 62,449 votes.
Dissatisfied with the conduct of the gubernatorial poll, four opposition candidates have filed petitions to challenge the victory of the APC’s candidate, Governor Sanwo-Olu.
Those who filed are the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate, Abdul-Azeez Adediran; as well as the Labour Party (LP) governorship candidate, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour who filed as the sole petitioner.
Others are the Allied People’s Movement (APM) and the Action People’s Party (APP).
The PDP candidate Adediran petition is calming that the incumbent Governor Sanwo-Olu and his deputy, Hamzat, were not qualified to run for the election during the period it was conducted.
Adediran also claimed that Rhodes-Vivour of Labour Party (LP), who INEC declared as the candidate with the second-highest number of votes during the gubernatorial, was also unqualified to participate in the election at the time it was held.
The PDP governorship candidate is now pressing for the disqualification of Sanwo-Olu and Rhodes-Vivour in the election due to their “failure to adhere to the Electoral Act 2022 and INEC’s regulations.”
Additionally, Adediran and PDP requested that any votes cast for the two contenders in the election be considered invalid.
While INEC is the first respondent, Sanwo-Olu; Hamzat, APC; Rhodes-Vivour, and the LP are listed as the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th respondent respectively.
Thus, last week the tribunal granted the Lagos PDP candidate permission to serve court processes (documents) by substituted means.
The permission was given to Adediran by the tribunal to serve the election petition documents on Governor Sanwo-Olu, governor-elect of Lagos. The same permission was granted him to serve the LP governorship candidate for the state, Rhodes-Vivour.
The respondents in the petition, which is identified as EPT/LAG/GOV/01/2023, include the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Sanwo-Olu, Sanwo-Olu’s Deputy, Hamzat Obafemi, the APC, Rhodes-Vivour, and the Labour Party (LP).
Adediran and the PDP, through their counsel, Austin Akpomreta, had told the tribunal that he was unable to effect personal service of the petition on Sanwo-Olu, Hamzat, and Rhodes-Vivour.
He said that the respondents were not physically present to receive the court process.
Adediran prayed the court to grant him leave to serve the petition and other processes on the governor and his deputy through any officer or the secretary of the APC in its Lagos state secretariat at 151, Acme Road, Ikeja, in which the tribunal granted the order.
What is substituted service?
By the rules of courts in Nigeria and as a means to ensure that the principle of fair hearing is ensured, where prompt personal service cannot be effected, a petitioner can obtain an order of substituted service.
This is usually done upon an application by the petitioner supported by an affidavit setting forth the grounds upon which such application is brought. By order 9 rule 5 of the Lagos high court rules 2019, if it appears that personal service cannot be carried out conveniently.
Court documents are usually served on a party personally, by delivering or giving such documents to the person. Where this cannot be done conveniently a substituted means is used.
Substituted means can be by electronic means, pasting of such documents, or serving documents on another person other than the party.
Adediran asked that all votes cast for them in the election be declared wasted.
“The 2nd and 3rd respondents, although not duly sponsored and not qualified, contested along with the 1st petitioner and others for the office of governor of Lagos state, the subject matter of this petition,” the petition reads.
“Similarly, the 5th and 6th respondents, although not duly sponsored and not qualified, contested along with the 1th petitioner and others for the office of governor of Lagos State, the subject matter of this petition.
“The 1st respondent, upon the conclusion of the election, declared the 2nd respondent who was not properly sponsored by the 4th respondent as the winner of the election to the office of governor of Lagos state.
“The 5th respondent who was similarly not properly sponsored by the 6th respondent, was declared by the 1st respondent as having scored the second highest number of votes at the election to the office of governor of Lagos state.”
According to the petition, the APC also failed to comply with the requirement of the Electoral Act 2022 which states that every political party sponsoring a candidate in the general election shall submit the nomination form of such candidate(s) not later than 180 days before the conduct of the general election in forms EC9.
Adediran and the PDP added that Sanwo-Olu failed to attach a copy of the GCE O’Level result he claimed to have sat for in 1981 along with his form EC9 as required by the Electoral Act 2022.
“When JANDOR and PDP approached WAEC for confirmation, they were directed to purchase the scratch card for verification of WAEC result scratch card, which then confirmed the results as not emanating from WAEC, it came back to be a fake result.”
The petitioner also claimed that Rhodes-Vivour was still a member of the PDP while standing election under the Labour Party.
It was on the above premise that he sought the disqualification of LP’s Rhodes-Vivour, allegeing non-compliance of the party with the requirements of the Electoral Act in the conduct of the primary election that produced the candidate.
“Documentary evidence and newspaper report establishing his participation in the screening exercise for the running mate to the governorship candidate of the Lagos PDP, Abdul-Azeez Olajide Adediran (JANDOR), on June 22, 2022, was provided in the petition,” the document reads.
“In line with the provision of the Electoral Act, the candidate for the office of governor of Lagos State is not allowed to be a member of more than one political party at the time of being sponsored as a candidate for the general election, therefore his nomination is invalid.”
Understanding the trajectory
An election tribunal has 180 days from the date of filing to hear and determine an election petition. Any petition determined outside 180 days is invalid.
An appeal against the decision of an election tribunal is also constitutionally timebound, as it is provided that any person displeased with the decision of the governorship election tribunal must file a notice of appeal in the registry of the tribunal or court within 21 days from the decision date.
It is pertinent to note that only governorship and presidential election petitions can get to the Supreme Court.
However, gubernatorial election petition is expected to last up to ten months, leading up to the Supreme Court its final destination.
An appeal against the decision of the tribunal must be disposed of by the appellate courts (Court of Appeal and Supreme Court) within 60 days from the date of the delivery of judgment by the Tribunal or Court.
In addition, appeals from the decision of the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court shall be filed within 14 days from the date the decision appealed against was delivered.