Olu Falae, Muhammadu Buhari, and Peter Obi hail from different parts of the country, but what do these three share in common? Each one has challenged the outcome of every presidential election they contested and lost.
Section 132(7) and (8) of the Electoral Act, 2022 also provide that the election petition must be filed within 21 days after the date of the declaration of results of the elections and the Tribunal shall deliver a judgement in writing within 180 days from the date of the filing of the petition.
With the exception of the 2015 election, every presidential election held since 1999 has ended in legal fireworks, but none quite as dramatically as the just-concluded presidential election. A number of aggrieved candidates have headed to the Elections Petition Tribunal to challenge the outcome of last month’s election. But how do their cases stack up against previous appellants?
Here is a look at everyone, past and present, who has tried to win an as-yet-unprecedented presidential election by judicial pronouncement.
The first presidential election of the Fourth Republic was held on February 27, 1999, and Olu Falae was the candidate of not one but two political parties. In a bid to leverage their combined strengths, the All People’s Party (APP) and the Alliance for Democracy (AD) formed a united front. Unfortunately, when the winner’s name was declared in the early hours of March 1, it was that of Olusegun Obasanjo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Falae, a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), was unhappy with the results and filed a suit at the Court of Appeal in Abuja disputing Obasanjo’s victory as declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
According to him, the election was marred by fraud and bribery. Additionally, the former SGF claimed Obasanjo, who polled 63 percent of the vote, was unfit to rule because he had been convicted of treason and was a member of the Ogboni secret society. Joined in the suit alongside Obasanjo were INEC, its chairman Ephraim Akpata, and 57 other respondents.
Held on April 19, 2003, the next presidential election was fraught with irregularities. It however ended three days later with Obasanjo as the winner, ahead of 19 other candidates.
Expectedly, the opposition dismissed the election as a charade. Runner-up Buhari, the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) candidate, and third-placed Chukwuemeka Ojukwu of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) challenged the results at the elections petition tribunal in Abuja.
The APGA leader’s case was dismissed at the Court of Appeal, with the ruling stating that “the petition lacks merit as it has not been shown either in law or fact that Chief Obasanjo was elected as alleged on 14th February 1976 as the Military Head of State”.
On September 3, 2003, he petitioned the Supreme Court to appeal the decision. But in a unanimous judgement on July 2, 2004, a seven-man panel of the apex court led by Justice Uthman Mohammed upheld the decision of the appellate court and awarded N10,000 to each respondent.
It is no longer news that now-President Buhari was a serial contestant for president until his election in 2015. But with each of his three previous defeats, he sought the intervention of the courts to reclaim what he saw as his mandate.
Like Ojukwu, Buhari’s 2003 bout ended with a petition filed at the Court of Appeal. His prayers were for the court to invalidate Obasanjo’s re-election on the grounds of non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2002; corrupt practices; and that, at the time of the election, the then-incumbent was not qualified to contest the election.
However, the Court of Appeal dismissed the case in a ruling delivered on July 28, 2003, a decision which was upheld by the Supreme Court on November 14, 2023.
As the ANPP candidate in the highly controversial April 21, 2007, presidential poll, Buhari’s second attempt resulted in another second-place finish behind the PDP’s Umaru Yar’Adua. Again, the retired general made a beeline for the Elections Petition Tribunal.
In his argument, Buhari requested that the election be annulled on the grounds that Yar’Adua was not qualified to contest the election on account of findings of fraud and embezzlement against him by a Commission of Inquiry set up by the Governor of Abia State, and that the election was invalid by reason of non-compliance with the Electoral Act 2006 and corrupt practices.
The Court of Appeal upheld Yar’Adua’s election and the Supreme Court affirmed the judgement in a majority judgement delivered on December 12, 2008.
In the April 16, 2011 presidential election, Buhari contested as the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) candidate and, for a third time, came up short against yet another PDP candidate – defeated by then-President Goodluck Jonathan.
Refusing to concede, Buhari gave the tribunal another go, marking his third and final attempt to secure an electoral win through the judiciary. The petition was dismissed by the Court of Appeal as well as in a unanimous Supreme Court judgement delivered on December 28, 2011.
After serving as a two-term vice president under Obasanjo, Atiku, and his principal did not see eye to eye. With no hope of fulfilling his presidential aspirations under an Obasanjo-led PDP, Atiku defected to the Action Congress (AC), on whose platform he contested the 2007 presidential election.
He however came a distant third to his rival’s anointed successor, Yar’Adua. That did not stop the former vice president from heading to the Court of Appeal. Similar to Buhari, he lost both at the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
Atiku did not contest a presidential election again until 2019 when, in a homecoming of sorts, he was nominated as the PDP candidate. But Buhari’s victory as the All Progressives Congress (APC) standard-bearer meant a defeat for his former ally.
Undeterred, Atiku proceeded to the Presidential Elections Petition Tribunal for a reversal of fortunes, ending the court’s one-election streak without a case.
The Court of Appeal affirmed Buhari’s re-election in a judgment delivered on September 11, 2019. Then in a unanimous decision on October 30, 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that Atiku’s case lacked merit.
After emerging as the runner-up of the February 25, 2023 election, Atiku has yet again approached the elections petition tribunal. The Vice President is praying the court to nullify the APC candidate Bola Tinubu’s victory.
It would be a never-before-seen feat. Then again, maybe for him, the third time’s a charm.
As Atiku’s vice-presidential candidate, Peter Obi was party to the PDP principal’s 2019 suit.
But this year, the former Governor of Anambra State branched out as a presidential candidate of his own, competing on the platform of the Labour Party (LP). Nevertheless, when the election results were announced in the early hours of March 1, Obi found himself in third place.
Dissatisfied with the outcome, he filed a petition on Tuesday, with INEC; Tinubu; his running mate, Senator Kashim Shettima; and the APC joined as the 1st to 4th respondents.
The petition prays for the tribunal to declare Tinubu as not duly elected with a majority of the lawful votes cast and grant an order mandating INEC to retrieve the certificate of return issued to the APC candidate and issue a fresh one to Obi. It also argued that the election was invalid by reason of corrupt practices and non-compliance with the provision of the Electoral Act, 2022.
With the wave of reactions already generated by the filing, it is safe to say that many will be keeping a close eye on the ensuing court proceedings.
In a similar move, the Action Alliance (AA) and its candidate Solomon Okanigbuan last Thursday approached the Presidential Elections Petition Tribunal in Abuja with a petition that joined INEC, Tinubu, and the APC.
The AA candidate argued that the recently held presidential and National Assembly elections failed to comply with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022 on the basis of the non-inclusion of its candidates in the election as against various court judgements, which ordered INEC to recognise all the candidates of the party submitted to it by the National Chairman of the party, Adekunle Omoaje.
The petitioners argued that Okanigbuan was the sole presidential candidate of the party, following his emergence at the party’s presidential primary held in Abuja.
They added that the exclusion of the AA candidate from the presidential race and other candidates submitted to INEC for the National Assembly elections was against the rule of law and subsisting judgements of various courts, including the Court of Appeal.
Consequently, the appellants requested an order setting aside the results of the presidential and National Assembly elections and that fresh elections be conducted where its recognised candidates would participate.
For Chichi Ojei, the Allied Peoples Movement (APM) presidential candidate, the flame of becoming the first female president is still alive.
Despite her defeat at the 2023 election, she and her party filed a suit marked CA/PEPC/03/2023 on the ground of alleged material non-compliance with the electoral laws and INEC instructions.
The appellants are arguing that due to the requirements of Sections 131(c) and 142 of the Constitution and Section 35 of the Electoral Act, 2022, Tinubu was not eligible to run in the election at the time of the election.
Now that the deadline for presidential election petitions has elapsed, it remains to be seen if, on this sixth occasion, a new precedent will be set.