Nigeria’s presidential elections were held on February 25 and the process was marred by irregularities. Many Nigerians were disenfranchised during the accreditation process across the country, preventing them from voting. Others were attacked by thugs and threatened to vote for certain political parties, while some had their ballot papers snatched, destroyed, and burnt at gunpoint by thugs after voting. The unlucky ones were murdered.
However, the one action that made many Nigerians express their lack of faith in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), was the inability of polling unit electoral officers to upload results directly from their polling units to the INEC server, which contravened INEC’s laws and guidelines. This single act led to the alleged manipulation of results across the country.
Amidst all these, the INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu went ahead to declare the All-Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu the winner of the 2023 presidential election. This action has made many Nigerians reject and deny him legitimacy and the Labour Party candidate, Peter Obi headed to court, to challenge the election results.
Will the March 18 gubernatorial elections impact the court case in any way?
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The legal standpoint
INEC has postponed the gubernatorial elections from March 11 to March 18, while Obi’s case is still in court. On March 8, the Appeal Court granted Peter Obi the freedom to inspect INEC’s electoral materials. However, INEC has still not complied with the court order. This also has brought doubt about INEC’s sincerity of purpose in these elections.
Beyond that, the March 18 gubernatorial and state houses of assembly elections could either put a wrench in Obi’s court case or help advance it. This could manifest in two scenarios; Nigerians vote for Obi’s Labour Party massively and he can use that as a testimony to how Nigerians also voted for his party widely during the presidential elections.
On the other hand, Nigerian voters could swing the other way and vote massively for other parties and Labour Party ends up not winning any state or seats in any house of assembly. If this happens, can the legal team of the opposition parties build on that, stating that Labour Party could not have won the presidential elections, given the fact that they lost in the states?
Probative value: Barrister Ejikeme Thompson told Nairametrics that the legal team of the opposition parties can bring such an argument before the court. However, the court could recognize the argument as not having enough probative value. This means that win or lose, there should be other evidence before the court showing that Nigerians voted for Obi during the presidential elections. These pieces of evidence should take precedence over gubernatorial election results.
According to him, it is left to the court to decide the evidence that has value. However, he believes that the gubernatorial election results should not have any link to how Nigerians voted during the February 25 presidential elections. Even if the gubernatorial election results are a factor in the court process, Nigerians have recognized Peter Obi as the leading force of the Labour Party and their voting patterns reflect this.
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Layman standpoint: Nairametrics spoke to several “obidients” about how the gubernatorial election results could impact Obi’s court case.
A Lagos state voter, Chidimma Mmadu told Nairametrics that if Labour Party wins gubernatorial and house of assembly seats in the southwest region, it would be easy to appeal to the emotions of the jury or judge while proving it is not possible for him to lose a presidential seat from those areas where his party performed well.
According to her, all Labour Party supporters need to ensure the party’s candidates are voted for across state houses of assembly and governorship positions, to effect change. She said:
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- “If Obi’s Labour Party loses on a large scale, it will just increase the time the Labour Party has to effect positive change across all states and houses of assembly.”
An FCT Abuja voter, Comrade Ifeanyi Precious, who is a social commentator and political analyst told Nairametrics that winning several seats in the states’ houses of assembly and governorship positions will be a morale booster for the Labour Party and Peter Obi. According to him, Obi is a grassroots politician who wants to influence positive change in the lives of Nigerians. So, if this happens and he recovers his presidential mandate, he will be able to work more effectively with his party’s candidates across the states. He said:
- “If Obi’s Labour Party can secure some governorship seats, I am sure that there will be a sense of aura from him that will reflect on those who win the governorship and state houses of assembly positions.”
Comrade Ifeanyi also said that if the opposite happens, and the Labour Party loses out on the state houses of assembly and governorship elections, it will not be a terrible blow to the party because 8 months ago, nobody ever thought the party would secure anything. He said:
- “I doubt if the Labour Party is going to lose state elections. but if they do, it will not dampen any spirit.”
However, with the way Nigerians embraced Labour Party during the presidential elections and are still ready to vote for the party on March 18, the Labour Party is indeed a rising force in the country because of the Peter Obi effect that has led to a generic movement across Nigeria.
An Enugu state voter, Aaron Esumeh, told Nairametrics that the outcome of the March 18 elections could only affect Peter Obi’s court case emotionally and not factually. According to him, Obi’s court case hinges majorly on the fact that the presidential election results were not uploaded in real time as stipulated in INEC’s guidelines. All the Labour Party agents have results which do not tally with what INEC announced. He said:
- “Obi’s court case rests on the discrepancies in the presidential election results. I don’t think the March 18 election results will affect Obi’s case. One thing I know for sure is people are not voting for governorship and state houses of assembly candidates purely based on the Labour Party.
- “In Enugu for example, most people say they will vote for Frank Nweke Jr of the All-Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). This is because Nweke is perceived as more competent and has aligned with the leadership ideals of Peter Obi.”
FCT Abuja voter, Mr Ehimare, who also happens to be an Obi supporter, told Nairametrics that statistics from INEC show that youth aged 18-34, making up 39.65% of voters and middle-aged Nigerians aged between 35 and 49, making up 35.75% of voters, are tired of the same old crop of politicians who have destroyed Nigeria.
He said that if the Labour Party wins both the governorship and house of assembly seats, it will prove that Peter Obi truly won the Presidential election, and it will help his lawyers at the tribunal challenging the process that produced the Candidate of APC Bola Ahmed Tinubu. He also said:
- “The political atmosphere is gradually changing in Nigeria, which we hope will continue. If not for the constitution that is limiting independent candidacy, the categories of young Nigerians would have preferred an independent candidacy. I believe that Peter Obi would succeed as President-elect even if his party loses both at the governorship and house of assembly seats.”
Abuja voter, Jerry Enebuse does not think the March 18 elections have anything to do with Obi’s court case. However, he told Nairametrics that he believes that if the Labour Party does not win a significant number of governorship and houses of assembly seats, it could dampen the spirit of ‘Obidients’, who have already had their presidential election wishes subverted by INEC.
Lagos voter, Peter Ababwa, told Nairametrics that a successful outing for Labour Party on March 18 would mean that the judges presiding over Obi’s court case will find it harder to deny him justice, seeing that his party is popular. He reasoned that the judges are not immune to the tyranny of the ng party. He stated that the Labour Party winning many governorships and houses of assembly seats may give some shield or protection to the judges, who will have the confidence to pass the right judgement.
He fears that if the opposite happens, the powers that be may become more emboldened to force their will on the populace as opposition voices will have been successfully suppressed.