ANALYSIS: Electoral disputes: Can Peter Obi still change Nigeria’s electoral calendar?

ANALYSIS: Electoral disputes: Can Peter Obi still change Nigeria’s electoral calendar?

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Forensic trenches are certainly not unfamiliar territory for Pierre Obithe presidential candidate of the Labor Party (LP) in the general elections on 25th February.

About 20 years ago, Mr Obi contested the April 19, 2003 gubernatorial election in Anambra State on the crest of the newly formed Progressive Alliance (APGA). After Chris Ngige of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was declared the winner of the race by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mr Obi rejected the result and went to court for redress where he recorded a historic success .

On Monday, March 13, Mr. Obi said he would not accept the result of this year’s presidential race as declared by INEC because, according to him, it is not the will of God for the country. He said he was ready to challenge the process by which the election arbiter arrived at his declaration of the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the winner. Mr Obi made the statement during an interview on Arise News TV. A week earlier, he had addressed a press conference saying he had in fact won the election and was ready to prove his claims in court.

The electoral commission, the INEC, had, in the early hours of March 1, 2023, declared Mr. Tinubu the winner of the election.
Mr. Tinubu defeated 17 other candidates who took part in the election. He received a total of 8,794,726 votes, the highest of any candidate, fulfilling the first constitutional requirement to be declared the winner.

He also won more than 25% of the votes cast in 29 states, more than the 24 states required by the Constitution. INEC Chairman Mahmood Yakubu, a history professor who announced the final results in Abuja, said Atiku
PDP’s Abubakar came second in the elections. Atiku garnered a total of 6,984,520 votes in the election while Mr. Obi of the LP came third with a total of 6,101,533 votes.

But Atiku and Obi have since rejected the results announced by INEC, as each of them claimed victory in the elections and pledged to challenge the exercise in court.

For Mr. Obi, he seems sensitive to the complex contours of the judicial process. He is a beneficiary of the judicial process in Nigeria’s electoral history. After two years and 11 months of court fireworks, Mr. Ngige’s tenure as governor of Anambra State ended on a dramatic note on March 15, 2003 when, by a unanimous decision, a five-member panel of the Court of Appeals overturned his victory and confirmed Mr. Obi as the winner of the state’s April 2003 gubernatorial election.

In its ruling, the Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s ruling that Mr. Obi should have been declared the winner and sworn in as the validly elected Governor of Anambra State on May 29, 2003. The verdict was the proceeds of Mr. Obi’s pursuit of his mandate through the judicial process, despite daunting odds.

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Mr. Obi’s swearing in as governor on March 17, 2006 made Anambra the first state to change the timeline for governorship transition in the country, as he became the first candidate to overthrow a governor in exercise through the judicial process. However, less than eight months after being sworn in as governor, Mr Obi was impeached and removed from office by the state legislature on November 2, 2006.

Her deputy, Virginia Etiaba, was sworn in as titular governor in her place the following day, November 3, 2006, making her the first-ever female state governor in Nigeria.

For the second time, Mr. Obi addressed the court. Then it was about challenging his indictment. He maintained that he had done no wrong justifying his dismissal. As he struggled to reclaim his term in court, processes for the 2007 governorship were in full gear. He triumphed at the Enugu Division of the Court of Appeal and was reinstated as Governor on February 9, 2007. Ms Etiaba returned the reins of power in the state to him and returned to his former position as Deputy Governor .

ALSO READ: Peter Obi Insists Presidential Poll Outcome Is Not God’s Will

Mr. Obi was advised to collect and submit a nomination form as his party’s (APGA) candidate for the fast approaching gubernatorial elections, but he declined, insisting that He still had three years left in his term as governor.
has just spent barely a year in office after the dismissal of Mr. Ngige by the Court of Appeal. His stance has sparked controversy both in Anambra State and across the country, with some commentators chastising him for overstretching his luck while others urged him not to shy away from running for a election he had to win on merit. But Mr Obi stuck to his guns by walking away from the governor’s 2007 polls despite pleas for him to run.

In line with widespread expectations, Mr. Obi lost the governorship for the third time when he had to leave office on May 29, 2007. , PDP candidate Andy Uba was declared the winner by the INEC and then named Governor on May 29, 2007.

Mr. Obi continued his ongoing case in court, heedless of the impending gubernatorial election. His main argument was that the four-year term to which he was entitled following his restored victory in
the April 19, 2003 general election did not begin to take place until he took office on March 17, 2006. On June 14, 2007, the Supreme Court, in a landmark verdict, upheld Mr. Obi’s claim by sacking Mr. Uba and reinstating Mr. Obi as Governor. The judgment brought a dramatic end to Mr. Uba’s tenure and paved the way for Mr. Obi to complete his four-year term on March 17, 2010.

Mr. Obi contested again and was re-elected. He completed his second term without incident on March 17, 2014 when he handed over to his successor, Willie Obiano.

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Mr. Obi’s court battles not only made Anambra the first state in Nigeria to hold an off-season gubernatorial election but also opened the door for others like Kogi, Osun, Ekiti, Bayelsa, Edo, Ondo and Imo to follow the same trajectory.

Reiterating his respect for traditional rulers and religious leaders, during his interview with Arise Television on Monday, the former governor of Anambra State disagreed with the narrative that the result of recent polls, as spoken by the INEC, was God’s wish for Nigeria.

“I am very respectful towards them (traditional leaders and religious leaders) and I think they should be respected for what they represent for society. But I don’t agree with them. What they are really preaching is the Nigeria problem. Nigeria’s problem is to accept wrongdoing and accept what is unacceptable.

“It is using God’s name in vain. That’s not what God says. God said not to use my name in vain. So what they say is not God’s will, it’s not God’s plan for Nigeria… That’s not what God’s will says. God’s will
it’s that when you do the right thing, in the end it’s good.

He said Nigeria has laws governing the conduct of elections and it is not God’s will that they be violated.

“We have clear laws on the conduct of elections; it is not God’s will that we do the wrong thing. We want God’s will to really be God’s will… Is it God’s will that we are stealing or conducting the wrong election? He asked.

Although previously seen by pundits as an unstructured outsider in the race, Mr Obi garnered more than six million votes in the presidential election. He also won in 12 states (including Abuja), the same number as President-elect Mr Tinubu and Atiku.

In his interview on Arise TV, Mr. Obi sought the cooperation of INEC for his electoral petition.

“INEC is a public institution and it should be open. Because if you do something and people aren’t happy, you should be able to open up,” he said.

“INEC organized an election and announced the winner, but I only ask to have access to the documents that were used to arrive at the result. I’m not asking you to change what you said.

“I do not dispute their statement. Or rather, I don’t dispute who they said. I don’t dispute whatever the outcome. I take issue with the process by which they arrived at their statement.

“And unless we do that, we’re not going to stop the rascality that we’ve seen in this election. The process by which people arrive at the office is much more fundamental than what they do afterwards… There is a process of doing things, of arriving at each destination. A process is important,” Obi said.

By challenging the presidential election in court, Mr. Obi, like Atiku, seeks to achieve what no other losing presidential candidate has achieved.

Since the beginning of the current democratic regime 24 years ago, no candidate has successfully contested the result of the presidential election. Will Obi tip the apple cart? Previous Presidential
the 2007, 2011 and 2019 elections were unsuccessfully contested despite election shortcomings.

Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari contested the 2007 and 2011 presidential elections in court. Runner-up in this year’s presidential election, Atiku, who was also a candidate four years ago, was challenged in 2019 but also failed in court. In the looming court battle for this year’s contest, Atiku and Mr. Obi are key dramatis personae.

While many Nigerians may have lost faith in the country’s justice system due to some controversial court verdicts in recent years, Mr Obi does not appear to share such pessimism.

A recurring question on the lips of many analysts and observers is therefore: will Mr. Obi achieve a recall by altering the timing of the presidential election in Nigeria as he did 20 years ago for the governorship?

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