Nigeria court rules on opposition election challengeWed, 06 Sep 2023 11:56:25 GMT

A Nigerian appeals court on Wednesday began ruling on an opposition bid to overturn President Bola Tinubu’s election victory in an eagerly awaited decision.The Abuja court has been deliberating for months on lawsuits from the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Labour Party claiming irregularities by electoral authorities, vote fraud and allegations Tinubu was not qualified to run.In one of the country’s most tightly contested elections, former Lagos governor Tinubu won 37 percent of votes in the February 25 ballot, beating the PDP’s Atiku Abubakar and Labour’s Peter Obi to secure the presidency of Africa’s most populous country.In an initial ruling on Wednesday, the five-judge panel dismissed as invalid a challenge by the small opposition party, Allied Peoples Movement, to annul the election.But the tribunal was still reading its lengthy decision on the main party claims.Legal teams in white wigs and black robes packed into the courtroom, where a judge read through each separate detail of the court’s judgement on the challenges.Security was heightened around the court in the Nigerian capital early on Wednesday, with police and defence forces cordoning off access to the building with roadblocks.No court has overturned a presidential election since Nigeria’s return to democracy from military rule in 1999.Lawyers say any decision will still likely be taken to the Supreme Court for a final ruling.Tinubu’s government has dismissed all claims of wrongdoing and appeared confident for Wednesday’s decision, highlighting the judiciary’s integrity.Tinubu took office at the end of May and has quickly introduced a set of reforms the government says will help put Africa’s largest economy back on track.He is currently in India to participate in the G20 summit where he is seeking foreign investment.- Nullify or verify -The 2023 election was one of the most contested in the country’s modern history, thanks in part to the emergence of a major third-party candidate to challenge the dominance of Tinubu’s All Progressives Congress (APC) and the PDP.Labour’s Obi looked to appeal to younger voters who said they were looking for an alternative to the old-guard candidates.To improve transparency, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) introduced biometric technology and IReV, a central database for uploading results in real time.INEC acknowledged “glitches” but dismissed claims the vote was not free and fair.In two lawsuits, the PDP and Labour are calling for the results to be nullified and for their candidates to be declared the winner or for the court to order a rerun.The PDP’s Abubakar called the vote a “rape of democracy” and the party says it presented proof that INEC broke electoral law in its transmission of results, and of Tinubu’s failure to meet constitutional requirements.Labour’s lawsuit followed similar allegations, referencing INEC breaking electoral law, vote rigging and also claims Tinubu was not qualified to run.The court ruling comes as Nigerians struggle with a rising cost of living after the government ended a fuel subsidy programme that kept petrol prices low and also freed up the naira currency.Government officials say the policies are needed to revive the economy, calling for patience and supplying state governments with funds to help offset the impact.Tinubu’s government is also tackling huge security challenges, from jihadists still fighting a long war in the northeast to intercommunal clashes and kidnap gangs operating in other regions.