The 2023 Presidential Election occurred on the 25th and 26th of February 2023, and some states began collating results on the 26th of February. This process starts at the ward level, where results from polling units under a ward are compounded, followed by the local government level, after which results are collated at the state level, and then finally at the Federal Government level where the results for the presidential election are announced.
Given the prevalence of election tampering in Nigeria, the results of the election have been monitored by citizens and political party agents with a microscopic lens. Right from counting votes at Polling units, voters have uploaded results from their polling unit to social media in an attempt to foster transparency and perhaps serve as a tool for comparing results later uploaded by INEC officials. While political party agents have been alert to malpractice through the collation processes both at the state and federal levels.
At the Lagos State collation centre, the agent for the Labour Party questioned results announced by local government representatives, expressing that the results presented differed from the ones she had. She also brought attention to reports of violence which disrupted voters from safely partaking in the elections.
The insistence of the LP agent on airing her complaints on live television was to ensure they were recorded in a fashion that cannot be misconstrued or easily discounted. However, she was hindered from tendering her complaints to the returning officer, who instructed her to make a formal complaint to INEC, as is the “proper procedure”.
At the federal collation centre in Abuja, party agents like PDP’s Dino Melaye insisted that INEC proceeds as earlier assured, and implement the use of BVAS, an electronic system introduced to reduce election malpractice and foster transparency in the 2023 elections, in the collation of results. This request is in line with sections 47(2) and 64(4) of the Electoral Act 2022 which requires results to be uploaded to technological devices prescribed by the commission. The party agents’ stance is to ensure the results recorded manually are consistent with the results uploaded through BVAS. The INEC chairman’s aversion to these requests fuels accusations of noncompliance made by the party agents.
'INEC must show uploaded results from the BVAS, we won't endorse a fraudulent election'
DG, PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation, Sen. Dino Melaye, insisting that INEC must show the uploaded results from the BVAS to validate the results seen at the collation centres. pic.twitter.com/rrGbpMdJWP
— ARISE NEWS (@ARISEtv) February 27, 2023
It is unfortunate how result discrepancies, reports of violence and many things disrupting the fabric of our democracy cannot be treated with the level of urgency it ordinarily requires. However, the delicacy of an election does not permit claims to be treated in the immediacy of human standards, because of the legal systems in place to address the claims of concerned parties.
Some political party agents including the Peoples Democratic Party agent, Dino Melaye, urged the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu to invoke the powers set out in section 65 of the Electoral Act which provides that where the commission determines that the declaration of scores of candidates and the return of a candidate was not made voluntarily or was contrary to the provision of law, the commission has the power within seven days to review such declaration and return.
Tunde Adejumo, a lawyer with expertise in election petitions explains that this proviso set out in section 65 is to circumvent malpractice and the threat of violence imposed on returning officers to declare false results. Prior to this proviso, declarations made by returning officers were final and could only be questioned by the courts, so in the instance where there were claims of violence and wrongdoings mar a declaration, only the courts have the power to investigate those claims. For example, in the 2019 Imo State Senatorial election, the returning officer alleged that he was held at gunpoint to declare Rochas Okorocha as Senator for Imo West Senatorial District. The only redress available to the opposing candidates and their parties was a petition to the election tribunal to nullify Okorocha’s win (the tribunal held that he was validly elected).
As a consequence of section 65, the commission can now review declarations rather than going straight to court. Once a review is completed, the Commission can either uphold the declaration made or make a different declaration in line with its findings. Party agents are therefore not misguided in their insistence on section 65 of the electoral act, however, this power to review would now be more efficiently exercised upon the declaration and return of a presidential candidate.
In the event that the INEC Chairman refuses to review the declaration, the only remedy left is a petition to the Court of Appeal under the ground that the election was invalid by reason of corrupt practices or non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act. The aggrieved parties will institute an action against INEC and the proper parties within 21 days after the declaration of results. In this process, evidence of corrupt practices, or non-compliance will be required and decisions from the court must be made within 180 days of filing the petition.