In this season of general elections, we need to enlighten on the three imperative steps that guide ascension to political offices in Nigeria via the ballot box and to posit clearly that it is neither a taboo nor a big deal for anyone or political party who is dissatisfied with the outcome of an election to approach the courts by way of election petition or petitions.
Nigeria is a constitutional democracy founded on the sacred principles of rule.
Rule of law presupposes absence of arbitrariness and unwarranted recourse to self help remedy.
Simply explained, under the doctrine of rule of law, no one should take the laws into his or her hands.
Thus, any aggrieved person is reasonably expected to make a complaint to formal authorities (like the Police and or the Courts) for amicable settlement or judicial determination of the alleged wrong or wrongdoings.
With particular reference to seeking public office via elections, Nigeria has a rich array of rules that govern it as extrapolated from the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as amended and the Electoral Act, 2010 as amended and other adjectival laws relevant in this regard.
From the community reading of the relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution and the 2010 Electoral Act as amended, the recognised tripod stages in an electoral contest in Nigeria are *nomination,* *election* and or *litigation.*
The Nigerian constitution does not approve of independent candidacy and as such, a candidate in a general election conducted by INEC must be sponsored by an INEC registered political party.
Double or multiple sponsorship of a candidate by parties is also outlawed and translates to disqualification under the Electoral Act.
For purposes of nomination by a party as a candidate in a general election, a person must belong to a political party and participate in the party primary which may be by direct or indirect election or by consensus.
Party primary is intra-party election and involves only party members and must be conducted in sync with the Party Constitution and Guidelines which must never offend or violate the provisions of the Electoral Act and or the 1999 Constitution as amended.
A person who emerges as candidate of the party is subsequently sponsored in the general election for that office by the political party forwarding his or her name and particulars to INEC.
It must be accentuated that in tandem with the hallowed doctrine of rule of law that forbids self help remedy, any aggrieved aspirant in the Party Primary process is duly authorised, without prejudice to the principle of party supremacy, to approach any High Court of a State, High Court of the FCT or Federal High Court to ventilate on pre-election issues.
Appeals on pre-election matters are entered at the Court of Appeal and terminate at the Supreme Court.
At the conclusion of party primaries, the political parties are expected or required to forward the names and particulars of their candidates for the general election to INEC.
Thereafter, a general election is declared by INEC as an umpire between the political parties that have sponsored candidates in that election and in the specific positions being contested.
A general election is an inter-party contest with clearly defined rules, guidelines and timelines abstracted from the 1999 Constitution as amended, the Electoral Act 2010 as amended and applicable INEC guidelines for the conduct of such elections.
Only registered voters vote in a general election by way of thumbprinting on the logo of the party of their choices.
At the end of voting, INEC declares the candidate of the party that has satisfied the constitutional requirements and garnered the lawful majority of the votes cast winner and issues certificate of return to the victorious candidate of the party.
No person is expected or authorised to unilaterally declare the results in a general election other than by INEC.
It is unlawful and a punishable criminal offence to declare election results Suo motu, meaning, on your own accord.
When INEC declares the final result of an election, it becomes functus officio the exercise.
Candidates and or the political parties are at this stage free to accept the result and there will be no need for litigation or legal redress.
Where however the result is rejected or disputed, the aggrieved candidate and or political party are not left in the lurch as a window of opportunity exists for presenting election petition(s).
In this circumstance, the next and final stage therefore is litigation and that is the exclusive preserve of the courts and more particularly the Election Petition Tribunals.
The various Election Petition Tribunals set up by the Chief Justice of Nigeria have the sole responsibility to entertain petitions arising from the conduct of the elections but have no jurisdiction in pre-election matters.
All State and National Assembly election petitions end at the Court of Appeal on a final appeal while the Governorship and Presidential election petitions terminate at the Supreme Court of Nigeria and these must be within the constitutional timelines allotted for determination of election petitions.
Once the final court delivers the final judgement in appropriate election petition cases and gives a seal of judicial approval to the victory or upturns the victory at the polls or makes preservative or consequential orders, appeals lie no where else because it is in the interest of justice and public policy that there should be an end to litigations and in this case, elections.
Therefore, it is an unfettered constitutional right consistent with the rule of law for a candidate or political party that is disatissfied with the outcome of an election result to present a reasoned petition before the appropriate Election Petition Tribunal in the manner and on grounds clearly suggested by our electoral laws.
With the foregoing, it is clear that Nigeria is not a jungle where humans beings are to be killed or maimed or properties destroyed with reckless abandon because of elections or anything else for that matter.
We are clear headed to unequivocally say to our politicians and all citizens at large that instead of resort to violence, killings and arson attacks over election outcomes or any other issue, they should kindly go to court as it is their unfettered constitutional right.
No party or its candidate should be held in derision or scorn for taking the civilized option of presenting election petitions instead of resort to violence or other self help remedy.
In this same light, no party or its candidate is expected to hold the country hostage because of threat of presenting an election petition as it is a routine and intrinsic part of the reality of our constitutional order consistent with the doctrine of rule of law.
We are optimistic that as the bastion of democracy, defender of the oppressed and the last hope of the common man, our courts are well able, ready and capable to give an aggrieved person the justice of his or her case because our law reckons that for every wrong there is a remedy- ubi jus ubi redium.
Let the rule of prevail while we grow our democracy!
A new normal is possible!
Prof Obiaraeri, N.O. Ph.D (Law), B.L., etc.