In the aftermath of the February 2023 General election in Nigeria that brought in Bola Tinubu as president, there has been some confusion about the proceedings at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT), held at the Court of Appeal in Abuja.
Mr Tinubu’s two major opponents at the poll, Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) and Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have raised concerns regarding the conduct of the election, seeking legal redress through the tribunal ruling in their favour.
However, Nigerians are unsure whether the PEPT is functioning as a court of appeal or a tribunal court, leading to uncertainty regarding the election dispute resolution process.
In this explainer, DUBAWA clarifies the roles and functions of these legal entities, offering insight into what happens next in the event of dissatisfaction with the PEPT’s decision.
Election Petition Tribunal
The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT), often confused as a separate court, is, in fact, a specialised division within the Court of Appeal. Its primary role is to handle disputes related to presidential elections.
In the context of the 2023 election, the presidential candidates and political parties who believe that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) committed irregularities or violated electoral laws can present their grievances before the PEPT.
The court is not an appellate court; it functions as a specialised tribunal with specific jurisdiction over presidential election matters. An interview with Balogun Sofiyullahi, a Partner at InnsBridge Attorney, revealed that it is designated “for ease of reference or convenience” since it is not formed as a separate court of jurisdiction under the Nigerian Constitution.
He said, “What the Constitution establish is a ‘court of appeal’ with jurisdictional competence to determine presidential elections among others, under Section 239 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. The Presidential Election Petition Court is the only court empowered to exercise original jurisdiction in Presidential elections and appeals emanating from that place to the Supreme Court.”
Different Paths for Presidential and Governorship Election Petitions
It is worth noting that the process for handling election petitions differs from presidential and governorship elections in Nigeria. In cases where petitions arise from governorship polls, Section 285 of the Electoral Acts dictates that aggrieved petitioners proceed to the election tribunal, then to the Court of Appeal, and finally, they may end at the Supreme Court. However, in the case of presidential elections, Section 239 of the Electoral Act 2022 stipulates that the initial petition is presented before the PEPT, which is housed within the Court of Appeal.
Next Steps for Dissatisfied Petitioners
Once the tribunal has decided, any party dissatisfied with the outcome can take their case to the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
The Supreme Court is the highest judicial authority in the country and serves as the final arbiter for legal disputes, including presidential election petitions.
Petitioners who believe that the PEPT did not adequately address their concerns or that there were legal errors in the PEPT’s decision can appeal to the Supreme Court.
Olumide Alabi, a barrister at Olumide Alabi Chambers, said the Constitution made it a point of note for PEPT appeals to go directly to the Supreme Court. He said,
“The composition of justices that sit on PEPT is strictly for the justices of the Court of Appeal. It could be presumed that the PEPT is more or less the Court of Appeal.
“One can be confidently tempted [sic.] to say that the PEPT, though a tribunal, is more or less operated on the wisdom of Court of Appeal as the Umpires of the Court are Court of Appeal Justices.”
However, petitioners must file a notice of appeal within 14 days after passing the unsatisfactory judgment. Otherwise, it will be struck out as the higher court will lack jurisdiction to hear the appeal, according to Section 2 of the Supreme Court Election Appeals Practice Directions, 2023.
Mr Olumide further revealed that the tribunal will be dissolved after the case has been resolved and terms of reference have been accomplished. But the Appeal Court stands, and all decisions coming from the tribunal will perceived as decisions coming from the Appeal Court, which supports the direction of appeals to the PEPT’s judgement going to the Supreme Court.
At the Supreme Court, the justices thoroughly review all arguments and evidence presented by the parties involved. Their decision is considered final and binding, so it cannot be appealed. The Supreme Court’s role is to interpret the law and ensure justice is served under the Constitution and the relevant electoral laws.
Also, the Court’s decision is not influenced by political considerations but is based solely on the merits of the case, admissibility of evidence tendered and other applicable legal principles. This ensures that the integrity of the electoral process is upheld and that the people’s will is respected.
Understanding these legal mechanisms and processes, Nigerian citizens can have greater confidence in the electoral system’s ability to address grievances and uphold the rule of law, thereby dispelling misinformation and actively engaging electorates in the judicial process.