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Courts tested in political arena as tension builds before next round of voting

The two main opposition parties are disputing the presidential results and seek guarantees about the technology ahead of state elections on 11 March

Working overtime in this election season, the Supreme Court, the Federal High Courts and the special election tribunals will be tied up on politically-connected cases at least until the inauguration of the new president on 29 May, perhaps beyond.

At stake is the outcome of the national elections on 25 February and the credibility of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as well as myriad issues such as voting technology and the legitimacy of the central bank's currency exchange scheme.

At least one of those may be out of the way. On 3 March, the Supreme Court ordered the central bank to lift its bar on the use of the old-design currency notes until at 31 December. The Court ruled that the central bank's withdrawal of the old notes from circulation by 10 February was unconstitutional (AC Vol 64 No 4, The naira republic's banknote crisis hurts (almost) everyone). So far, the central bank has declined to comment on the ruling.

Three state governors, from Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara, launched the suit last month ; their action was joined by another ten state governors, mostly from the ruling party. They see the Court's ruling as a victory against the central bank, but also against President Muhammadu Buhari who has personally endorsed the currency exchange policy.

The Court ruled that the governor of the central bank Godwin Emefiele and President Buhari lacked the right to pursue the policy with what appears to have been minimum consultation, and deemed the deadlines for the withdrawal of the old currency to be unrealistic.

Some of Buhari's aides see the ruling as judicial interference with the executive. They add that the issuance and withdrawal of banknotes come under the bank's remit as an institution independent from the executive and the legislature.

The Court's ruling on 3 March which directly countermands Buhari and bank governor Emefiele shows that on this issue, at least, that it's not afraid to clash with the executive. The much higher stakes for requests to annul a national election are of a different order of risk for even more independent-minded judges.

Yet the High Courts in Lagos and Abuja have given a couple of helpful judgements to the opposition parties. The Lagos court endorsed the request from Peter Obi's Labour Party that all results sheet in the 11 March state elections should be recorded digitally by INEC officials and transmitted to the regional collation centres digitally.

The other helpful ruling was the Abuja court's granting of access to INEC's digitally stored results sheets for each polling station which should allow them to cross-check against the results registered at the collation centres.

That may trigger a counter-claim by the ruling All Progressives' Congress (APC), whose presidential candidate Bola Tinubu was announced the winner on 1 March (AC Vol 64 No 5, Tinubu's last trick: from godfather to Kabiyesi). The APC has been arguing that the opposition parties may abuse access to INEC results to amend figures in their favour.

The other constraint on the appeals by the opposition Labour and People's Democratic Party will be time. They have until the end of this month to gather evidence of substantive malpractice from the results at nearly 177,000 polling stations and 8,000 regional collation centres. 

Then they will submit their evidence to the election tribunals who will have 180 days to consider it before delivering a written report – that means it is probable that Tinubu will be inaugurated as President before the legal processes launched by the opposition parties are completed.



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