ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — An appeals court in Nigeria convened Wednesday to rule on whether President Bola Tinubu’s February election victory was legitimate, a decision that has put Africa’s most populous country on edge.
The opposition challenged the election results, arguing that Tinubu was not qualified to run for president because he was a citizen of Guinea and allegedly did not have the required academic credentials. The opposition has hinted at possible protests if the court rules in his favor.
Tinubu has denied all the allegations.
Security was tight in the Nigerian capital of Abuja, where five judges at the Court of Appeal were expected to hand down their ruling. The tribunal is empowered to either uphold Tinubu’s election win, declare someone else the winner, annul the vote or to order a new election. Whatever decision they make can be appealed at Nigeria’s Supreme Court.
If the judges annul the presidential election, it would be a first in Nigeria’s history. A presidential election can be annulled only on the basis of evidence that the Independent National Electoral Commission did not follow the law and acted in ways that might have affected an election’s outcome.
If the appeals court upholds the election commission’s declaration of Tinubu as the winner of February’s election, it could open a path for the body to decide on its own when and how future election results are announced.
Since Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999, all presidential elections but one have been contested in court. None were overturned.
Police in Abuja issued a statement Tuesday warning citizens “to be cautious in their actions and statements,” saying security forces would not “condone activities capable of inciting violence or causing a descent into anarchy.”
The 71-year-old Tinubu won the election with less than 50% of the vote, also a first in Nigeria’s history. The election results are being contested by three opposition candidates, including former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who came in second, and Peter Obi of the Labor Party, who finished third.
The opposing candidates filed separate petitions arguing that Tinubu was not qualified to become president and claiming the electoral commission did not follow due process in announcing the winner. The delays in uploading and announcing election results could have given room for ballot tampering, critics say.
The opposition has also alleged that Tinubu was indicted for drug trafficking in the United States, that he is a citizen of Guinea which disqualifies him to run in presidential elections in Nigeria, and that his academic qualifications were forged.
Since taking office, he introduced measures that he said would reform the country’s ailing economy but which have further squeezed millions of poor and hungry Nigerians during his first 100 days in office.
On Tuesday, Nigeria Labor Congress workers launched a two-day “warning strike” to protest the growing cost of living due to the removal of gas subsidies, threatening to “shut down” Africa’s largest economy if their demands for improved welfare are not met. It was their second strike in over a month.
The Nigerian government urged citizens to be patient with Tinubu. Most of the Nigerian leader’s reforms, though well-intentioned, have been poorly implemented, critics have said. They cited the government’s delay in introducing social welfare programs to cushion the effect of other measures, such as the removal of gasoline subsidies.
“While these two vital steps to save the country from hitting the rocks brought momentary discomfort to Nigerians, President Tinubu has never failed in his appeal to Nigerians to see the current inconveniences as a price we must all pay to save our country from disappearing,” Mohammed Idris, Nigeria’s minister of information, said in a statement.