By Miftaudeen Raji
Elder statesman and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Robert Clark, said it would be difficult for the Labour Party, LP to prove that there were election malpractices in Lagos State during the March 18th presidential election.
Recall that the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC’s Asiwaju Bola Tinubu won the 2023 presidential election, beating close rivals, Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party, and Labour Party’s Obi.
But, Clark, said Labour Party and its presidential candidate, Peter Obi, have an uphill task before the election tribunal.
He said, “Let me be honest with you, let’s take for instance, the Obi, Labour Party. They had filed an election petition based on one- Bola Tinubu is not eligible to be voted for, two and even if he is eligible to be voted for, he did not get the two-thirds in Abuja, and even if he got it, the election was marred with gangsterism and different things.
“Those are the three elements that the Labour Party has brought forward to an election petition. Now let me draw from the pool of my own experience.
“The first one is that he is not eligible because he has been found guilty, but that is a non-starter. The issue has been settled and it is a non-starter. So the Labour Party can never make any headway on that ground. The second ground is that by virtue of the constitution that says to win an election despite and in spite that you have made the greatest number of votes, you cannot be declared elected if you don’t have two-thirds in 36 States and Abuja.
“The question to be considered by the Tribunal is what constitutes two-thirds of the 36 States in Nigeria and Abuja and how do you construct that word ‘and’ do you take 36 states first and you now take Abuja and now say that for you to be elected you must have two-third of 36 States and two-third of the federal capital and that is the view of the Labour Party which I do not agree with.
“Now, look at the scenario they are saying, If Tinubu had won two-thirds of all the 36 States and failed to win two-thirds of Abuja, then he cannot be elected. Does that make sense? Does that give any good reason for democracy to survive?
“Now the Supreme Court now says that look Abuja has been created as one of the 36 States, so it enjoys the status of a state, but the Supreme Court in one or two other cases would also say in determining whether Abuja is a state, you should not grant Abuja any privileges once you declared it as a state.
“The constitution itself says all votes cast in an election in Nigeria are equal, so how do you now add all these three principles that Abuja cannot have any special status, that all votes cast in Nigeria have equal states, then why do you want to interpret ‘and’ there to mean that even if I had 36 states, two-third and I don’t get Abuja, then I cannot be elected, it doesn’t make sense.
“Democracy means polarity of the people, for the people and for all the people.
“Therefore, my own view, which I think is a reasonable view, but I am subject to other views from my learned colleagues and the Supreme Court, is that in determining whether Tinubu has made that provision of two-thirds of the states, it must be the 36 states plus Abuja which is 37 states, so if he has made the polarity of two-third votes in all these states added together, then he becomes elected.
“But as I said, this is subject to interpretation by the Supreme Court. But I am basing my submission on what the Supreme Court has said on Abuja, what it has said about votes, and what it has said about the equality of votes among the states. But I am subject to my opinion being rejected, but that is my view.
“Even if the Labour Party decides that Tinubu has not qualified by virtue of past precedent, they still have to surmount the principle that the election was marred with many irregularities.
“The law says there is a presumption of regularity attached to whatever INEC does. The Evident Act in Nigeria gives INEC that privilege.
“The Supreme Court is now in a difficult position to look at all the evidence to be brought by the Labour Party regarding malpractices. Now the notorious place the Labour Party is holding is Lagos. They are claiming that in Lagos, they were cheated, and voters were not allowed to vote.
“Now when they prove it, they still need to go a step outside the proving to show how it has affected the election. So they have an uphill task.
“So my own view from my own experience in election matters, it is an uphill task for them, but you never know. You never know the circumstances of these malpractices, you never know how many votes were not allowed to be cast, so I cannot pitch my tent to say that they would not succeed, but my belief is that they have an uphill task,” he said.