ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) – A Nigerian court on Monday began hearing separate lawsuits brought by the opposition to challenge the incumbent party’s victory in the country’s presidential election.

The Presidential Tribunal at the Court of Appeal in the capital Abuja heard opening statements from lawyers representing opposition parties contesting the outcome of the February vote won by Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress.

At the beginning of the court hearing, armed security personnel blocked important access roads and prevented a handful of journalists and lawyers from entering the facility. Some protesters waved Nigerian flags and displayed placards, claiming the electoral process had been flawed.

“Why I’m demonstrating is because of the anger and pain I feel as a Nigerian that doesn’t allow me to express and enjoy the country’s resources,” said protester James Mike, who accused Nigeria’s political class of wealth Stealing off the country’s vast minerals and crude oil resources.

The Nigerian Electoral Commission declared Tinubu the winner in a television broadcast after he received 37% of the vote. But the two main opposition candidates rejected the result, questioning Tinubu’s qualifications and claiming that the results from the country’s 177,000 polling stations had been rigged.

Analysts and observers said the Feb. 25 vote was largely an improvement on Nigeria’s previous elections, but said delays in uploading the results may have left room for manipulation of the numbers.

In separate petitions, both runner-up Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party and No. 3 Peter Obi of the Labor Party argued that the Nigerian Electoral Commission had broken the law in announcing election results.

Obi said he had evidence he received a majority of votes in the election, while Abubakar asked the court to disqualify Tinubu, claiming he had a Guinean passport and was therefore not eligible under the Nigerian constitution to participate in the presidential campaign.

“We tell the court that he (Tinubu) is not qualified and contrary to the law he has not disclosed (to the Electoral Commission) that he has citizenship of another country,” said Paul Ibe, a spokesman for Abubakar.

In Nigeria, an election can only be voided by showing that the national electoral body largely failed to follow the law and acted in a way that could have changed the outcome. None of the Nigerian presidential election results have ever been overturned by the country’s Supreme Court, although analysts said this year’s vote was quirky due to the heavy use of technology in the electoral process.

The main opposition party has said without evidence that the ruling party plans to interfere in the court process, adding to tensions as the country awaits the court’s verdict as it prepares for Tinubu’s inauguration as president. However, the court challenge is usually a lengthy process and is expected to last months, well past May 29, when Tinubu is scheduled to take over from incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari.

Chinedu Asadu, The Associated Press


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