On 15 November, the Supreme Court said all allegations raised by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar, challenging the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress at the 23 February presidential election were unproven. While explaining the reasons it dismissed the PDP’s appeal against the 11 September decision of the Court of Appeal that upheld Buhari’s re-election in February, the Supreme Court added that the PDP and its presidential candidate should have presented 250,000 witnesses – a figure which represents the number of people present at every polling unit which the PDP claims was the site of an election infraction – before the 2019 election tribunal to prove its case. Abubakar and his party had appealed to the apex court after the Court of Appeal dismissed its petitions in September. It asked the court to give further interpretation to its claims against Buhari’s qualifications to contest the election. A seven-member panel of the apex court ruled against the appeal on 30 October, saying it lacked merit. The Supreme Court said there were two main interpretative issues regarding the PDP’s petition; an alleged non-compliance to the Electoral Act, and the question of whether Buhari was qualified to participate in the election. Justice John Okoro who joined two other panellists to explain the court’s decision said, regarding the allegations of non-compliance, that the PDP had a responsibility not only to provide witnesses but to do so sufficiently to support its allegations. As agreed by the parties at the tribunal, the PDP was given 10 days to call its witnesses, while the other parties had six days each to do the same. The PDP called sixty-two (62) witnesses before closing its case on 19 July.

Thirty temporary personnel of the Independent National Electoral Commission who were declared missing early Sunday during the final collation of results in Olamaboro LGA of Kogi were found on Monday. The ad-hoc staff took part in Saturday’s governorship election in the state and were posted to Olamaboro by the electoral agency. Many of the ad-hoc staff used by INEC were university graduates undergoing their national service under the National Youth Service Corps programme. The results from the polling units where the missing staff served were also declared missing. The LGA Election Officer-in-charge of collating and announcing the local government’s results, Garba Mahmood, said the staffers were reported missing after the observation of some police officers who raised concerns that they were last seen shortly after voting ended at 1400 hours on Saturday. Mahmood said repeated calls to their telephone numbers did not go through. The Kogi governorship election was marred by violence, ballot box snatching, intimidation of voters and vote-buying in many parts of the state.

Data from the National Bureau of Statistics on 18 November showed that Nigeria’s annual inflation stood at 11.61 percent in October, its highest point since May 2018, and a 0.37 percent rise on 11.24 percent in September. The food price index showed inflation at 14.09 percent in October, compared with 13.51 percent in September. Meanwhile, core inflation dropped to 8.88 percent from 8.94 percent recorded in September 2019. The rise in the food index, according to the NBS, was caused by an increase in the prices of meat, oils and fats, bread and cereal, potatoes, yam, and other tubers, fish and vegetables. Costs have risen as a border closure ordered by President Buhari in order to curb commodities smuggling continues to bite. The CBN may hold its key rate next week, on account of the inflation spike which has put renewed pressure on the naira.

An investigation by The Punch newspaper has shown that many retailers using Point of Sales terminals to receive payments have abandoned their devices and reverted to cash payments. Many linked their actions to more customers declining the terminals to avoid paying a recently imposed ₦50 stamp duty charge. In September, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) asked banks to unbundle merchant settlement amounts and charge applicable taxes and duties on individual taxes and duties on individual transactions. This has resulted in many merchants tacking a ₦50 surcharge to transactions valued at or above ₦1,000.

Commentary

  • We wonder how the Supreme Court, or any court in Nigeria, would have handled 250,000 witnesses. The highest court’s decision has, perhaps unwittingly, set a very high bar for future election petitioners as allegations of election malpractices must be backed by eyewitness accounts at every affected polling unit. This precedent acquired added importance as the losers from the recently concluded elections in Kogi and Bayelsa begin to prepare their cases for the election petition tribunals. In any event, the Supreme Court’s ruling has closed the chapter on the tussle over the legitimacy of the current government at the federal level. What is pertinent now is to ensure that crucial amendments to the electoral law is passed by the National Assembly and assented to by the President in time for the next general elections. It is vital that this amendment process plug the glaring gaps in our current electoral process and institutionalise the gains from the 2015 elections which were lost in subsequent election cycles as has been so brutally proven yet again in last weekend’s elections in Bayelsa and Kogi.

  • The disappearance of the INEC staff was one of many incidents which occurred in crucial state elections in Kogi and Bayelsa; and led civil society organisations such as the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA) to criticise the conduct of the elections and call for their cancellations. The widespread violence, the kidnap of election umpires and the general insecurity raise questions about the credibility of the entire electoral process. This will undoubtedly form the cornerstone of the election petition that the PDP has said it will file against the results which returned Governor Yahaya Bello of the APC to another four-year term. Having said that, as we highlighted in another of our counsel in this dispatch, the new legal precedent set by the Supreme Court requiring a large number of witnesses in order to prove misconduct means that it will be tough to knock Bello off his perch.

  • Last October was the worst October for food inflation since 2009. Traditionally, inflation flattens in the tenth month of the year it as it is harvest season and preparation for the Christmas festivities kick in, at which point prices rise in anticipation of increased consumer spending. It is clear to any dispassionate observer that the culprit for the rise in food inflation is the border closure, and in the absence of a change in Abuja’s stance, the trend will only accelerate over the rest of the quarter. What remains unknown is by how much. Rice, which constitutes about 9% of the country’s inflation basket, is a commodity which sees a demand spike during the festive period. It is unlikely that anything the CBN does from here on out will slow down inflation, and this will have an impact on interest rates. We have said it before and we will repeat it again – there is no sound economic or social footing for the ongoing border closure. To ensure that whatever tangential benefits of the border closure are not wasted (we do not see any), we recommend its immediate cessation and urgent reform of the Nigeria Customs Service.

  • It is important to point out that while the new Finance Bill, which was passed into law by the Senate yesterday, stipulates the ₦50 stamp duty for transactions valued at ₦10,000 and above, some communication, or miscommunication, meant that ₦1,000 was implemented some months ago. This reaction by end users to what is effectively both double taxation as well as a penalty on POS transactions was inevitable and was bound to drive behaviour where people reverted to the less costly and more familiar medium of cash. The stamp duty charge applied the way it has been to POS transactions is an ill-advised move and is already reversing years of hard-fought gains engendered by the investments made in the cashless project. Whilst the finance bill goes through the legislative process, it is imperative that the CBN assesses the negative impact its stamp duty policy as well as other punitive directions, is having on its own cashless initiative and quickly reverse course.