Why a Presidential Candidate Can Be Disqualified in Nigeria

January 24, 2023

It’s one month until the presidential election. Almost everyone’s giddy about the prospect of choosing Nigeria’s next President. 

So it’s fascinating to learn that the two leading parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), have commenced court proceedings seeking the disqualification of their opposing principals. 

This led us to ask, what needs to happen for a candidate to be disqualified from contesting for president? But, before we answer that, let’s see if something like this has happened.

Is this the first time this is happening?

No. In the lead-up to the 2015 presidential election, the current president Muhammadu Buhari was at the centre of a certificate scandal

Section 131 of the Nigerian Constitution covers the qualifications for becoming President

Subsection (d) reads, “A person shall be qualified to the office of President if he has been educated up to at least school certificate level or its equivalent.” The problem was, despite Buhari’s claim at the time that his school leaving certificate (WAEC) was with the military, they initially denied having it. After much back and forth, Buhari’s academic records were released to the public. However, their authenticity remains an open question.

What are eligibility requirements to become president?

The essential requirement needed to be President, not stated in the Constitution or the Electoral Act is money. Lots of it.

Beyond being a joyful spender, section 131 of the Constitution provides four personal requirements, namely;

  1. You must be a Nigerian citizen by birth
  2. You must be at least 40 years old
  3. You must belong in a political party and sponsored to the office of the President
  4. You must be educated up to at least school certificate level or its equivalent

So what needs to happen to be disqualified from becoming president?

Section 137 of the Constitution provides grounds for disqualification to the office of President. Unlike the qualification requirements, this one’s a longer list. A person shall not be qualified for office of the president if they;

  1. Have dual citizenship, which goes against Section 28 of the Constitution.
  2. Served two terms as President already which excludes Buhari and former president Olusegun Obasanjo.
  3. Have been declared to be a lunatic or of unsound mind by any law in Nigeria. Sounds fair. Nigeria’s hard enough as it is and we don’t want to worsen things by electing a mentally unfit person.
  4. Are under a death sentence, or sentenced to prison for fraud. 
  5. Are convicted of fraud or dishonesty less than ten years before the election date.
  6. Have been declared bankrupt. Because someone who can’t manage their own affairs shouldn’t be trusted to manage that of a country.
  7. Haven’t resigned from any public office at least 30 days before the election.
  8. Belong in a secret society. Because why?
  9. Have been indicted for embezzlement or fraud by a judicial commission or tribunal.
  10. Present a forged certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

How likely is it for anyone to be disqualified at this point?

There have been allegations of corruption and forgery levelled against the top two parties both within and outside. Aspirants have the right to challenge the results of primaries as provided in Section 29 of the Electoral Act.  

However, INEC, as an umpire, has limits on how it can intervene. For example, in 2019, a federal high court in Abuja in a case between the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Kogi State and INEC, ruled against INEC saying it had no power to disqualify a candidate that its party has cleared. 

There’s good reason to believe that despite court cases springing up this late, the presidential candidates may still have to slug it out at the polls on February 25. 

Ultimately, the people will pass judgment with their ballots.

We write the news and track the 2023 elections for citizens by citizens in our weekly newsletter, Game of Votes. Make the subscription of a lifetime here.

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