IT NEWS NIGERIA:
Human Rights Law Service(HURILAW) in collaboration with OneVOICE Coalition for Sustainable Development in Nigeria have Thursday urged fair and timely dispensation of 2019 election petitions and called on Nigerians to monitor election petition as they do actual election process.
Barr Collin Okeke of HURILAW said this while making presentation during the OneVOICE Media Parley at the Training Hall of the Centre for Constitutional Governance, Ilupeju, Lagos organised by HURILAW and OneVOICE.
He said Nigerians need to police election petition process
to ensure that tribunal judges are fair to everyone, adding that time has come
come to hold Election Tribunals accountable.
“Even after the postponement, INEC did not get election
materials to some polling booths in the country until midday of the
election. The card reader machines used to authenticate registered voters
failed to work in most parts of the country disenfranchising thousands of
eligible voters. There were allegations
of voter suppression, intimidation and manipulation of election results.
Understandably, some candidates are dissatisfied with the outcome of the
elections and have filed petitions at the election petition tribunals”.
Election Petitions Process
The election petitions
process is an important part of Nigeria’s electoral process. It is also governed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as
amended) and Electoral Act 2010 (as amended). Section 133 (1) of the Electoral
Act, 2010 (as amended) provides as follows:
“No election and return at an
election under this Act shall be questioned in any manner other than by a
petition complaining of undue election or undue return (in this Act referred to
as ‘an election petition) presented to the competent tribunal or court in
accordance with the provisions of the Constitution or of this Act, and in which
the person elected or returned is joined as a party”. Section 285 of the
Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) establishes
the National Assembly, Governorship and Legislative Houses Election Tribunals.
The election petition
tribunals are important to the whole democratic process because they represent
the confidence of the people not only in the electoral process but also in the
rule of law. The malfunctioning of the tribunals will lead to the electorate
and the political class settling political scores through resort to
unconventional means. That is why in addition to observing the voting process;
attention must also be paid to the process of managing post-election disputes.
The essence of observing the election petitions tribunal process is to hold the justice system accountable and ensure petitions
are dealt with fairly, efficiently and expeditiously. HURILAWS, Onevoice and
other civil society partners are observing the 2019 election petitions process.
The following are some of our observations/concerns about the process.
- Access To Election
A common complaint that has dogged the sittings of the various election petition tribunals and by, implication, threatens the outcome of the whole exercise, is the difficulties being encountered by petitioners in assembling the much needed materials and evidence required for their petitions under the frontloading regime. Under the Electoral Act and Election Tribunal and Court Practice Direction, petitioners are compelled to frontload i.e. to file petitions alongside their list of witnesses, statement of oath and all accompanying documents to reduce delays. Unfortunately, the materials and evidences that petitioners and respondents alike would rely on to build their cases or defenses are with agencies whose commitments the petitioners or respondents cannot determine, there is the likely scenario in which justice could be denied some of those entitled to it simply because those statutorily in custody of those election materials such as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the police and other security agencies involved choose to be tardy and willfully uncooperative. In 2015, this played out in several states across the country. INEC refused to allow some Petitioners and Respondents access to materials used for elections even after the Courts had ordered that materials be made accessible. The same scenario is playing out in 2019 election petitions process. The People’s Democratic Party has accused the leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission of disobeying the March 6, 2019 ruling of the Appeal Court, which directed it to allow the party and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, to inspect the documents and materials used in the February 23, 2019 Presidential Election. It is important INEC complies with every tribunal order on access to materials used for the 2019 general election.
- Time Limits For
Filing And Conclusion Of Election Petitions
provision as to limitation of time within which election petitions and appeal
there from must be filed and concluded has remained a dramatic change in the
way and manner election petitions are conducted in Nigeria. The Constitutional
timeline for filing and conclusion of election petition is a double edged
sword, as it were. On the one hand it is a salutary reform that cured the
mischief of prolonged election petition process that often enabled the
beneficiaries of ‘stolen’ electoral mandate to hold political offices for several
years before final judgment is secured nullifying their elections and sacking
them from the offices they fraudulently secured. On the other hand, the
limitation of time prejudiced numerous meritorious election Petitions, which
were unfortunately struck out for being choked by the time frame.
285 (5 – 8) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of
1999 (as amended) provides as follows:
- An election petition shall be filed
within 21 days after the date of declaration of results of the election;
- An election Tribunal shall deliver
its judgment in writing within 180 days from the date of the filing of the
- An appeal from a decision of the
election Tribunal or court shall be heard and disposed within 60 days from the
date of the delivering of the judgment of the Tribunal;
- The Court in all appeals from
election Tribunals may adopt the practice of first giving its decision and
reserving the reasons thereto for the decision to a later date.
Supreme Court has leaned towards very strict interpretation of the above
constitutional provisions – brooking no discretion whatsoever on the part of
the Court to extend any of the time limits under any circumstance. It is
important therefore for election tribunal registries and judges to process and
determines all petitions fairly and timeously to ensure no petition is
terminated or extinguished unfairly on account of not complying with the
constitutional time limits. This also presupposes that the election petition
tribunal registries will be efficient and well-resourced, human and material. The
election tribunal registry is saddled with the administrative responsibilities of the tribunal and is
headed by the secretary who is the principal administrative staff. The Registry
is a very important organ of an Election
Tribunal and its administrative duties include: receipt of the petition and
other court processes for filing, service of court processes timeously on the
parties, issuance of hearing notices, preparation of court proceedings and
orders, custody and safekeeping of the tribunal documents, compilation of
records among various other duties and responsibility. The effectiveness, quality efficiency,
transparency and speed of the registry have direct impact on the performance
and justice delivery of the Election Tribunal.
Security is another challenge
that may affect the performance of the Election Tribunals. Where there is
insecurity, the tribunal cannot properly carry out its duties dispassionately
for the fear of their lives and property. An incident that illustrates
insecurity in election petition is the beating up of a robed High Court Judge
in the premises of Ekiti State Governorship Election Tribunal in 2014. If a
robed Judge is exposed to such a security threat, how much more the members of
the Election Tribunal. Security is a major issue that has to be adequately
covered by the government to enable Election Tribunals function properly and
effectively without fear and intimidation.
Corruption in endemic in
Nigeria and the Judiciary is not immune from corruption. Corruption has to be
tackled to the barest minimum to enable us have smooth justice delivery by the
Election Tribunals in Nigeria. Here, we applaud the recent admonition by the
President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa to selected tribunal judges to be
above board and avoid any unprofessional conduct.