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 Materials
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
The constitutional 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.
Section 285 (5 – 8) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of
Nigeria, 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 petition;
- 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.
The Nigerian 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.