A total of 766 petitions have so far been filed across the country by politicians aggrieved over the outcome of last general election. KEHINDE OSASONA looks at the level of preparedness by the judiciary to resolve the disputes.
Acting CJN’s tall order
During the inauguration of the elections tribunal members, acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Tanko Muhammad early this year, warned against sentiments in handling various cases that would be brought before them.
The CJN further cautioned the judges to dispense justice without any external pressure or influence either from political parties, stakeholders or economic interest groups.
Also recently, the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, made a call at the “2019 Workshop on Election Petitions for Justices and Judges’’, held in Abuja, to reiterate on the need for the Judiciary to remain neutral and always demonstrate manifest integrity in its adjudicatory role.
The workshop where Bulkachuwa spoke was organized by the Independent National
Electoral Commission (INEC).
She said it was important that the judiciary maintained absolute independence.
Her words: “Judicial Officers serving on election petition tribunals, must note that Judgments must not be ambiguous and should be devoid of any form of external influence.
“Your Lordships should shun unnecessary associations with lawyers who may be acting as
conduits for politicians no matter how innocent they may be portrayed.
“You must guard your integrity and the integrity of the Judiciary, by avoiding acts that will bring you under the disciplinary jurisdiction of the National Judicial Council (NJC).
“The NJC will not hesitate to wield the big stick against any judicial officer who is found wanting in the discharge of his duties,’’ he said.
According to the Court Of Appeal, the number of petitions challenging various results of the 2019 general elections has risen to 766 from the initial 736 as of April 4.
The breakdown of the petitions filed so far as released by the Court of Appeal are: House of Representatives election: 101; Senate: 207; governorship: 54; state Houses of Assembly: 402; and presidential election: 4.
Amidst growing number of the pending petitions, there is time limit for the filing and determination of electoral disputes.
What does the constitution say?
section 285 (5 – 8) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) provides that an election petition shall be filed within 21 days after the date of declaration of results of the election;
It further reads: “An election Tribunal shall deliver its judgment in writing within 180 days from the date of the filing of the petition;
Also, 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 petitions breakdown
Notwithstanding the timeframe, the Court of Appeal, in a statement made available to journalists, by its Deputy Chief Registrar, Rabi Abdulazeez, said the number of petitions filed by politicians and their parties had risen to 766 as of April 16.
Abdulazeez added that the petitions are set for hearing soon.
The data also showed that the number of presidential election petitions remained four, same as it was on April 4.
The number of House of Representatives’ election disputes also remained 101, while that of the senatorial election petition increased by two – from 205 to 207.
The four presidential election petitions were filed to challenge the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), in the April 23 poll.
One of such petitions marked CA/PEPC/002/2019 was filed on March 18 by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar.
Another of the petitions was filed by the Hope Democratic Party and its National Chairman and presidential candidate, Ambrose Owuru, on March 7.
The other petition with number CA/PEPC/004/2019 filed on March 19, was by Aminchi Habu and his party, the Peoples Democratic Movement.
The fourth petition was filed by Geff Ojinika and the Coalition for Change, who both contended that “the election was vitiated by substantial non-compliance with mandatory statutory provisions which irregularity substantially affected the election such that the first respondent (Mr Buhari) was not entitled to be returned as the winner of the presidential election.”
The petitioners all joined INEC, Mr Buhari and the APC as respondents.
But the Coalition for Change and Mr Ojinika added Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to their list of respondents.
Avoiding political expediency
In carrying out their mandates, the acting CJN equally urged Justices and Judges in line of duty to refrain from granting frivolous injunctions, should be impartial and most importantly, shun any form of inducement while carrying out their mandates.
Admonishing further, the acting CJN also cautioned the judges that the judiciary must not be drawn into black-hole of political expediency as Judges were not willing tools to be exploited by the whims and caprices of Politicians.
According to the acting CJN, the workshop was relevant as it sought to present participants with the opportunity to interact and chart a common course towards addressing the challenges which judicial officers faced while serving on Election Petition Tribunals.
He said, “On our part, the Judiciary will continue to do its best to ensure Judicial Officers remain conversant with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), and other relevant laws towards ensuring efficiency and uniformity in the quality of judicial decisions.
“The procedure of conducting elections came with numerous challenges that often led to litigation requiring adjudication in our courts. As a growing democracy, election litigation is an inevitable part of our electoral process.
Between INEC and the Judiciary
Buttressing further on the relationships between INEC and the judiciary, the CJN said, “INEC has the responsibility to conduct and manage election, the Judiciary on its part is charged with the responsibility of resolving disputes arising from the process,”
He continued, “Therefore, productive engagement between the Judiciary and INEC is sacrosanct for efficient and for efficient dispensation of justice on matters bordering on the election process.
The chief justice told participants at the workshop to constantly equip themselves with the rudiments of the law to enable them to arrive at well-researched judgments and reduce the spate of conflicting judgments emanating from the courts.
He noted that conflicting judgments did not only confuse Counsel but also led to uncertainty with regards to “Stare Decisis.’’
“Furthermore, conflicting judgments impact negatively on the public perception of our ability to guarantee unequivocal justice,’’ Tanko said.
Addressing conflicting judgment
While making his own remarks, INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, who was represented by National Commissioner, Mrs May Abamuche_Mbu, expressed concern over issue of conflicting judgments arising from pre-election and post-election cases.
In Yakubu’s word, conflicting judgments, especially by courts of co-ordinate jurisdiction at the High Court level, were putting the commission in a very difficult position and creating uncertainty in the process.
“Conflicting court orders are negatively affecting the consistency, neutrality, and public perception, not only of the Commission, but the Judiciary as well.
“There is therefore the urgent need to address the issue of conflicting judgments in order to engender certainty in the electoral process.
“Our second area of concern relates to the lack of consequential Orders by the Courts after making findings on an issue and stating the position.
“In such cases, the commission is compelled to take a position relying on previous decisions of the Court on the subject. This as in some cases, made the commission appear inconsistent and has also led to protracted litigation,’’ Yakubu noted.