The INEC huge litigation burden

The recent disclosure by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that with less than three months to the 2023 general elections, it has 600 legal hurdles to contend with across different courts is a cause for concern.

The cases, the body said, were all around the outcome of party primaries and nomination of candidates, which had become a source of worry to the commission. The electoral body noted that this was happening at a time there were increasingly fewer cases challenging the conduct of elections by the electoral management body.

“For instance, 30 elections were upturned by the tribunals in 2019 as against over 100 in a previous election. Even so, in 23 out of 30 constituencies (i.e. 76%), the elections were only set aside in some polling units and not the wholesale nullification of elections in entire constituencies,” INEC Chairman Professor Mahmood Yakubu said.

The INEC boss raised the fear at the capacity building workshop for justices and judges on electoral matters last week in Abuja.

The INEC chairman recalled that “one political party served about 70 court processes on the commission in one day seeking to compel us to accept the nomination or substitution of its candidates long after the deadline provided in the Timetable and Schedule of Activities for the 2023 general elections had elapsed.”

“Some of the cases will go up to the Supreme Court. The implication is that we are still dealing with issues of nomination of candidates thereby eating into vital time for preparation of and procurement of sensitive materials for the materials. It also means that the courts will be dealing with the same issues long after the general elections,” Yakubu lamented.

He, however, said after studying the judgements of the tribunals arising from both the 2019 general elections, the off-cycle governorship elections and the bye-elections conducted so far, the commission identified areas where it needed to do more to reduce litigations.

“We have studied the judgements of the tribunals arising from both the 2019 general elections, the off-cycle governorship elections and the bye-elections conducted so far. We identified areas where we need to do more to reduce litigations.

“As a result, we are witnessing increasingly less court cases challenging the conduct of elections by the commission.

“However, cases arising from the conduct of primaries for the nomination of candidates by political parties are on the increase. So far, we have been joined in about 600 cases relating to the conduct of recent primaries and nomination of candidates by political parties for the 2023 general elections,” the INEC boss said.

He reassured the judiciary that the commission would continue to abide by court orders, noting “however, strict adherence to stare decisis is critical for us as an election management body.”

On the provisions of the Electorate Act 2022, the INEC chairman said: “The new Electoral Act contains eighty new provisions intended to improve our elections and address some of the lacunae in the repealed Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), provide legal backing to the technological innovations introduced by the commission overtime and the extension of timelines for the nomination of candidates and for other electoral activities.

“Similarly, the new Electoral Act confers exclusive jurisdiction to hear pre-election cases on the Federal High Court with regard to candidate nomination in order to reduce forum shopping by litigants, abuse of court process and reduction in the spate of conflicting judgements by courts of coordinate jurisdiction.

“We are reassured by the inspiring speech by My Lord the President of the Court of Appeal for the elaborate steps taken against conflicting judgement by courts of coordinate jurisdiction.

“As a consequence of a similar workshop organised ahead of the 2019 general elections, we noticed a sharp reduction in the number of cases arising from that election and consequently a reduced number of elections nullified by the Election Petition Tribunals.”

It is instructive that the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Olukayode Ariwoola read a riot act to members of the 2023 Election Petition Tribunals, saying, “I want you to operate above sentiment and abuse of office because I won’t condone any of it.”

Ariwoola stated this at the swearing-in ceremony/capacity building workshop for justices and members of the election petition tribunals for the 2023 elections at the National Judicial Institute (NJI) Abuja.

In her welcome address on the occasion, President Court of Appeal Justice Monica Dongban Mensem charged the tribunal members to be in total control and should refuse to be used to truncate the electoral process.

While we commend INEC for its feat in attracting fewer litigations from the recently conducted off-cycle elections in Anambra, Osun and Ekiti states, it is quite worrisome that the political parties and their members have deliberately refused to play by the rule.

It is unfortunate that the political parties have continued to contravene the Electoral Act 2022, as amended, and party guidelines with regards to the conduct of party primaries, consequently attracting a plethora of ligations from aggrieved party faithful.

We, therefore, urge the tribunals to be expeditious in disposing of the cases in order to avoid any impediment to the smooth conduct of the 2023 general elections.

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