Controversy trails time limit for election petition cases

Controversy trails time limit for election petition cases

The 2011 general
elections have come and gone, the exercise was adjudged by many as the
freest and fairest poll in the history of Nigeria’s democracy. However,
some candidates and political parties felt cheated and claimed that the
elections were marred with a lot of irregularities and have gone before
the election petition tribunals to challenge some of the results at the

The Chief Justice
of Nigeria (CJN), Aloysius Katsina-Alu, in conformity with the 2010
Electoral Act as amended recently constituted 210 judicial officers
selected as chairmen and members of the election tribunals for the 36
states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory.

The CJN had said
“In Nigeria, allegations of corruption have in recent past, placed the
role of Election Tribunal in jeopardy. Election petitions, just like
the ordinary day-to-day civil cases, are intended to be dealt with by
tribunals consistently fair, without bias or impartiality.” Mr
Katsina-Alu asked the judicial officers to bear in mind that when
election petition tribunals fail in their duties, the consequences will
be murder, arson, and grievous bodily harm.

With the time for
the filing of petitions by political parties now over, all is now set
for the election petition tribunals to begin work.

The Congress for
Progressive Change (CPC) filed a petition at the presidential election
tribunal to challenge the result of the April presidential election,
alleging irregularities and noncompliance with the 2010 Electoral Act.

The party is
contesting the result of the election in about 20 states of the
federation, cutting across the six geopolitical zones. The CPC
presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, told journalists shortly
after casting his vote in Daura, Katsina State that thumb-printed
ballot papers were used in several states.

The national
chairperson of the CPC, Tony Momoh, said the party was challenging the
results of the 2011 presidential election that returned President
Goodluck Jonathan to show the world that the election was fundamentally

Speaking after the
party filed its petition at the presidential election tribunal, Mr
Momoh noted that the party was asking the tribunal to cancel results in
over 20 states of the federation, mostly in the South-South, Southeast,
and some parts of the North and the Southwest.

According to the
result announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission
(INEC), Mr Jonathan polled a total of 22,495,187 votes to defeat CPC’s
Muhammadu Buhari, who got 12,214,853. Nuhu Ribadu of the Action
congress of Nigeria (ACN) got 2,790,151 votes while Ibrahim Shekarau
got 917,012 votes. The total valid votes were 38,209,978.

Section 134 of the
Electoral Act 2010 as amended stipulates that “an election tribunal
shall deliver its judgment on a case within 180 days (six months) from
the date of the filing of the petition.” It also stipulates that the
petitions be filed within 21 days after the elections. “An appeal from
a decision of an election tribunal or court shall be heard and disposed
of within 60 days (two months) from the date of the delivery of
judgment of the tribunal.”

Wasting time

Though the CPC has
filed its petition challenging the result of the election, the
Presidential Election Petition panel is yet to be inaugurated 30 days
after the presidential election was held, even though the party met the
condition of the Electoral Act which stipulates that the petitions be
filed within 21 days after the elections. With the delay in the
inauguration of the panel, many are wondering if the Presidential
Election Tribunal will meet the provisions of the act which says “an
election tribunal shall deliver its judgment on a case within 180 days
(six months) from the date of the filing of the petition.” The CPC had
filed an application before the Presidential Election Tribunal sitting
at the Court of Appeal, Abuja seeking to compel the Independent
National Electoral Commission (INEC) and all its Resident Electoral
Commissioners to release certain documents and materials to be used for
its petition. Joined as defendants in the suit are the Independent
National Electoral Commission (INEC), Chief National Electoral
Commissioner (Attahiru Jega), Goodluck Jonathan, Namadi Sambo, Peoples
Democratic Party (PDP) and the Resident Electoral Commissioners for the
36 states including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

When asked for his
comment on whether there would be enough time to dispose of the cases
before swearing in of the elected officials, Kayode Ajulo, an FCT
senatorial candidate for the Labour Party and a lawyer, said there is
controversy over the period to conclude the election petition cases at
the Election Petition Tribunals. He said the 2010 Electoral Act as
amended says all election petitions must be filed not later than 30
days from the date of return (from the day the result of election was

According to him,
the period for the filing of cases is too short considering the
electoral guidelines that require front-loading of evidence to be
relied upon. “With the new electoral guidelines that require front
loading of evidence, the time for filing and determination of the
petition is to short, considering that you need time to gather your
evidence from the party agents who were on the field. And considering
also that some people will want to hide some evidence especially INEC,
it will take some time before you will be able to get documents from
the commission, so I believe the time stipulated by the Electoral Act
is too short.”

Mr Adegboye
Awomolo, one of the leading counsel to INEC, said the confusion over
the issue of duration is caused by the fact that there are many pirated
copies of the Electoral Act in the market; that unless one sees the
gazetted copy one cannot say which one is correct.

Controversy over
duration In his own response a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mike
Ozekhome, said section 142 of the act says “Without prejudice to the
provisions of section 294(1) of the Constitution of the Federal
Republic of Nigeria, an election petition and appeal arising therefrom
under this Act shall be giving accelerated hearing and shall have
precedence over all other cases or matters before the Tribunal or
Court.” According to him, with that section it is expected that the
tribunals will round off within a reasonable period of time and that
even if there was any delay it would be minimal.

The national legal
adviser of the CPC, Abubakar Malami, said recently that based on
lessons learned from past election tribunal cases, the party would use
scientific means to prove its case at the tribunal. “This case will
therefore depend mainly on the authentication and verification of the
fingerprints on the disputed ballot papers cast.”

“To the CPC, this
use of the Forensic/Biometric system based on INEC’s capturing of all
the 10 fingers of every voter is a novel idea that can help solve
forever the challenges of multiple voting and outright concoction of
results; two critical issues in our electoral malpractices,” Mr Malami

“Our present case
in the tribunal is thus aimed at establishing the truth and preventing
future elections malpractices in our country’s democratic experiment,”
he added.

Explaining the
legal backing for this, Mr Ozekhome said section 151(1) of the Act
gives power to the tribunal for “An order for inspection of a polling
document or an inspection of a document or any other packet in the
custody of the chief National Electoral Commissioner or any other
officer of the commission may be made by the election tribunal or the
court if it is satisfied that the inspection is required for the
purpose of instituting, maintaining or defending an election petition.”

He submitted that
given the time that would be spent on inspection of electoral
materials, the tribunal may not be able to deliver its judgment on a
case within 180 days (six months) from the date of the filing of the

In the light of
this limitation, it remains to be seen whether the parties aggrieved
over the outcome of the general elections and which have piled up
evidence to prove their cases, would see justice done at the end of the

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