TRIBUNALS AND OUR WEAK POLITICAL SYSTEM
By Alex Osondu Atawa-Akpodiete*
Albert Einstein supposedly said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Since the return to democracy in 1999, we have had the same recurring decimal in our elections, which are the unending election petitions.
On March 28, 2015, Muhammadu Buhari won the Presidential election and was sworn in as the President of the federal Republic of Nigeria on May 29, 2015. The outgoing President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan did not contest the outcome of the election and bowed out gracefully. His actions has been hailed by the international community as one of the best things to have happened to Nigeria, especially in light of the doomsday prophesy about the break-up of the country or expected bloodshed. Even the incumbent President has not failed to recognize this magnanimity whenever the opportunity presented itself.
By comparison, on April 11, 2015, there were governorship elections in twenty-nine (29) States of the federation, which were Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Enugu, Gombe, Imo, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers, Sokoto, Taraba, Yobe and Zamfara. Only Bayelsa, Kogi, Edo, Ekiti, Osun, Ondo and Anambra States were the remaining seven (7) States that did not hold governorship elections, but they still held elections for State Houses of Assemblies, House of Representatives and Senate.
In other words, there were 109 Senatorial seats, 360 House of Representatives positions, 29 governorship positions and at least 774 House of assemblies seats (some states had more constituencies than the actual number of LGAs) that were available. This means at least 1,272 contested positions. Of all these, the results of most of these were contested at the Election tribunals, congesting the judicial system, while making lawyers very rich.
The electoral challenges included allegations of violence, no actual voting, unqualified candidates, missing names on ballot papers, irreconcilable number of Permanent Voters Card (PVC) holders versus accredited voters, non-functioning Smart Card Readers (SCR), outright jettison of the SCR, usual ballot box snatching, absence of electoral materials, disappearance of INEC officials, rigging through multiple thumb printing or falsifying of election result sheets. I am sure there are other species of challenges, but they must fall within the parameters of Section 138 of the 2010 Electoral Act, as amended.
Section 133 of The amended 2010 Electoral Act states that “(1) An election petition shall be filed within 21 days after the date of the declaration of results of the elections; (2) An election tribunal shall deliver its judgment in writing within 180 days from the date of the filing of the petition; (3) An appeal from a decision of an election tribunal or court shall be heard and disposed of within 90 days from the date of the delivery of judgment of the tribunal; (4) 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.”
By the time you add 21 days statute of limitation for filing petition to the 180 for determining the petition at the tribunal, and 90 days for appellate resolution at the Court of Appeals, it essentially means that a governorship election dispute cannot be resolved under 291 days which is slightly under nine months. This is clearly unacceptable.
Section 285 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria deals with Election Tribunal. The pertinent portion states, “There shall be established in each State of the Federation one or more election tribunals to be known as the Governorship and Legislative Houses Election Tribunals which shall, to the exclusion of any court or tribunal, have original jurisdiction to hear and determine petitions as to whether any person has been validly elected to the office of Governor or Deputy Governor or as a member of any legislative house. (3) The composition of the National Assembly election Tribunals, Governorship and Legislative Houses Election Tribunals shall be as set out in the Sixth Schedule to this Constitution. (4) The quorum of an election tribunal established under this section shall be the Chairman and two other members.”
Why can’t we get it right with these election challenges? Is it impossible to conclude the electoral victory challenge before the swearing-in? States like Delta have witnessed situation when the governor was sacked after serving 42 months of 48-months tenure. How ridiculous can that be?
Just this past week, the governorship election of Rivers was annulled by the election tribunal after 177 days in office. A few days before, the elections in 18 of the 31 LGAs in Akwa Ibom were nullified.
Assuming the Court of Appeals upholds these decisions, we are again faced with the quagmire of the status of the executive actions taken to date. Several governors have borrowed humongous amounts of money. Some have sacked employees and entered into binding contractual obligations.
It should be recalled that most of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) (now in All Progressives Congress (APC)) governors were installed by the Court of Appeals under the watch of former Justice Ayo Salami, that was shrouded in some controversies. Some pundits have postulated that APC is after the three South-South states of Akwa-Ibom, Delta and Rivers. As of the time of my writing, everyone is waiting for the outcome of the Delta State governorship tribunal.
Our weak political system cannot continue this way. Something must give. The electoral Act must be amended to stipulate that the Election disputes must be determined within thirty days, or at least before swearing-in. Think about it.
Prof (Rev.) Alex O. Atawa-Akpodiete is a public affairs analyst. Sen comments ton +12407724113, +2348138391661 (SMS) or Profatawa@gmail.com.