The myriad of election petitions seems to be giving the Independent National Electoral Commission some worries
By Emeka Ejere
Mahmud Yakubu, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, shocked his audience recently in Lagos when he revealed that the electoral umpire had so far been joined in 273 court actions.
Yakubu, who was the guest speaker at the Realnews Magazine’s sixth anniversary lecture on Thursday, November 15, also said with 32 petitions and 220 requests for certified true copies of documents from aggrieved aspirants, the number of litigations would rise higher.
He feared that apart from the cost to the commission of legal representation in the cases, the possibility of nullification and consequent court-ordered re-run of elections after the 2019 general elections is high.
As was the case in some of the off-season elections conducted by the commission since the 2015 general elections, the number of litigations and conflicting orders by courts of coordinate jurisdictions is one of the challenges faced by the commission.
Findings have shown that Nigerian politicians out of desperation approach different courts and serve the commission with often contradictory orders on the same case, knowing that under the 1999 Constitution (as amended), court orders must be obeyed by all persons and authorities within the federation.
“The choice of which order to obey puts the commission in a difficult situation,” Yakubu said.
Mindful of the far-reaching debilitating implications, the INEC has from time to time taken steps towards minimising the menace of conflicting ex parte orders in the nation’s electoral process.
For instance, on January 17 this year, Yakubu made a passionate appeal to Walter Onnoghen, the chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, to address the spate of conflicting judgments on electoral cases in the country.
The INEC chair, who led members of the commission on a courtesy visit to the CJN in Abuja, said that the commission was worried about the recurring decimal among courts of coordinate jurisdiction on the same subject-matter, especially in cases related to pre-election, post-election and leadership crises in political parties, adding that apart from its enormous cost implications to the country, the practice had also created a negative public perception.
The INEC chairman had also noted that with the 2019 general elections barely a year away and for which the timetable and schedule of activities had already been announced, it had become imperative to draw the CJN’s attention to the commission’s areas of concern.
At the meeting he had recalled: “For instance, in a recent leadership crisis in one political party, the commission was served with six conflicting judgments and orders from courts of coordinate jurisdiction within a short period of three months (May – July 2016).
“Similarly, the commission was confronted by conflicting pronouncements by the lower courts on matters already decided by the superior courts, including the Supreme Court.
“This is making the work of the commission very difficult and creating unnecessary negative public perception for INEC and, I must say, the Judiciary as well.”
He continued: “My lords, in the course of discharging our responsibilities, no public institution in Nigeria is subjected to more litigations than INEC. Over the last two years (2016 and 2017), the commission has been involved in 454 court cases, in addition to 680 cases determined by the Election Petition Tribunals, arising from the outcomes of the 2015 general elections, making a total of 1,134 cases so far.”
He, however, expressed satisfaction with what he described as a “productive working relationship” between the Judiciary and the INEC, recalling that in 2011 when the commission was inundated with numerous and sometimes conflicting ex parte orders from courts of coordinate jurisdiction, it was the CJN’s intervention following an appeal from the commission, that averted a major threat to the electoral process. That intervention, he affirmed, stemmed the frequent use of such orders in election litigation in Nigeria.
His words: “It is in the spirit of this longstanding engagement with the Judiciary that the commission once again seeks the intervention of your lordship in addressing the issue of conflicting judgments and other issues we consider pertinent in election litigation in Nigeria. We hope that by addressing these issues, the Judiciary would further assist the commission and, indeed, the country in growing our democracy.”
Yakubu explained that as a demonstration of its commitment to the rule of law, the commission obeyed all court orders and carried out all consequential actions since the 2015 general elections. He said that the INEC also conducted all the 80 court-ordered re-run elections and had issued Certificates of Return to 23 petitioners declared winners by the Appeal Tribunals.
He said: “We have similarly obeyed all court orders on the registration of political parties, leadership disputes in political parties, nomination of candidates and a host of other judgments,“ He assured the CJN that the commission “shall continue to obey court orders, while taking full cognizance of judicial hierarchy at all times.”
Responding to the appeal, Onnoghen agreed that both the Judiciary and the INEC were the foundation of democracy in Nigeria. He said conflicting court orders were bound to arise as a result of the multiple court cases filed by politicians at different courts, which according to him, were bound to have different facts and different interpretations by the different presiding judges.
He said: “the beauty of the system is that it has a way of correcting itself. That is why you have the appellate system to take care of errors and mistakes committed in the course of court proceedings and in respect of substantive law”.
The CJN said the Judiciary was aware of the enormous responsibility before it, assuring that it would remain committed towards deepening democracy and improving the system. He however urged the commission to educate Nigerians on the roles of both the judiciary and the INEC.
However, the renewed alarm by the INEC boss 10 months after, suggests everything but the much desired decline in the menace of election-related litigations.
Just on Monday, December 3, the INEC lamented that conflicting court orders may affect the schedule for procurement of sensitive materials ahead of the 2019 elections.
Festus Okoye, the INEC’s national commissioner and chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, who made the disclosure to THISDAY, added that Yakubu, had pointed out that the acrimonious nature of the party primaries and the refusal of some parties to follow constitutional stipulations in the nomination of their candidates had thrown up challenges for the commission.
Okoye, however, reiterated that the electoral commission is irrevocably committed to the rule of law and due process and has consistently maintained that it would obey the orders of properly constituted courts of law.
Speaking on the situation, Jide Ologun, a lawyer and public affairs commentator, argued that Nigerian politics has shifted from service to opportunity for self-enrichment, hence the desperation that propels the numerous pre and post-election law suits.
“A man who truly wants to serve his people will not be desperate to do so even when several factors are against him,” Ologun said.
Another lawyer, who doesn’t want his name mentioned opined that the fact that the nation’s judicial system today is viewed to have been compromised makes many politicians think that they can buy justice with their money. He said: “We’ve seen judges caught in the act of taking bribe. So there is a tendency for the politicians to think that judges can no longer resist bribes, especially when it comes in large sum.
“INEC is indeed in a dilemma because everybody will expect it to obey the court order,” said Chekwas Okorie, national chairman, United Peoples Party (UPP).
According to him, when injunctions on the same matter coming from two courts of coordinate jurisdiction are conflicting, it becomes a problem which one to obey.
“The judiciary also should rise to the occasion to avoid being used by people to jeopardise the democracy,” Okorie cautioned.
For Steve Ehiemere, chairman, Abia State chapter of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), the main problem is that people have lost hope in the electoral process.
“They believe their vote no longer counts both at the party level and at the general elections,” Ehiemere noted.
“That is why they seem to have more confidence in the court than in the electoral umpire, he added.
He said INEC should begin to write the wrongs by going back to an unbiased electoral umpire it used to be, adding that the judiciary also has a role to play in changing the trend.
– Dec. 7, 2018 @ 13:40 GMT