Why Nigerian politicians troop to Supreme Court in search of justice

Tue, Sep 26, 2023
By editor


While there is growing anxiety across the country over the possible outcome of the appeals against the result of presidential poll at the Supreme Court, some senior lawyers have suggested another set of reforms of the electoral law so that the courts, especially the Supreme Court will not be overburdened with hundreds of election petition cases.    

By Goddy Ikeh

UNFORTUNATELY, it is now the practice of politicians who have lost their petitions at the election petitions tribunals to reject the verdict and declare that they only got a judgment and not justice from the tribunal or the courts.

But it is usually a different reaction from the winners at the tribunal and their supporters. For instance, such declarations as ‘the judiciary has spoken with strong voice’ and that the opponent’s petition was mischievous, waste of time and energy are often made by them.

In some other cases, the winners hail the tribunal for rightly describing the opponents as meddlesome interlopers, while some politicians would go as far as saying that “ab initio, to anybody who is genuine, to anybody who is fair, anybody who is honest, he knows that leg of the petition by the opposing party and any other party for that matter is not only mischievous, it is simply a waste of time and energy because they know the truth.”

In addition, the lawyers on the side of the winning team would often describe the judgment as well-considered and that the reasoning was perfect and the consideration of law could not be impeached.

“The Commission did not expect anything short of this judgment delivered by the tribunal,” a lawyer said recently after the tribunal’s judgment.

And most often, the losers at the tribunal head either to the Appeal Court or the Supreme Court to seek justice since they failed to get justice at the tribunal as the case may be.

However, the presidential candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Atiku Abubakar and his Labour Party, LP, counterpart, Peter Obi have joined the list of politicians seeking justice at the Supreme Court, having lost their appeals at the Presidential election petitions tribunal where they challenged the declaration of Bola Tinubu as the winner of the presidential poll in which they were declared second and third respectively by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.

In a 35-ground notice of appeal submitted at the Supreme Court, Atiku’s legal team said that the tribunal made a “serious error” in its ruling and requests that the Supreme Court should overturn all of the tribunal’s findings and conclusions because they do not accurately represent the foundations of Atiku’s petition.

Reacting to the appeal by Atiku, the PDP Board of Trustees said that the party would get justice in the Supreme Court over the February 25 presidential election won by Bola Tinubu, of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.

Rejecting the ruling of the tribunal, the PDP BoT, said that it would resist alleged attempts by the APC to foist one-party rule on Nigerians. In a communique issued after the 75th meeting of the board in Abuja, the acting Chairman of the BoT, Senator Adolphus Wabara, expressed confidence that the apex court has the capacity and courage to right the “wrongs” and correct the “errors” contained in the tribunal judgment in the interest of the unity, stability and corporate existence of the country.

“The BoT is confident in the capacity and courage of the Supreme Court to ultimately and decisively right the wrongs and correct the manifest errors contained in the Judgment of the PEPC in the interest of the unity, stability, and corporate existence of our country,” he said.

“The BoT restates its rejection of the judgment of the Presidential Election Petition Court, PEPC, in upholding the declaration of the All Progressives Congress, APC, as the winner of the February 25, 2023, Presidential election, in spite of the evidence clearly pointing to the contrary.

“The BoT is also monitoring and studying the outcome of cases in various election courts with regards to their level of adherence and respect to the Rule of Law and evidence before such court.”

And in the same vein, Obi rejected the 12-hour marathon judgment of the Presidential Election Petitions Court that dismissed his petitions and those of the PDP and the Allied Peoples Movement APM challenging Tinubu’s victory.  The five-man panel led by Justice Haruna Tsammani not only dismissed the consolidated petitions of the PDP, the APM, and the LP, but it also clearly affirmed the victory of Tinubu.

In his 51 grounds of appeal at the Supreme Court, Obi and the Labour Party said among others that the tribunal was wrong when it struck out the witness statements on oath of ten (10) out of the thirteen (13) witnesses called by the petitioners on the ground that the statements were filed after the expiration of the period of twenty-one (21) days prescribed by the 1999 Constitution (as amended) for them to file the statements.

They complained that the decisions of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal which the PEPC cited in support of the decision do not apply to the facts of this case.

That the Court of Appeal, in coming to the above decision, refused to follow its previous decisions in many cases, which were cited and submitted to it, that a subpoenaed witness need not file his statement alongside the petition and any such statement filed after the time allowed for filing the Petition is competent and valid. (See Grounds 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14 of the Notice of Appeal).

The tribunal, according to the petitioners, was also wrong when it struck out the witness statements on oath of the Petitioners’ witnesses (i.e. PW4, PW7, and PW8 who were Expert Witnesses) on the ground that they were persons interested in the outcome of the Petition.

‘’They failed to consider and appreciate the decisions of the Supreme Court to the effect that a person interested means a person who has a pecuniary or other material interest in the result of the proceedings – a person whose interest is affected by the result of the proceedings, and therefore, would have a temptation to pervert the truth to serve his personal or private ends. The PEPC failed to take into account that in this case, there is no evidence on record in the instant case that any of the Petitioners’ witnesses had any pecuniary or material interest in the result of the proceedings,” the petitioners said.

Meanwhile, some senior lawyers have expressed their views on the effects these numerous election petitions have on the nation’s judiciary. In his opinion, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Prof. Paul Ananaba, said that the judiciary was under a lot of pressure to respond to the numerous election petitions.

Ananaba told Channels Television that the justices are humans and are overwhelmed with handling of every single one of the filed election petitions.

Speaking on the need for a thorough amendment of the Electoral Act in a programme, Sunrise Daily Ananaba said: “We have more because in one election cycle, you will be getting up to six, seven, eight hundred cases in the form of petitions either pre or post-election issues.

“It puts so much weight on the judiciary. It’s just like playing football, if out of the 90 minutes, 80 minutes are played within the half of a particular team they either concede a goal or they have a penalty and all that – that is what you see.

“Look at the Supreme Court, how many cases do the US (United States) Supreme Court take in a year? But now our Supreme Court is handling presidential, most of the governorship and all that. If you add that to the number of Supreme Court cases we have today, it’s baffling,” he said.

He pleaded to Nigerians and politicians who had filed multiple lawsuits to assist in lightening the load on the system, adding that electoral reforms in the Electoral Act would gradually lead to fewer lawsuits.

“Let us start pulling back a bit. We need electoral reforms if you don’t want the judiciary to be so overloaded — look at our Court of Appeals, how many election appeals are going to be heard? the regular court cases are also there. What do you want them to do? They are human beings, they would not have all the time to look at matters.

“Cases filed in 2010 have not been heard at the Supreme Court – many of them. It has not gotten to their turn in 13 years. Let us who are Nigerians, who are politicians begin to help the system also, reduce the burden,” he said.

According to Ananaba, within the legislature, there should be a thorough amendment of the Electoral Act.

“The electoral act is still far away from what I think, a thorough amendment of the Electoral Act will bring fewer litigation and thorough interpretation,” he said.

And speaking on electoral reforms and reducing the number of election petitions that are adjudicated by the judiciary, the Constitutional lawyer, Femi Falana and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, said that the Chairman of INEC should be appointed through advertisement and not by the president of the country.

“We must have an electoral body that we are all going to respect that is independent and well funded,” Falana said in an interview with Arise TV.

He also suggested that electoral leaders should be appointed through an advertisement process and not by the sitting president in a bid to improve the electoral system.

Falana pointed out that there have been workable solutions readily accessible for improving the electoral system, however, since approximately 2007, successive administrations have consistently chosen not to put them into practice.

He referenced the Uwais Panel set up under President Umaru Yar’ Adua, and one of the concepts proposed by the panel was the idea that the president should not have the authority to appoint the managers of the electoral umpire.

He therefore suggested that, due to the issues that can emerge when the sitting president selects electoral leaders such as the INEC chairman, national commissioners, and Resident Electoral Commissioners, RECs, these appointments should be made through advertisement.

With talks on electoral institutional reforms, he stated that after the law undergoes reform and the electoral offences tribunal is established, those who handle institutions in a questionable or unlawful manner can be addressed as well as individuals who engage in electoral misconduct.

According to Falana, Uwais panel’s findings reveal a significant level of blatant disregard for the law, leading them to suggest the establishment of a dedicated authority.

This body would be responsible for apprehending individuals who violate electoral regulations and subsequently ensuring their prosecution, and the aim is to instil a sense of accountability and impart valuable lessons on respecting the electoral act if we wish to see it upheld.

He said, “This was, again, another electoral recommendation, that INEC has to be unbundled.”

Falana stated that Nigeria holds the record for the highest number of election-related cases globally, encompassing both election petitions and pre-election disputes.

This, he argued, is due to the reluctance of the political class to support the flourishing of democracy in the country.

“So what they do is to try and rig and out-rig themselves, and at the end of the day, the problems are then thrown at the courts and election petition tribunals,” Falana said, “Right now, the majority of cases in our court, many of our courts, are simply suspended to allow for time-bound election disputes to be resolved, and we can’t go on like this.”

He emphasised that after the resolution of the current election petitions, it is imperative, in the best interests of the country, to return to the planning stage.

Speaking on the high number of election petition cases before the courts, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, advocated a reduction in litigation and a greater emphasis on alternative dispute resolution methods.

He expressed concern over the significant volume of cases, particularly those of a political nature, that judges are tasked with handling daily.

Addressing the recently appointed Justices of the Court of Appeal in Abuja, the CJN also advocated a reduction in litigation and a greater emphasis on alternative dispute resolution methods which he argued would reduce the workload of justices and conserve valuable resources.

Although the reasons given by the senior lawyers for the reforms of the electoral law may be cogent, some political analysts have blamed the politicians for the rising cases of electoral malpractices and violence during elections and the post-election petitions handled by the judiciary. They therefore called for a change of attitude of politicians and their supporters, especially during elections so that the much cherished democratic dispension will not be truncated.


-September. 26, 2023 @ 10:48 GMT |