Lackluster Inquest Of 2015 Poll: Tracking The Processes
The inauguration of elected representatives into the arms of government at various levels must have taken the shine off the third and final phase of the 2015 election, namely, sittings of election petition tribunals.
Perhaps, for the first time in the history of elections in the country, the 2015 presidential election did not witness any contrary assessment to the returns made by the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC). Thanks to the concession phone call placed by the former President Goodluck Jonathan across to his main rival, Muhammadu Buhari of the All Peoples Congress (APC). The nation’s new presidency is without any litigious distraction.
But while that development brought about much needed reprieve to the divisive and rancorous presidential election, it contributed to the loss of public attention to the uproarious complaints of procedural breaches, vote heists and manipulations of outcome that attended the 2015 election. Though, the 2015 poll was defined by the contest between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) incumbent and APC presidential challenger, the main character of the election revolved around the National Assembly and governorship contests. Analyses of various reports on the federal legislative and governorship election from the states show how political party apparatchiks and other entrenched interest groups hid behind the presidential contest to perpetrate monumental electoral malfeasance in many states of the federation.
In the wisdom of the framers of the country’s Constitution and the electoral laws, tribunals where grievances and instances of non-compliance to the laid down procedures could be addressed were provided.
Consequently, National Assembly, Governorship and State Assemblies’ Election Petition Tribunals were set up shortly after the polls. The 2010 Electoral Act stipulated a 180-day period for these petitions to be dispensed with. Perhaps on account of the constriction of the time frame, respondents at the tribunals try to adopt various time wasting tactics to ensure that they technically carry the day and make the tribunals, as well as, complaints against their election hopeless. One of the unique schemes of time wasting is the antic of respondents evading service of processes.
Convener of a rights group, Movers for the Voice of Democracy, Mr. Ifeanyichukwu Okonkwo, says the issue of evasion of service is one for which the nation requires a proactive law. He observed that “it is difficult some times to serve them (respondents) because they become so mobile” after the election. In such situations, he said, “one will always resort to the provision under the rule –– either you serve them by pasting it at the tribunal or to serve them at their last known address.”
Yet, just as the legislators try to perfect and streamline the period and nature of election petitions, the judiciary also makes various inputs to quicken the dispensation of justice in post-election litigations. At a time the fad was frontloading of grounds of argument to pre-empt the alibi of ambush and cross appeals. But while these innovations prove salutary to an extent, counsels and the electoral body bring their own time wasting antics especially when it comes to the issue of inspection of materials. Sometimes too, counsels fail to differentiate between what constitutes pre-election causes and which petition falls within the purview of election petition tribunal. The confusion that ensues, therefore, consumes time and help to bury the complaints of serious electoral malfeasance.
Election petition tribunals are also dogged by concerns for accommodation and security. Some governors, or their surrogates, whose elections are being challenged try to cramp the trial venue at an incommodious space. Tormented by the elements, the judges are sometimes forced to adjourn sitting. In certain extreme circumstances, such as what obtains at Akwa Ibom, the judges plead for an offshore sitting in a distant, but neutral venue. The Akwa Ibom Tribunal is currently sitting in Abuja. And because the country’s jurisprudence is accusatory instead of inquisitive, the attendant cost to petitioners become very prohibitive. Add to that, copies of documents to file are always in multiples thereby jacking up cost of documentation. All these tend to frustrate election petitions and dissuade some petitioners from following through. Many believe that it is hard and costly to prove cases at election petition tribunals.
Perhaps, in a bid to discourage rigging and ensure the credibility of elections in the country, INEC introduced the biometric Permanent Voters Cards (PVC) and the Card Readers. According to Abia State National Assembly Election Tribunal, Dr. David Onuoha-Bourdex, the “ongoing trials at the tribunals will reveal how far those innovations are able to influence the dispensation of justice.” Onuoha-Bourdex pointed out that it is actually the wrong perception that election petitions are hard to prove that “has been encouraging some politicians and political parties to devote time and resources to rigging” adding that “cases would show that there is nothing like a perfect crime.”
By the slow speed the various election petition tribunals are going, it is left to be seen how the tribunals would sift the intricate human and mechanical tangle in the disputed elections. From Nassarawa to Anambra, Ebonyi to Delta; the cases may not be the same, but the contentious issues are similar. Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Lagos States stand out as theatres of great public apprehension about the fecundity of the tribunals. As such if the guesses of the people are anything to go by, at the end of the proceedings of the tribunals, there may be many upsets. Recourse to appeals reaching to the Supreme Court may not mean much, but it may be necessary to convince losers that victory must follow the path of law and order. The 8th National Assembly may also have instant indices with which to tinker with the electoral laws further despite the fact that some of those who took the oath of office in the federal legislature may fall by the way side.
For instance, two cases stand out from Enugu, where two candidates are laying claims to the Igboetiti federal constituency on the same platform of PDP. Their matter is concurrently at the High Court and the Tribunal. Then there is the case of a man who was allegedly caught with 4, 000 PVCs on the day of election. In the absence of an electoral offences tribunal, does it fall within the election petition tribunal to look into the case of criminal possession of PVCs? Will the nature of these cases admit to the 180 days stipulated by the Electoral Act for election petitions, even though some of the respondents are enjoying the fruits of their disputed victory? How many questions that will find fitting answers at the tribunal depends on the speed and efficiency of the four parties –– petitioners, respondents, counsels and judges –– involved.
ENUGU: Tribunal Frowns At Counsels’ Antics
All the intrigues associated with court processes to either buy time or delay quick dispensation of justice are currently being employed at the Enugu State Election Petitions Tribunal by the various lawyers involved in the cases.
In Enugu, the tribunal was constituted about two months ago. And apparently to meet with the 180 days stipulated by law, the tribunal was divided into two –– cases involving elections held for National and State Assemblies and the one for governorship is being handled by a separate tribunal.
But the tribunal for National and State Assemblies election has since commenced while that of governorship will commence tomorrow (Monday).
Investigations by The Guardian revealed that 18 petitions was lodged with National and State Assemblies election petitions while the governorship election tribunal when it kicks off will contend with one petition involving the All Progressive Congress governorship candidate, Okey Ezea and Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of the Peoples
Democratic Party (PDP).
Notable among the petitions at the National Assembly tribunal is the one involving Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the Deputy President of the Senate and candidate of the PDP in Enugu West Senatorial District.
Chief Phillip Chukwudi of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is challenging Ekweremadu, who was declared winner of the election, at the tribunal.
Dr. Chimaraoke Nnamani, a former governor of Enugu State and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Change (PDC) for the Enugu East Senatorial District, is also challenging the return of Senator Gilbert Nnaji of the PDP as the winner of the contest.
General Josef Okoloagu (rtd) of the APC is also challenging the declaration of Chukwuka Utazi of the PDP as the winner of the Enugu North Senatorial District election among others.
Although these are election matters, they are not devoid of the antics known in the Judiciary that have affected the smooth and quick dispensation of matters that ultimately lead to adjournments how sway.
In one of the cases recently, Counsel to Chukwuka Utazi of the PDP, Mrs. Justina Offia (SAN) had prayed court to strike out the petition from General Okoloagu (rtd) saying it lacked competence.
According to her, the petition should be treated as “abandoned” following the failure of the petitioner to apply for pre-trial. Offiah pointed out that the seven days required by paragraph 18 (1) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, for a petitioner to apply for pre-trial had elapsed. “On becoming aware of this, the tribunal under paragraph 18 (4) can make an order dismissing the petition or the respondent could under paragraph 18 (3) bring an application to dismiss the petition.
“The law provides that there cannot be any extension of time and the tribunal has no other duty than to dismiss,” she said.
Mr. Ugo Ugwunnadi, counsel to the eight electoral officers in the zone, supported the submission for the tribunal to immediately dismiss the petition.
Ugwunnadi told the tribunal that pleadings ended on June 1 adding that the petitioner had all the time to apply for pre-trial but he abandoned his duties.
“The situation is as bad as that, as it cannot be remedied because adjourning the matter today means that their petition is living in bondage,” Ugwunnadi said.
But Counsel to the petitioner, Mr. M. C. Eze prayed the tribunal not to view the petition as abandoned and give him additional time to present the facts.
“We have been diligent in prosecuting this matter and the tribunal told us to come back today for report on the inspection of election materials and or any other business.
“All our enquiries did not disclose to us that our reply to the respondents was served them on June 1,” Eze said.
Although, the tribunal chairman, Justice Michael Edem adjourned the matter to June 16 for ruling, he did not fail to point out certain challenges facing the tribunal, especially from the antics and attitude of Counsels in the tribunal.
He had expressed the worry over the possibility of disposing off its cases within the statutory 180 days.
Edem said that his fear was as a result of the antics of some counsels who would want to unnecessarily delay their cases through frivolous applications. He expressed dissatisfaction at the pace at which the matters were going, and warned that the tribunal would not hesitate to throw away petitions from indolent counsels.
The chairman, who noted that some petitioners were already aborting their matters through their delays and antics, called for a renewed vigour from parties in the tribunal.
Edem warned that the tribunal would not hesitate to strike out any matter that seemed to be a clog in discharging their duties within the period allotted by law.
“We are already running against time and have to level up. It is a pity some petitioners are helping their matters to be struck out. We have gone deep into the 180 days and will not encourage anybody to scuttle their petitions through unnecessary delay because we will not hesitate to strike such out,” Edem said.
The tribunal, however, in its first test case threw out a preliminary objection brought by Mr. Chime Oji of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) challenging its jurisdiction to entertain a suit against him.
Oji was declared the winner of the Enugu North/South Federal Constituency in the March 28 National Assembly election in the state. Counsel to the respondent/applicant, Prof. Agu G. Agu among other objections had raised the competence of Mr. Offor Chukwuegbo of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) to challenge the nomination of his client by the PDP.
Agu told the tribunal that the petitioner had no ground to challenge a nomination by a party he did not belong to. He said that the primary election was the exclusive preserve of a political party as well as a pre-election matter and urged the
tribunal to throw the suit out for lacking in merit.
Responding, counsel to the petitioner, Mr. Chuma Oguejiofor said that the objection that a pre-election matter was not entertained by an election petition tribunal was no longer in tandem with modern jurisprudence.
Oguejiofor said that Section 138 (1a) of the Electoral Act conferred the regular courts and election tribunals with concurrent jurisdiction on qualification and candidature in an election.
He urged the tribunal to throw the objection as according to him, “this application is incompetent as it was filed outside pre-trial of the tribunal.”
It is expected that the tribunal would hit the ground running in the days ahead, especially with the displeasure the chairman had expressed over attitude of the counsels appearing in the cases.
Plateau: Tribunal Urges Refrain From Frivolities
The National and State Houses of Assembly Election Petition Tribunal in Plateau State was inaugurated on May 18, 2015 at the State High Court Complex receiving 20 petitions filed by the aggrieved candidates in the last general elections.
The petitions, according to the tribunal, are expected to be disposed off within the time frame of 180 days for it to deliver its judgement.
Inaugurating the tribunal, the three-man panel, chaired by Justice O.O. Akeredolu, warned counsels that frivolous adjournments will not be tolerated, saying that it became imperative because the time allotted to pre-trial conference is only 14 days of its commencement, citing paragraphs 18 (9) of the Electoral Act as the base authority.
Akeredolu also reminded the counsels that as the tribunal does not have luxury of time, it will sit from day to day, including Saturdays with public holidays inclusive, but with the consent of the parties, adding that should the parties consider settling their differences amicably outside the tribunal, the idea will be welcome as there will be no terms of settlement will be required.
The tribunal chairman pointed out that in compliance with the provisions of Section 285 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and Section 133 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), the Hon. President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Adamu Bulkachuwa, in consultation with the Chief Judges across the federation, set up the Elections Petition Tribunal.
According to Akeredolu, “As we all aware, election petitions are sui generis and delicate in nature. Our working tools are the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), its schedules, the Practice Direction and the Evidence Act 2011 (as amended).
“It is, therefore, desirable that counsel will acquaint themselves with these pieces of legislation to ensure smooth proceedings. It is expected that within 180 days from the day of filing of petition, judgment should be delivered. Counsel should bear it in mind that distractions delay conclusion of trial.”
She pointed out that in order to achieve the purpose of pre-trial conference, applications for amendment of processes, order of witnesses, streamlining of witnesses and documents will be taken, stressing that arguments and objections on point of law will be deferred to final addresses.
“Live issues for trial will be settled within the period allotted to pre-trial conference, it will be sufficient for counsel to write a letter to the Secretary of the Tribunal to issue pre-hearing notice but this procedure should not be extended to where exhibits are required from INEC; in such case, applications must be made to the Tribunal,” she maintained.
She spoke on the relationship between the Bar and the Bench, saying that respect should beget respect as the tribunal is ever prepared to accord respect to all the counsel, urging them to extend the same to the tribunal members.
Akeredolu explained that the purpose of the tribunal is for justice to be done to all the parties, assuring that what they would get at the tribunal is a level playing ground. “Our minds are firmly made up to ensure that justice is done without fear or favour, affection or ill – will whatsoever.”
The tribunal chairman urged journalists to report the proceedings correctly without twisting the facts.
Out of the total number of 20 petitions filed, two are challenging the Senate Seats, five challenging the House of Representatives seats while 13 are challenging the State House of Assembly Seats.
Explaining the process, constitutional lawyer and former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) chairman in Plateau State, Mr. Sule Kwasau, agreed with the tribunal chairman that they are given the time frame of 180 days within which to dispose of all petitions.
According to Kwasau, “And after that, an appeal from the decisions of the Electoral Petition Tribunal will go on an appeal within 90 days to be disposed of the appeal. If you put 180 days and 90 days, you will find out that you have about 270 days.
“Now because of the challenges we have in the judicial system in this country, it is not always easy to comply with this decision within the time stipulated. Even the constitution gives duration for delivery of judgements. But there is a proviso. If the court cannot deliver that judgement within the stipulated time, he must give reasons.
“So, at times, you can see that the entire judiciary went on strike in January. So, they crippled everything. Only the Federal Courts were fully working and then gradually other states decided to call off the strike, but as I am speaking to you in Plateau here, the judiciary staff are still on strike. So, you can see that if the judiciary staff were to be fully involved in this election petition, of course you know that it will not start smoothly because of the fact that they have been on strike.
“But thank God the tribunals are making use of staff at the federal level. Most of the staff of these tribunals are sourced from either the federal high courts or courts of appeal. So, you can see that there are so many variable factors why the tribunals may not be able to deliver judgements within 180 days and in case of appeals, 90 days. And that is why under Section 143 (1) of the Electoral Act says, “If the election tribunal or the court as the case may be determines that the candidate returned as elected was not validly elected, then if notice of appeal against that decision is given within 21 days from the date of the decision, the candidate returned as elected shall, not withstanding the contrary decision of the electoral tribunal or the court, remain in office pending the determination of the appeal.”
Kwasau contended that an aggrieved party, who was elected but removed by the tribunal, has the right of appeal once he filed the appeal within the 21 days, he will remain in office.
According to him, it is legally all right for somebody to remain in his position pending the determination of the appeal.
“If those elections were held at the time they were supposed to have been held, the tribunals would have had sufficient time before May 29. But because the elections were shifted for six weeks. Now, the intendment (intention) of the National Assembly in enacting this provision is because of the past experience we have had where because of the structural problems within the judiciary and because of the way some lawyer behave, using delay tactics, knowing that once that time limit is reached, if the decision is not concluded, that terminates the life of the petition,” he said.
IMO: Tribunal Splits 44 Petitions Into Three Panels
As soon as elections were over and done with in Imo State, aggrieved candidates at the polls approached the tribunals, filing their petitions through their legal counsels in the three senatorial zones; 10 Federal Constituencies; 27 state constituencies.
Secretary of the tribunal, sitting in the High Court, Owerri, Adamu Aliu, had announced the institution of the panel headed by Justice A .Y Sanya. The tribunal initially recorded 38 petitions, among which 18 were for the House of Representatives, 12 in the category of the House of Assembly, while eight were filed challenging senatorial result.
Sanya, speaking at the inaugural sitting last month, warned against frivolous and undue delays by the counsels, reminding them of the time lag of 180 days to pack up.
Worried by the number of petitions, which has increased to 44, Sanya has created and allotted the petitions to three panels.
This is to ensure that the petitions were concluded before the statutory Electoral Act specification of 180 days.
Motion empowering the petitioners to inspect the documents as applied has also been granted.
Later, the governorship candidate of the PDP, Emeka Ihedioha’s lawyer, Chief Mike Ahamba (SAN), leading other counsels, in a Petition number EPT/IM/GOV/3/2015, filed, challenging the declaration of Rochas Okorocha as the governor–elect. Ihedioha prayed the tribunal to declare him winner of the election, or alternatively cancel the exercise and conduct a fresh poll.
In the apparent move to decongest the cases, the petitions were allotted to panels. For the Senate (Panel one) there is Mrs. Rita Ada Ibemere and INEC and two others; Accord and INEC & others; Nze Ikechukwu Nwokeafor and Anor and Chief Athan Achonu A. Nneji and four others.
In the House of Representatives, the Panel one will entertain the petitions between Michael Obinna I. C Ikoku and Chude Oyereri; Harrison Nwadike and Anor and James Onyereri and 16 others; Gabriel Ikoku and Chude Onyereri; Ozodi Mathew Ndubueze & Anor and Chude Onyereri 7 Anor; Donatus Ozoemena and Goodluck Opia 7 16 others; Barr. Greg Okemili & Anor and INEC & Anor; and Daniel Chiedozie Ikpeazu and Ezenwa Onyewuchi and others.
Also in the panel one, the House of Assembly category has Nkechinyere Ugwu and Anor and Ikechukwu Amuka and three others; Milicent C.. Duru and Anor and Nkenna John; Barr. Chidi Joseph Ihemedu and Victor N. Onyenwuchi and three others; Robertson Ekwebele and Chinedu Offor and two others; and Dympna Mbiam Nozie and Anor and Nkenna John Nzerujo and four others.
In panel two, the Senatorial category involves Hope Uzodinma and 17 others and Osita Izunaso & Anor; and Chief Felix Chidi Idiga and Anor and Hope Uzodinma.
For the House of Representatives category, there are Chukwudi C. Ololo & Anor and Ezenwa Onyewuchi and seven others; Mathew Nwogu & Anor and Bede Eke and two others; Betram I. B. Okafor & Anor and Henry Nwawuba; Enerst Ifeanyi Ibejiakor and Ezenwa Onyewuchi and six others; and Mathew Omegara & Anor and Onwubuariri Obinwa Kingsley and seven others.
As for the State House of Assembly panel, petitioners include Dr. Ejike Anukam & Anor and Ichie Ken Agbim & others; Chief Okey Uduh & Anor and Acho Ihim and 26 others; Luke O. Chukwu and Emmanuel C. Orie and two others; Nwogu Paschal and Mike Iheanetu and three others; and Collins Chiji and Joy Mbawuike & Anor.
In Panel Three (Senate) there are cases between Benjamin Uwajumogu and Athan Achonu Nneji and two others; Mazi Clement I. Owunna & Anor and Athan Achonu Nneji six others; Uchechukwu Onyeaguocha & Anor and Samuel Anyanwu & others.
Panel Three (House of Representatives) include Stan Dara & Anor and Jerry Alagbaoso & 13 others; Dr. Osuagwu Kelechi and Raphael Nnanna Igbokwe & three others; Adaku Ihuoma & Anor and Raphael Nnanna Igbokwe; Blessing Nwaoba & Anor and Mr. Chike Okafor; Obinna Emeka & Anor and Bede Uchenna Eke; and Barr. Austin Aguguo & Anor Bede Eke and two others.
For Panel Three, State House of Assembly there are: Nwafor Emeka Iheanyi & Anor and Egu Obinna Ambrose & two others; Joseph Chukwuma Ikunna and Donatus Onuigwe and five others; Dr. Nwachukwu Iheanyichukwu Magnus and Ukoha Bruno Osinachi and two others; and William Ezeikpe Ezediaro and Henry Uzoma Ezediaru and 17 others.
OKONKWO: We Don’t Have Proactive Electoral Laws
Mr. Ifeanyichukwu Okonkwo is an Environmental and Social Rights Activist, , in this interview with IKENNA ONYEKWELU, speaks on various impediments to election petition tribunals.
On evasion of service by respondents
THE problem I have is that we are not a thinking nation. We, as a nation, knowing fully well that we are low in honour, should be proactive in those rudimentary things that should make us a democratic nation. One wonders why, a person who put himself up for an election and knows that after the contest there might be dispute, will not come and face it. He chooses, therefore, to be running from one workshop to the other or going to take photographs with the president-elect.
The first thing is that under the electoral guidelines, there are provisions, which is just the same ordinary system we use in the High Court, of how to serve processes or file briefs.
Now, you find that it is difficult some times to serve them because they become so mobile. But one will always resort to the provisions under the rule that is the only law; we don’t have proactive law under the rules. Either you serve them by pasting it at the tribunal or to serve them at their last known address. Petitioners should not complain too much. They can use substituted means, subpoena by going to look for them and attach to their bodies, you can serve them by pasting it with the approval of the Court, on the notice board if you are able to give the tribunal enough facts that it is difficult to see the respondent. And the people in INEC are very much attached to due process, most of these people are making it difficult for people who want to challenge the process.
his is one area we need to improve on and be more proactive. We may have to make a standard that once a petition is filed and a gazette on the notice board is deemed sufficient service. That is another way of arresting the situation where we have to chase the respondents.
On the undue collaboration between INEC and winners
Elections are conducted by strong institutions. Election has just been held in United Kingdom, we never even knew who the electoral officers were, you don’t hear about them. And it was just like going to the post office to post a letter and get a reply.
So, all these things are primordial, clannish and parochial characters and cultures that are in this country. Other than that, the Electoral Act will prove that INEC ought to be the one defending the result. I think we would improve to the extent that the person to sue is the person who conducted the election as the person to be joined is the winner.
We cannot be conducting election matters that would be sui generis, as if we are conducting law of contract where the man must be put on notice.
Let the man that conducted the election defend the election. The man who won had no input in defending that election. It is the person that conducted the election.
On anomalies in Southeast, South-south
We saw similar thing during the (Olusegun) Obasanjo regime in the presidential and governorship election. I think it was Gbenga Daniel’s election. We do not even have an institution otherwise there would be criminal liability and those officers of INEC, the human element that conducted that election should be tried for treason. Because it is a treasonable offense when you have more number of voters than those accredited, it is undermining the democratic institution. So, it is a treasonable offense. Then everybody will be careful in whatever they are doing.