Electoral Reform And Justice Dispensation

0
780

To ensure that the political system is sanitised for the conduct of credible elections in Nigeria with transparent and impartial electoral body, President Umar Musa Yar’Adua recently submitted to the National Assembly seven bills seeking to amend the 1999 Constitution and the 2006 Electoral Act.
The Electoral Amendment Bills include: a bill for an act to amend the Independent National Electoral Commission (NEC) Act Cap 15 LFN 2004 and other matters a bill for an act to establish the electoral offences commission and other matters connected thereto; a bill for an act to alter the provision of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and other matters connected thereto, and a bill for an act to establish a centre for democratic studies and other related matters.
Others are: a bill for an act to further amend the 1967 Police Act CAP P19 2004 LFN and other matters connected thereto; a bill for an act to establish the political parties registration and regulatory commission and other matters connected thereto, as well as a bill for an act to amend the Independent National Electoral Commission Act Cap 15 LFN 2004 and other matters connected thereto.
The import of these bills is to underscore the commitment of the present administration towards addressing the lapses and inadequacies in the electoral process.
The flaws in the electoral Act 2006 have no doubt contributed to the hiccups and long delay in the dispensation of justice especially with respect to the election petition matters. This deprives the legitimate winners the right to assume office as at when due, while State resources are freely deployed by presumed winner to prosecute the litigation.
Meanwhile, the delay in the disposition of election petition matters has always created problem of stability, accountability of resources and stable implementation of state policies for smooth administration.
For instance, it took the election tribunal more than three years to resolve the Anambra gubernatorial election petition matter between Governor Peter Obi and his successor.
Also, in Edo and Ondo States, it took nearly two years for the actual winners of the April 2007 gubernatorial election to be declared the legitimate winners.
Meanwhile, in some States such as Ogun, Osun and Delta States, there are still some unresolved election petition matters before the election Appeal Court, arising from the conduct of the gubernatorial election.
Given the delay in the disposition of election petition matters in the country, the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Umar Abdullah has suggested that next election should be held eight months to the expiration of the tenure of the present office holders, presumably September 2010 instead of April 2011.
According to him, such a schedule would allow all the litigations arising from the elections to be resolved before the winners will assume office.
But, Sections 76 (2) and 116 (2) of the 1999 constitution stipulate that election shall not be held into the offices of the National and State Assembly members earlier than 60 sixty days before the expiration of the tenure of office of the incumbent.
Similarly, in the case of the President and Governor, sections 132 (2) and 178 (2) stipulate that “An election to the said office of President/Governor shall be held on a date not earlier than sixty days and not later than thirty days before the expiration of the term of office of the last holder of that office”.
In view of the delay in the dispensation of election matters, the Electoral Reform Panel constituted in August 2007 under the chairmanship of Retired justice Mohammed Uwais had recommended the holding of election on a fixed date, with a durational period of six months within which all electoral petition matters shall be disposed off before swearing in.
But during the National Council of State in March, this year the nation’s apex advisory body rejected this recommendation and allowed election petition matters to be open-ended period.
According to Governor Ikedi Ohakim of Imo State who addressed the Press in Abuja after the council’s meeting, the council approved almost 80 percent of the Justice Uwais Electoral panel recommendation on the Election Reform, but, rejected the recommendation of a durational period of six months within which all electoral matters will be disposed off, “because it will impinge on the fundamental human rights of the citizens to pursue their cases to logical conclusion”.
But Barrister, Jas Awanen, a Port Harcourt based legal practitioner dismissed this argument and supported the conduct of the next general election in September, 2010 rather than April, 2011.
According to him, “our democracy will be more healthy if all electoral matters arising thereof from the conduct of elections are peacefully adjudicated upon and the actual winners pronounced by the Election Petition Tribunal or Appeal Court, before the swearing-in, adding that “this open ended period for electoral cases is not in tandem with modern practice of democracy and effective dispensation of Justice.”
In his own view, another legal practitioner and former legal adviser to the Peoples Democratic Party, South-South, Ken Babia said that there is an urgent need for the amendment of the 1999 constitution and the 2006 Electoral Act to allow election to hold much earlier than the present date of April, especially when the handover date is May 29.
Many learned counsels have also argued that unless elections are conducted earlier enough, it would be difficult for election petition tribunals to dispose of all election petitions before the new administration comes in. They advised that in line with democratic ethos and values, people who have been genuinely elected should be the people to start the tenure at the right time.
In other words, there is a consensus that the Electoral Act 2006 and the 1999 constitution be amended to give room for dispensation of justice and to ensure that the actual winners of elections are sworn into office on the actual date of handover.

Justice Muhammadu Uwais
Justice Muhammadu Uwais