How judiciary sustains our democracy
By Adelanwa Bamgboye | Publish Date: Apr 12 2016 5:00AM
Justices Sidi Bage, Uwani Abba-Aji and PCA, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa at the conference.
In every constitutional democracy, the judiciary is one of the major pillars that sustain its principles and tenets. Our reporter examines how the judiciary determined 680 election petitions and 749 appeals arising from the 2015 general elections within 240 days.
How the election petitions fared in Nigerian democracy is no longer a domestic issue but an issuethat has attracted global attention.
It is against this background that the Court of Appeal and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), March 16, 2016 organised a stock-taking conference at the Court of Appeal, Abuja, for Justices of the Court of Appeal and tribunal judges.The 2-day conference gave participants an opportunity for an overview of the activities of the Election Petition Tribunals (EPT) and for self-examination on how the judges fared in discharging their national assignment of adjudicating the numerous election petitions and appeals.
Just before the general elections of 2015, the Court of Appeal exercised its constitutional powers under Section 285 (1) of the 1999 Constitution to set up EPTs in all the states of the federation to hear and determine election petitions.
At the inauguration of the EPTs and swearing-in of the chairmen and members of the tribunals,the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, pointed out that the tribunal assignment was very demanding and laborious, pointing out that judges involved are likely to be overstretched in the process and urged them to put in their best and abide by their oath of office.These words braced up the judges for the enormous task ahead and enabled them to discharge their responsibility.
Training programmes were organised for the chairmen, members and justices of the Court of Appeal to highlight their role, broaden their scope and knowledge in the adjudication and determination of election petitions and appeals.Judges were swiftly deployed by the President of the Court of Appeal from various jurisdictions in Nigeria and posted to other states to handle the petitions.
Following the 2015 general elections, a total of 39 petitions were received in the various governorship election petition tribunals; 79 petitions in the senatorial elections; 179 in the House of Representatives election; and 380 in the State Houses of Assembly elections.A total of 749 appeals emanated from the decisions of the various election petition tribunals.Justices of the Court of Appeal were able to dispose of the appeals within the period required bylaw without a single appeal lapsing despite the inconvenience of shuttling from one division tothe other. Some of the justices had to forego their Christmas vacation to ensure the determination of the appeals within the stipulated time.
Most of the judges had to crisscross the country at great risk of loss of lives and limbs to perform their constitutional duties.
The judges, according to the President of the Court of Appeal (PCA), Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, “worked assiduously to ensure a smooth and expeditious disposition of the petitions and appeals within the time stipulated by the 1999 Constitution.”The PCA said that since the return of democracy in Nigeria in 1999, the judiciary has been playing a key role to sustain it by way of adjudicating in all cases that arose from pre-election activities, the election petition arising after the four-yearly general elections and the appeals to the appellate courts arising from the decisions of the various election tribunals and the appeals therefrom.
She commended the judges of the election petition tribunals and the justices of the appeal tribunals. Their Lordships worked assiduously to ensure a smooth and expeditious disposition of these petitions and appeals within the time stipulated by the 1999 Constitution (as amended).Justice Peter Obiorah, in his paper entitled “2015 Election Petition Tribunals and Appeals: An Overview”, said the tribunals went into action in the 2015 exercise with a clear picture of some settled areas of law.
These areas include - the sanctity of the 180 days stipulated for the determination of an election petition and 60 days for an appeal; the method of application for issuance of pre-hearing notice;and that an interlocutory appeal shall not operate as a stay of proceedings.
Justice Helen Moronkeji Ogunwumiju, in her paper said that the introduction of time limit for hearing and determination of election petitions and appeals was a child of necessity borne out of the scandalous delays in the determination of election petitions in the past.The amendment to the constitution relating to a time limit, according to her, has placed tremendous pressure on the justices of the Court of Appeal.“I must hastily say that without the 180 days’ time limit on the tribunals and 60 days on the appellate courts, election petitions and appeals would have gone on ad naseum as it was in the past to the detriment of speedy administration of justice.
“I applaud the time limit. It is the best thing that has happened to the electoral process in Nigeria.However, the time limit has placed tremendous pressure on the justices of this court.“In spite of the pressure of time and space under which the Court of Appeal justices worked, to the best of my knowledge, none of the appeals lapsed. This is due to the tremendous commitment of the justices of this court to duty under the able leadership of the President of Court of Appeal,”Ogunwumiju said.
IFES country director, Shalva Kipshidze, in a message said that with the outcome of the tribunals and appeals, truly sustainable democracy can only thrive on a strong and reliable judicial system.“The judiciary, through the election petition tribunals and appeals has assisted greatly in the credibility of elections in Nigeria. The Court of Appeal from our observation has been very strategic in its management of the process. It is therefore hoped that the existing legal frameworks made up of the Nigerian Constitution and the Electoral Act will continue to empower the judiciary in order to sustain the momentum and deepen democracy in Nigeria,” she said.