Resolving election disputes before swearing-in of winners

The proposal by the House of Representatives for a law to make determination of all election disputes mandatory before the inauguration of the winners to their various offices is laudable. The proposed legislation is entitled: “A bill for an Act to alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, to provide for the determination of all appeals arising from election petitions tribunals prior to the swearing-in of president-elect, vice president-elect, governor-elect, deputy governor-elect, members-elect of the national and state assemblies and for related matters”.

 The bill seeks an alteration of Section 285 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) by inserting after subsection (13) (A) a new subsection (i) to provide “that all appeals arising from the presidential, governorship, national and state assemblies election petition tribunals shall be determined by the appellate courts prior to the swearing-in of candidates returned as winners by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).”

 It also proposes a new subsection (ii) to Section 285 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which shall mandate the INEC to prepare its guidelines and timeliness of activities to provide for sufficient time for the determination of all appeal cases before the swearing-in of candidates.

The House also proposes another bill to reduce the period for determination of pre-election cases. The bill entitled: “A bill for an Act to alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to reduce the lengthy period for determination of pre-election petition matters and for related matters,” aims at reducing the lengthy period for determination of pre-election matters, election petitions; to mitigate the negative impacts created by distraction to governance at all levels.

The proposal seeks an alteration of Section 285 sub section 5 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to provide for the filing of election petition within 14 days of the declaration of election results. Also, it is proposing an amendment of Section 284 sub section 6 to stipulate that “an election petition tribunal shall deliver its judgment in writing within 90 days from the date of the filing of the petition. While the proposed amendment to Section 285 sub section 7 provides that, “an appeal from a decision of an election tribunal or Court of Appeal shall be heard and disposed of within 30 days from the date of the delivery of judgment of tribunal or Court of Appeal.”

Similarly, the proposed amendment to Section 285 sub section 9 reads: “Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, every pre-election matter shall be filed not later than 10 days from the date of the occurrence of the event, decision or action complained of in the suit. Also, an appeal from a decision from a pre-election matter is expected to be filed within 10 days of the decision.

According to the proposed amendment to Section 285 sub section 10, “a court in every pre-election matter shall deliver its judgment in writing within 90 days from the date of filing the suit. The bill is proposing an amendment to Section 285 sub section 12 to stipulate that, “an appeal from a decision of a court in a pre-election matter, shall be heard and disposed of within 30 working days from the date of filing of the appeal.”

We welcome the bill. If passed into law, it will go a long way in sanitising the conduct of elections in the country and lessen the time spent in post-election petitions. The current arrangement which allows for 180 days to resolve all election cases is too cumbersome and poses serious distraction to elected officers.

The new bill will reduce the disruptions in service delivery that accompany post-poll litigations. Disposing of the cases before inauguration will make for thorough treatment of issues brought before the tribunals and courts and ensure timely and just trial. The present arrangement confers undue advantage to defendants and puts the petitioners at some disadvantage if the beneficiaries are inaugurated before the verdicts are made. In the process, judges and other judicial officers are likely to be compromised.

Nigeria should borrow a leaf from Kenya, which disposes of election cases before inauguration of office holders. Doing so will free the judges of interference and undue influence by litigants. It will also lessen the rate of vote manipulation and electoral violence in the country.

Let the House of Representatives partner the Senate and INEC in ensuring that the bill scales through. Successful enactment of the legislation will mark a positive step in electoral reforms that will deepen the democracy in the land. Ensuring that all post-election disputes are resolved before the winners take office would promote stability and ensure legitimacy in governance. We commend the House of Representatives for initiating the bill and urge the lawmakers to ensure that the bill is passed into law.  

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