WITHOUT prejudice to the provisions of Section 294 subsection (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, an election petition and an appeal arising therefrom under this Act shall be given accelerated hearing and shall have precedence over all other cases or matters before the tribunals or courtâ€. – Section 48 Electoral Act 2006.
This vacuous provision of Electoral Act 2006 is one of the battles before aggrieved candidates of the 2007 elections. The law does not recognise urgency in their search for justice.
Candidates in the 1999 and 2003 election, who believed they were rigged out, also faced similar problems of delayed or prolonged hearing at the election tribunals, the main issue is that neither the Constitution nor electoral laws specifies the time frame within whichÂ election petitions should be concluded.
The equitable maxim; â€œJustice delayed is justice deniedâ€ aptly summarises the plight of election petitioners in tribunals across the country. Nothing so far seems available to address this lacuna. The Electoral Act 2006 looks so vague in its provision calling for accelerated hearing. Election petitions are heard in speciailsed tribunal established and empanelled for that purpose so the need for giving election matters precedence over all other cases does not arise for apart from election petitions, no other matters can be brought before the tribunals.
Peter Obi, Governor of Anambra State, only reclaimed his mandate three years after he won the election. The delayed disposal of election matters has created the problem of tenure interpretation for elected officials. Disputes over some legislative seats have not been resolved more than two years after the elections. Is this the new meaning of equity?
There are glaring defects in the electoral laws that need rectification through quick, but profound, electoral reforms.Â It is necessary cases are decided before people are sworn in, or to refund earned wages and privileges when they lose at tribunals. Moreover, if the issues are pursued conclusively, actions they took while in office, especially for the executive, should be illegal. The current practice of officials whose cases are before tribunals using states resources to meet their legal fees, should be abolished.
Each election since 1960 has been rated worse than the preceding one, the only exception possibly being the June 12 presidential election in 1993. The controversies that trailed the 2007 elections left in its trail many aggrieved candidates. Some of them are still before tribunals. Time is of essence. The Court of Appealâ€™s introduction of new Election Tribunal rules after the 2007 to ensure quick disposal of cases, has not helped. All material evidence, witness names supported by affidavits and everything necessary to prove a petitionerâ€™s matter are submitted with the petition.
Election tribunals, in some cases have been mired by controversies over integrity of members. Legal technicalities have also acted as cogs in the quick disposal of petitions.
Fair decisions and dispatch in reaching them are important in restoring confidence in the electoral system.