MOST Nigerians focus on the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, particularly its Chairman, when discussing reforming of our electoral system. The truth, however, is that every election involves a cross section of stakeholders, who play roles in its success or failure.
Apart from INEC, there are politicians, polling agents, security agencies, the electorate, election monitors and judicial officers at electoral tribunals.
Unless something drastic is done about the judiciary and the procedures tribunals apply in arriving at decisions, the 2011 polls would not fulfil the national ambitions of free and fair elections.
Less than a year to the next elections, the 2007 electoral processes have not ended in Niger,Â Sokoto, Imo, Abia and Osun States. In 1979, all electoral cases were concluded before the swearing in of elected officers on October 1. Delays these days owe so much to the corrupt antics of politicians, who enjoy the trappings of office when their mandates are still disputes, lawyers and maybe incompetence of some judges.
The Osun State Governorship and Legislative Election Petition Retrial Tribunal, after three years, during which foreign fingerprint experts verified ballot papers as fake, entered a verdict in favour of Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Justice Abimbola Ogie, one of the judges, was so disgusted with the verdict that he, according to reports, refused to sign the judgment. He did not enter a dissenting judgement either. It should interest the National Judicial Council, NJC, why a judge should refuse to sign a judgement. Justice Ogieâ€™s conduct raises eyebrows over the verdict and should be investigated.
Action Congress, AC, governorship candidate, Rauf Aregbesola was embroiled in an alleged forgery of a police report. The matter seems to have died. Neither the suspect nor the one who made the allegation was punished.
The Court of Appeal had ordered a retrial of the case whenÂ Aregbesola appealed the tribunalâ€™s first judgement. In both assignments, the trial judges overlooked too evidences the petitioners brought forward to prove their case, mainly on technical grounds.
Fingerprint expert, Paul Jobbin and an information technology expert, Tunde Yadekaâ€™s efforts that proved large-scale illegal thumb printing and massive misuse of ballot papers were ignored. The technologies that proved the rigging were not accepted, nor the scandal that ensued over one of the lawyers who made telephone calls to the judges on the matter. Yet it is important to know whether technologies like these would be accepted as evidence in future elections.
Would the Court of Appeal again ask for a retrial of this case? The Court of Appeal should be very painstaking in examining the work of the lower tribunal, and any case of impropriety should be punished.
It is also important that a review of the Osun 2007 governorship election petition process is done. While the AC has proved PDP rigged, there is no proof that the AC too did not rig. The work of this tribunal may be one of the evidences that the Court of Appeal and the National Judicial Council may need to establish better conduct from tribunals.
There have been other complaints about the conduct of electoral tribunals. With the Osun verdict and the controversies trailing it, the NJC should ensure fairness to parties in the dispute including the judiciary.
As Nigerians await free and fair elections, the focus should also be on the judiciary and what it can do and undo.