By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA—The Nigeri-an Bar Association, NBA, yesterday, declared that it was wrong for the 2010 Electoral Act to confer original jurisdiction in governorship matters on the Court of Appeal, insisting that the current number of justices of the appellate court could only produce 14 standard panels which it considered not enough for disputes that may arise from the 2011 general elections.
NBA contended that there were only 70 justices at the appellate court, stressing that if that number was divide by 5, which it said was the standard panel for election cases, only 14 panels would be constituted.
The NBA further maintained that not only would the 14 panels be inadequate for the impending elections, but also that it would further encumber the appellate court in Nigeria, warning that it might occasion unwanted delays in the determination of gubernatorial election disputes that may definitely arise from the election.
According to a press statement by the National President of NBA, Joseph Daudu, SAN, “NBA has previously drawn the public attention to some of the challenges posed by a number of sections of the Electoral Act.
“For example, Section 133(1) of the Electoral Act 2010 provides that ‘No election and return under this Act shall be questio-ned in any manner other than by a petition complaining of an undue election or undue return’.”
(in this Act referred to as an ‘election petition’) presented to the competent tribunal or court in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution or of this Act, an in which the person elected or returned is joined as a party’.
“Ordinarily, the above provision would not have posed a problem but for section 133_(2) of the Act which defines ‘ tribunal or court’ to mean ‘in the case of presidential or governorship election, the Court of Appeal and in the case of any other elections under the Act, the Election Tribunal established under the Constitution or Act’.
“The implication of the foregoing is that, it is the Court of Appeal that now has original jurisdiction in the determination of Governorship election disputes.
“If this is correct, it means that the un_assented amended Constitution contains amendments to section 246_(1)_(b) (i), (ii) and (ii), section 285 (2) and the 6th schedule to the 1999 Constitution to the effect that original jurisdiction in Governorship matters shall be henceforth be determined by the Court of Appeal.
“If this is correct then permit me to explore and expose the inherent risk and danger of such a state of affairs. First, by section 1 of the Court of Appeal Act (as amended) the total number of justices to the Court of Appeal are 70 and if that number 70 is divided by 5 which is the standard panel for election cases, then you have only 14 panels.
“Even if the constitution of the panels is reduced to 3 (which is most undesirable) one can only get 23.3 panels. Now, there are 36 States in the federation and usually in the heat of election petitions some States get more than 2 active and indeed overworked panels.
The position as it appears is that there is not even one panel to go round the States.
“Ancillary to this is the fact by section 134_(2) every petition, is required to be determined by the Tribunal within 180 days from the filing of the petition, whilst the appellate tribunal has 90 days to determine appeals to conclusion.
As you may be aware, the latter courts can now; by virtue of section 134_(4) may now adopt the practice of first giving its decision and reserving the reasons thereto for the decision to a later date.
“Secondly, the justices of the Court of Appeal will be grossly overworked. They have their existing cases to contend with as well as the new constitutional functions thrust on them that include determination of appeals from legislative houses, federal and states.
“Thirdly, the implication of the foregoing is that the Supreme Court now has final jurisdiction in Governorship matters. Those who support this situation have cited the increasing complaints of corruption in the Court of Appeal as the reason for the alleged abuse of its finality in such decisions while opponents cite the insufficiency of manpower in the Supreme Court to effectively deal with the situation
“The NBA Legislative Advocacy Group recommended the setting up of Constitutional Courts with both original and appellate levels but the National Assembly appeared to have ignored this proposal as with others that we submitted. We do hope that this inadvertence will not come to haunt us all|”, the legal body added.