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May 29 hand over date not sacrosanct – Uwaifo

By Simon Ebegbulem
BENIN—AHEAD the 2011 general elections, retired Supreme Court judge, Justice Sampson Uwaifo, has admonished the Federal Government and the National Assembly to amend the relevant sections of the constitution,  so as to shift the handing over date to October 1, and ensure that all election matters are concluded in court before a proper hand over is effected.

He referred  to sections 64(2), 105(2) and 180(3) of the 1990 constitution, which states,  “if the federation is at war in which the territory of Nigeria is physically involved and the President considers that it is not practicable to hold elections, the National Assembly may by resolution in sub section (1) of this section from time to time but not beyond a period of six months at any one time.”

According to him, “the idea to shift the handover date could be supported by this relevant section of the constitution,” adding “what is relevant is to amend this section and other relevant sections.” Justice Uwaifo spoke during in a lecture entitled “Elections 2011, the Electoral Act and 1999 Constitution-The Hard Talk, in honour of Professor Unionmwan Edebiri, who was hosted by the Cedar Club of Benin, following the award of the Order of the Federal Republic, OFR, conferred on him by President Goodluck Jonathan.

Justice Uwaifo noted that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC and the National Assembly must not be content that they had succeeded in shifting the time table for the elections, adding  “INEC must think of the time to swear in those it presents as having been elected. I think the elections strictly speaking and the hearing and determination of election petitions arising from them should be taken as one inseparable electoral process.

“We must realise that the time for hearing and concluding election petitions has been our mortifying bane, being able to reach finality before an incumbent takes office.

“A situation where election petitions continue even up to a couple of months before the tenure of the office contested for runs out is not only scandalous, it is also altogether a negation of a propitious and sustainable democratic milieu,” he said.

“Let us assume that INEC will be given all the support it needs and  deserves for the 2011 elections. Let us assume further that the elections will be well conducted and will end in April. I cannot imagine any one, who will assume that there will be no election petitions. We can see already that the polity is becoming over heated.

The tribunals and the appellate courts are likely to be over stretched and cannot be at all expected to cope to conclude the avalanche of petitions before or shortly after May 29,” he added.

He urged the National Assembly to limit the time within which to file action to say seven days from time of announcing results, 25 days to exchange all pleadings from time of filling, 10 days to hear case and 20 days to deliver judgment. “ this takes some 62 days. The appeal process can be concluded in 45 days, making a total of three months 17 days from June, ending just before September 20.


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