By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA- President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, on Wednesday, disclosed that Imo State, has the highest number of election petition cases, with six different panels constituted to hear a total of 76 petitions that emanated from the state.
Justice Bulkachuwa, who made the revelation in the inaugural speech she delivered at the commencement of the presidential election petition tribunal, decried that “no matter how well election is conducted, there are bound to be complaints”.
She noted that in all the states where elections held, only in Jigawa state that no election petition was filed.
” So far, we have empanelled 78 panels to cover the Election Tribunals in all states of the Federation, excluding Jigawa State where no election petition had been filed.
“The panels are now in place and have started hearing the petitions. They are, presently, 786 petitions, with Imo State having the highest number of 76 petitions which necessitated the posting of six panels to the state.
“In a similar manner, section 239(1) (a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended, stipulates that the Court of Appeal has original jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other Court in Nigeria, to hear and determine any question as to whether any person has been validly elected to the office of the President or Vice-President, hence the emergence of the Panel which is empaneled to look into the various petitions filed against the just concluded Presidential election
“This is not the first time this Court has been empowered to hear and determine the outcome of a Presidential election result since the return to democracy in Nigeria and the coming into law of the 1999 Constitution. We did same in 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011.
“Whenever petitions are filed against an elected President, such a Tribunal is set up and it becomes a matter of public interest to the nation.
“The judiciary being the arbiter, there are litigants, Counsel, members of the Press, and the public who are all stakeholders as the major participants.
“We, therefore, require the maximum cooperation of all the stakeholders, especially from the leaders of the Bar. We expect the proceeding to be conducted with decorum, a high sense of responsibility, dedication, and patriotism in our quest to arrive at just decisions in all the petitions before us.
“We assure all stakeholders that each litigant will be given equal opportunity to present his case in a mature manner before us.
” We are witnesses to what has been happening in high profile cases where such cases are being discussed and publicly decided prematurely in both the social and electronic media before the announcement of the verdict by the Court.
“We pray that this time would be an exception for the benefit of the nation. We don’t expect counsel to any of the parties to hype the polity after any sitting by making a public analysis in the media as to what transpired in Court.
“These proceedings should be treated as would any other low-profile case, where proceedings in Court are not discussed publicly until a decision is pronounced by the Court.
“This admonition is also extended to the parties, their respective counsel and the members of the Press.
“We on our own part will make relevant information available as at when due. Any breach will not be condoned and we will not hesitate in taking necessary action against such offenders.
“The independence of the judiciary is key to any vibrant democracy, especially in the resolution of Election Petitions. Therefore, an independent judiciary is a robust and indispensable requisite of a free society under the rule of law.
“As we gather in this honourable courtroom today, I wish to use this opportunity to reassure Nigerians and friends of Nigeria, that the Court of Appeal will work in accordance and within the dictates of the Constitution, the law and international best practices, to dispense justice to all, without fear or favor, affection or ill will”, Justice Bulkachuwa added.