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APRIL POLLS AND TENURE INTERPRETATION

By NBF News
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An Abuja Federal High Court recently barred the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from conducting governorship elections in five states – Kogi, Sokoto, Adamawa, Cross River, and Bayelsa – during the April 2011 polls. No doubt, the judgement caused ripples in the polity.

While the plaintiffs and their party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were in celebratory mood, other candidates warming up for the polls in the affected states and INEC were disappointed.

Delivering judgment in the consolidated suits filed by the five governors, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris (Kogi); Aliyu Wammakko (Sokoto); Muritala Nyako (Adamawa); Liyel Imoke (Cross River); and Timipre Sylva (Bayelsa); Justice Adamu Bello held that the tenure of the governors shall not expire until sometime in 2012.

He stated that their tenure legally started in 2008 when they took fresh oath of office and allegiance following the nullification of their April 14, 2007 elections by the courts. Justice Bello ruled that since the 2007 elections that brought them into office were nullified and set aside by competent courts, the oath of office and allegiance subscribed to by the five governors have been nullified and set aside along with the elections.

Citing Section 180 of the 1999 Constitution, the court held that the tenure of the governors legally commenced in 2008 but not in 2007 since the 2007 election that brought them into office in the first instance had been declared a nullity. Justice Bello surmised that the 2007 elections being used by INEC to determine the tenure of the governors have been legally declared null and void by competent courts, stressing that 'we cannot put something on nothing.'

Although, Section 180 of the 1999 Constitution was amended in 2010 by the National Assembly and signed into law by the President, the jurist averred that the amendment had no effect on the five governors since their rerun elections were conducted in 2008 because according to him, 'there is nowhere in the world where a constitution takes retroactive effect as erroneously held by INEC.' The trial judge maintained that the amendment cannot be used to determine the tenure of the governors who took oath of office in 2008.

Based on these legal standpoints, the court quashed the preparations by INEC and PDP to conduct elections in the affected states and ordered that elections would only take place in the states next year.

According to Bello, 'INEC cannot validly conduct elections in the five states until 60 days to the expiration of the tenure of the present occupants. The notice of elections, received nominations, guidelines and time table issued by INEC for the April 2011 elections are unlawful, illegal and contrary to section 180 of the Constitution.'

The plaintiffs had sued INEC and the PDP, seeking legal interpretation of their tenure in office, whether it would be extended beyond May 29 this year. The governors also challenged the decision of INEC to conduct governorship elections in their states in April 2011, claiming that their tenure would subsist beyond 2011. Ever since the judgement became public knowledge, it has been trailed by mixed reactions. INEC has appealed against the ruling at the Court of Appeal.

The electoral body asked the court to set aside the Abuja High Court ruling and allow it to conduct elections in the affected states. Since the issues at stake on this matter border on interpretation of the law, we think that INEC has done the right thing by going to court. Where matters resolved in one court are not pleasing to either of the parties, seeking for more clarifications at a court of higher jurisdiction is quite in order.

The courts should decide on the tenure of governors of the affected states. If there is any legal precedence on this, let such be followed. We appeal to judges handling the case to attend to it with utmost sense of responsibility, and expeditiously too, in view of imminence of the April polls. We say this bearing in mind the far-reaching consequences the judgement will have on the polls. Let the court have the final say on the matter to avoid the constitutional crisis that this can plunge the nation into. Already, there are too many cases engaging the attention of INEC. We do not want anything to derail the 2011 polls.

The action of the PDP on the matter is quite understandable. But the party should not dictate to INEC what to do on matters like this. Therefore, INEC should disregard PDP's postulations and go ahead with the case until the court gives a final ruling on the tenure of the concerned governors.