By NBF News
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The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) has urged the National Assembly to take another look at the Amended Electoral Act 2010 to stop the plan to use the Court of Appeal as the court of first instance in presidential and gubernatorial election petitions, as contained in the amended Electoral Act.

In a statement issued in Lagos on Sunday by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party reminded the National Assembly that the Court of Appeal was never a trial court anywhere in the world and hence must not be saddled with such responsibility in the case of election petitions.

It said even if all the positions in the Court of Appeal were filled, the court could not have more than 70 judges. 'Assuming all 70 judges are in place, which is not the case presently, the number can only constitute election petition tribunals for only 14 states, going by the constitutional stipulation of five members per panel. Even if the number is reduced to three per panel, as has been suggested in some circles, we still won't have enough judges to go round more than 23 states.

'Apart from the number of panels that can be constituted, there is also the problem of time limitation (180 days) regarding when petitions must be heard and judgements delivered. If the deluge of election petitions that greeted the 2007 general elections is anything to go by, there could be over 100 petitions after the 2011 gubernatorial polls alone, and the Court of Appeal cannot possibly cope with this huge number of cases.

'Needless to say that while the election petitions last, the over-burdened Court of Appeal will not be able to carry out its statutory function of hearing appeals from High Courts, and this will have unimaginable implications for the country and her citizens.

ACN, therefore, called on the National Assembly to, as a matter of urgency, use the opportunity provided by the widespread call for another amendment to the amended Electoral Act, in the wake of INEC's demand for an extension of time for the 2011 elections to take another look at the Act to prevent the Court of Appeal from becoming the court of first instance for gubernatorial election petitions. The party said the old system of using judges from the High Courts to constitute the gubernatorial election panels must be retained.

It wondered what influenced the National Assembly to take such an inscrutable decision of turning the Court of Appeal into a trial court for election petitions and why the assembly did not consult even the Court of Appeal or the nation's legion of erudite lawyers before taking such a decision. 'Consultation with the Court of Appeal itself or an elementary knowledge of how the Court of Appeal works would have shown our lawmakers that their proposition will over-burden the judiciary at best and be downright unworkable at worst.

'It is unflattering to the lawmakers that their position on such a crucial national issue is not well thought out. But they have another chance to make amends, in the interest of our nation,' ACN said. The party said while it understood that the amendment concerning time limitation was triggered by the recommendation of the Uwais panel on electoral reform to have all election petitions disposed of before swearing in, the panel made its recommendation on the basis of the existing structure in which all election petitions, with the exception of the presidential election petition, were determined by tribunals, and the Court of Appeal entertained appeals emanating therefrom.