WHY WE CHAMPIONED RESTRICTION OF ELECTION TRIBUNALS- NGO
As the battle against the new Nigerian Electoral Act Provision section 140(2) which precluded election tribunals from giving outright victory to challengers of Winners at the polls move to the courtroom, the Bureau for Public Opinion Research and Monitoring –BPO an NGO based in Abuja which championed the insertion of the clause in the electoral Act has defended the provision as ''a cure for the mischief of Election Tribunals''.
The Director General of the Group-Mr 'Segun Ilori, a legal practitioner and political activist, says the provision was to ensure that the votes of the people rather than those of few judges remain the only means of getting into power . According to him, the group made a presentation at the Public hearing held by the National Assembly on November 29 ,2010, titled “Curing the mischief of Election Tribunals'' which was to draw attention to the recent experience in the polity where some judges using the election tribunals have found a way of installing their own Governors and legislators thereby rendering the votes of majority of Nigerians irrelevant.
“The intendment of the constitution and the electoral law is for people to emerge into political position through the votes of the people, through the ballot box. But gradually we are witnessing a situation where the judiciary has been using the election tribunals to rubbish the votes of the people using legal technicalities and are installing Governors. From Edo ,to Ekiti to Osun, Governors have emerged through technicalities ,not through the ballot boxes. Look at the novel case of a Senator from the East who had never won an election but has always used the court to get to the National Assembly. He used this to the House of Representatives twiceand now he is in the outgoing senate''
Ilori explained further” W e felt if the votes of the people must count, then it is not right for 5 judges to stay in one room and rubbish the votes of the people and install their governors- what is now popularly reffered to “Judge- made Governors “or legislators
The groups proposal for amendment was for the introduction of a clause which limited the scope of the order the tribunal can give. It reads“Where in the determination of any petition before it, an Election Tribunal finds that any person has not been validly elected for reasons of irregularities or that the election was not conducted in substantial compliance with the relevant electoral law, the tribunal shall order for another election, or supplementary election to be held within 60days of the judgement”The version which the National Assembly finally enacted and is the LAW is Section 140 (2)
''Where an election tribunal or court nullifies an election on the ground that the person who obtained the highest votes at the election was not qualified to contest the election or that the election was marred by substantial irregularities or non compliance with the provisions of this Act, the election tribunal or court shall not declare the person with the second highest votes or any other person as elected but shall order for a fresh election''
Ilori said the group was happy that it had made contribution to the deepening of democracy adding that even though not all the proposals presented to the assembly was accepted , it would explore other avenues in future to push for other amendment.
”Our second proposal was to avoid manifest injustice to the electorate and the candidate whose election is found to be irregular by reason of act of omission or commission of any other party or institutions relevant to the election, the Tribunal should be precluded from voiding that election and awarding victory to the Appellant. The tribunal may only order a rerun or supplementary election while penalizing the institution concerned or ordering the trial of individuals or officials found wanting. Also ''Where a candidate or his agent or party challenging the conduct of an election is found to have contributed in the irregularity or violent disruption of the election or in any other manner to make the election voidable, the Tribunal shall not declare the party as winner of the Election” .Unfortunately this amendment was not accepted
Reacting to the complaint against the provision by some political parties like the AC N supported by the office of the AGF declaring the provision unconstitutional, the Director General countered that the power of the National Assembly to enact a law for the proper conduct of elections is constitutional and the legislature as the representative of the people and defenders of democracy must continually ensure that peoples vote count and the intendment of the constitution and the law is that elected representatives must emerge through the ballot box not through the technicalities of the court room.
According to him “ Is it not absurd that in one breath, the tribunal will declare an election void for irregularities, yet a beneficiary will emerge from an election which was acclaimed as having been marred by irregularities. The best thing to do is to ask the parties to go back to the electorate not for one to be declared winner.The court should not implant their wishes on the people'',he said saying those who were kicking against the provision were those who benefitted from the mischief of the election tribunals
Speaking on the passage of the Freedom of Information Act,Ilori who is also a journalist commended the 6th assembly for the promulgation of the Act, saying this was one of the legacies for which Nigerians have to be grateful to them. He recalled that it took along while since the first bill was introduced in the 4th Assembly .
''My organization BPO presented memorandum at the public hearing in the 4th Assembly asking Nigeria to join other 41 countries then that has passed the Act. But unfortunately the bill did not scale the hurdles. So once again, it's a good day for democracy. We have to thank our media colleagues in the House of Representatives starting from Nduka Irabor,Hon Abike Dabiri, Ezuiche Ubani,Abdul Oroh and other NGOS like MRA,CLO for spearheading the struggle
On its implication for democracy, Ilori said'' Its a good omen for democracy and it will deepen our quest for good governance. The mistake should not be made to think that this Law is for journalists, because I see a de javu feeling among journalists to see this law as there own . No Its for all Nigerians. The same way the Freedom of the press is for all who want to own or impart ideas or information guaranteed in the constitution. However, by and large the media will be the major beneficiary because it has taken it as its business to seek for and disseminate information. It will also help the media to fulfill its obligation in the Constitution to hold government accountable to the people''
He said the Law imposes its own challenges on the media adding that there was the need for a lot of education and training for media practitioners to be able to use this law with all the responsibility required.