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ELECTION PETITIONS: NASS TO SET TIME LIMIT FOR TRIBUNALS

By NBF News
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National Assembly is to embark on another amendment of the 1999 Constitution. This time around, it is to set a time limit for election petition tribunals. Speaking exclusively to Sunday Sun, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, said the Constitution did not specify any timeframe for the tribunals.

'We will place a time limit on the tribunals. We didn't figure out a situation where a case is struck out at the tribunal and a petitioner goes on to appeal, and the Appeal Court sends the case back to the tribunal for re-trial. 'What we intend to determine is when the time for a case starts to run.' Ekweremadu stated that the fresh Constitution amendment intends to clarify and establish strict timeframe for election petitions.

'The strict interpretation of the Constitution is when the election was declared. We hope to amend the Constitution to reflect the time limit; answer the questions of whether it was when it was first instituted or when the case was sent for re-trial.'

On the ruling of a Federal High Court in Lagos on Thursday, which nullified Section 140 (2) of the Electoral Act, Ekweremadu said the court was right only in 'certain areas'.

Section 140 (2) reads: '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 a fresh election.'

Justice Okechukwu Okeke held that the amendment to the Electoral Act by the National Assembly in that regard was null and void, as it contravenes the powers given to the courts by the Constitution.

Okeke came to the conclusion while delivering judgement in a suit filed by the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), challenging the legality of some sections of the Electoral Act, 2010, as amended.

The sections challenged included 140 (2), 141, and 87 (8).

Regardless, the deputy senate president explained that one of the subsections of the Electoral Act had already specified instances where a petitioner can be declared winner.

'The court is right; although I do not have all the details here with me, I do know that one of the sub-sections in the Electoral Act says that the Tribunal can declare a winner in certain areas.

'If, for instance, there's a miscalculation in the adding up of figures, you don't have to go back for a fresh election. The tribunal can declare a winner in that respect.

'I cannot comment on the nullified section because I have not read the entire judgment. I don't have the details of what they said, but I know it's there in one of the sub-sections of the Electoral Act where the tribunal can declare a winner.'

Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN), however, confirmed to Sunday Sun that, as a law-abiding institution, the nation's upper legislative chamber has accepted the judgment and would effect the necessary corrections.

Said Ndoma-Egba: 'That is the judgment and we are a law-abiding institution. We accept. When we receive a copy of the judgment from our lawyers, we'll review the Act. What it means is that Section 140 (2) of the Electoral Act has been nullified and we'll look at it again and see whether we can review the Electoral Act in the light of that judgement or whether the Constitutional provision has been complied with.'