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ELECTION PETITION TRIBUNAL: ANOTHER SEASON OF FEARS, CRISES AND SURPRISES?

By NBF News
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By Charles Kumolu
ONE obvious feature of Nigerian elections is: Pundits can easily predict issues that would define both pre-election and post-polls era.

This accuracy of projections normally revolves around violence, ballot box snatching and stuffing, logistics questions, and challenging of results at tribunals among others. This explains why many are not surprised that a lot of petitions have flooded Election Petition Tribunals across the country.

That the recent general election, was adjudged to have some level of credibility, does not foreclose the possibilities of  petitions from aggrieved politicians. Even, in some places where it was obvious that the people's vote had its way, petitions are pouring in.

Perhaps, this informed the belief in most quarters that Nigerian politicians are perpetual petitioners.

Nonetheless, despite the position of most observers that politicians have turned challenging election results into a fashion, Vanguard gathered that it is not out of place to do so, as Section 285 of the 1999 Constitution provides succor for aggrieved persons.

There shall be election tribunal to determine petitions

Specifically, the constitution states in Section 285.(1): 'There shall be established for the Federation one or more election tribunals to be known as the National Assembly Election Tribunals which shall, to the exclusion of any court or tribunal, have original jurisdiction to hear and determine petitions as to whether, any person has been validly elected as a member of the National Assembly; the term of office of any person under this Constitution has ceased;  the seat of a member of the Senate or a member of the House of Representatives has become vacant; and  a question or petition brought before the election tribunal has been properly or improperly brought.'

Sub section (2) also states: 'There shall be established in each State of the Federation one or more Election Tribunals, which shall to the exclusion of any court or tribunal, have original jurisdiction to hear and determine petitions as to whether any person has been validly elected to the office of Governor or Deputy Governor or as a member of any legislative House.'

For subsection (3) and (4), 'The composition of the National Assembly Election Tribunals, Governorship and Legislative Houses Election Tribunals shall be as set out in the Sixth schedule to this Constitution. The quorum of an election tribunal established under this section shall be the Chairman and two other members.

In each case, the Chairman of the tribunal shall be a judge of a High Court and the four other members shall be appointed from among judges of the High Court, Kadis of a Sharia Court of Appeal, Judges of a Customary Court of Appeal or other members of the judiciary not below the rank of a Chief Magistrate. The various tribunals have been set up pursuant to Section 285 of the 1999 Constitution, to deal with grievances arising from the Governorship, National Assembly and State Assembly Elections.'

Petitions shall be filed within 21 days after elections

In furtherance to this, section 133 of 2010 Electoral Act, also shed more light on election petitions.

'No election and return at an election under this Bill shall be questioned in any manner other than by a petition complaining of an undue election or undue return. The election tribunals shall be constituted not later than 14 days before the election; and when constituted, open their registries for business 7 days before the election. An election petition shall be filed within 21 days after the date of the declaration of results of the elections,' it noted.

It is in compliance with this stipulations that informed the eagerness of parties to file their complaints.

However, this implies that the days ahead hold a lot of surprises as the outcome of the verdicts may overturn or upheld some victories. But unlike in the past, when cases at EPT pass through long and tortuous journey, cases would no longer be delayed at the tribunals because of what the 2010 Electoral Act says about duration of petitions.

'An election tribunal shall deliver its judgment in writing within 180 days from the date of the filing of the petition. An appeal from a decision of an election tribunal or court shall be heard and disposed of within 90 days from the date of the delivery of judgment of the tribunal,' the Act stated.

Parties to watch at various tribunals
PDP
Since May 29, 1999 the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has never been enthusiastic about challenging election results at tribunals. This has been sustained by the party's landslide victories at all levels of the elections, although most of these triumphs had been adjudged to be products of rigging.

At various times, the party had been the respondent in most cases, except in situations, where an aggrieved party member takes PDP to court. The cases of Ifeayni Ararume and Rotimi Amaechi are handy examples. Therefore, whoever thinks that the PDP would form the bulk of petitioners now might be wrong, as the party would only constitute a negligible portion of petitioners in the country.

While the party's huge success at the governorship elections might not make it possible to see much of its petitions at the Governorship Election Tribubals,GET, PDP might have much of its defeated lawmakers at the tribunals.

For instance, barely a month after they lost their bid to return to the National Assembly, House of Representatives Speaker, Dimeji Bankole, and daughter of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, have headed for the Election Petitions Tribunal to challenge their defeat by candidates of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).

Already, the PDP had dared opposition parties wishing to challenge its victory in this year's general elections, saying it was prepared to confront the opposition at the election petitions tribunals 'with a thunderlight speed.'

The party's National Legal Adviser, Chief Olusola Oke, reportedly said: 'On the part of the PDP, midway through the elections, I had a meeting with my zonal Legal Advisers and state Legal Advisers and put them on red alert that in the character of Nigerian politicians I expect that petitions would arise from these elections. We are on red alert on any petition that we receive now; we have our legal teams that will respond with thunderlight speed. We have that and I have also directed them that they should go to places for complaints.'

CPC
For a party that seems to be at the teething stage as a political party, Congress for Progressive Change, CPC's, sudden prominence in the political arena has remained a puzzle to many. That it was and still a factor in the pre and post-election era, is more  startling to those, who had followed the history of political parties in Nigeria.

Founded on the authority of former Head of State, Gen Muhammadu Buhari, CPC has come to mean different things to different people. To some, it is a party founded  by  political associates of Buhari as a solution to the fumbling ANPP.

For others, it is a platform that has been hijacked by those, who perpetuate violence. In fact, the mere mention of  CPC evokes fear, curses and disgust, especially in Southern parts of Nigeria. This, analysts believe is not unconnected with the recent post election violence in the north, where CPC supporters maimed and killed many.

It will be recalled that upon its formation on December 28, 2009, the party had a great promise, as many saw it as an alternative platform to the PDP.

But the party's alleged shabby management of the post-election violence has diminished its level of public sympathy, especially in the South.

This is why it is believed that for sometime to come, scholars and political analysts would continue to ponder on what went wrong with the CPC in its short period of existence.

Nevertheless, that the party is  challenging the result of elections at all levels, particularly the victory of President Goodluck Jonathan, is not a surprise. After all, its presidential candidate, Buhari, was the first to allege rigging of the presidential polls, after casting his vote.

Perhaps, it is against this and other claims that informed the party's decision to head for the tribunal.

Consequently, CPC  formally filed a petition before the presidential election petition tribunal at the Court of Appeal in Abuja, asking the tribunal to nullify the election of President Goodluck Jonathan on the grounds of substantial non_compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010.

In the petition predicated on two grounds and filed by Ebun Shotunde, the CPC is asking the tribunal to set aside the presidential election of April 16, 2011, and organise a fresh election between  CPC and PDP.

The CPC also wants the tribunal to hold that President Jonathan and Namadi Sambo of the PDP were not duly elected by majority of lawful votes cast at the election.

It averred that there is substantial variation in the voters' register used by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the conduct of the presidential and governorship elections, and to that extent INEC and its chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega unlawfully manipulated the voters' register to the advantage of President Jonathan and Architect Namadi Sambo.

Also, the party's gubernatorial candidates in most of the northern states are presently at the tribunal. Same also applies to most of its defeated candidates at other levels of the elections.

ACN
Before now, the ACN belonged to the group of parties that usually rush to the tribunal after every general election.

While other parties usually come out of election tribunals more battered, ACN is known for its numerous victories at EPT.

Political observers have attributed this recurring feat to the doggedness of the party's leaders and the merits of its petitions, just as others have continued to allege that ACN knows how best to compromise judges.

For instance, Senator Iyiola Omisore had described Rauf Aregbesola's victory in Osun State as a fraud. Omisore in an advertorial described the judgement as an 'elaborate fraud.' He alleged that ACN bought the judgement for five billion Naira.

Beyond this assumption in a few quarters, many believe that Nigeria's major opposition party has shown how best to seek redress at the tribunals.

A better understanding of ACN's gubernatorial candidate in Osun State, Engineer Rauf Aregbesola as well as Dr. Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State and the gubernatorial candidate of the Labour Party in Ondo State, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, says a lot about the party's successes at EPTs.

However, unlike in the past when it had many gubernatorial candidates challenging election outcomes, the bulk of the party's petitions might come from defeated candidates in other elective positions.

This does not undermine some pockets of gubernatorial petition(s) in some states. Instructively, ACN has declared its determination to challenge the declared result of the Akwa Ibom gubernatorial election at the tribunal. Whether or not the party would spring some surprises at the end of the sitting of the various EPTs is to be seen.