Election petitions: S’ Court, A’Court under pressure

Elections, university

…politicians panic as appeals expire soon

*Funds yet to be released for Election Petition Tribunal- President A’Court

By Andrew Orolua

Anxiety has gripped the political class and associates as the appellate courts are contending with the hearings and determinations of not less than 600 pre- election political appeals whose time frame are likely to expire in the next two weeks.

The political appeals have put an unprecedented pressures on the Supreme Court whose decision is final in the pending political appeals mostly disputes over political parties candidacies for forthcoming February 25 and March 5 general elections.

Just last week a presiding Justice of Supreme Court’s panel, Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, indirectly cautioned about the heavy workload.while advising lawyers not to waste the precious time of the court disclosed that the apex court has not less than 68 political appeals to hear and deliver judgments on each before Monday February 7.

The pressure on the justices of the apex court is compelling, and it arose from the need to satisfy the requirements of the statute, particularly sections 184 (10) (11) and (12) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended ( the Forth Alteration ) which provides time frame within which political appeals before the courts must be considered and deposed off, an Abuja legal Practitioner Bala Dakum said.

With the statute Federal High court/Tribunals are alloted 180 days from the date a pre – election or post – election suit is filed for it to deliver judgment.

Court of Appeal where all the appeals from the lower courts lies has just 60 days to determine the appeals , same period of 60 days is statutorily provided for the Supreme Court.

There lies the dilemma of the Supreme Court which presently could at best empaneled only two panels that would sit simultaneously. Unlike the Court of Appeal with 20 Divisions contending with 600 pre- elections political appeals that were filed between November last year and the first week of February 2023, and more appeals are still being filed.

Eleven(11) justices of the Supreme Court are weight down with heavy over load of file jackets, an appellant counsel Sunday Oluwalafe, said.

Regrettably, the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended only provides for 21 Justices in the bench of Supreme Court , but practically that number currently has been reduced through retirements to half without replacement in sight even as the workload continues to piles every day.

This partially explained while some civil appeals that were filed as far back as 2010 are still in file jackets of the apex court.

The plights of the justices of Supreme Court are made worse by politicians and their lawyers whose penchant to test lower courts judgments at the Supreme Court continues to grow either for the satisfactory of selfish interests or other benefits.

The apex court has for some weeks now restore to delivering judgments almost on daily bases , a departure from it’s normal routine Fridays judgment delivery all in attempt to cope with the demands of the statute.

Even at that , with just 18 days to the general election it is obvious that not all political appeals may receive attention, these account for the anxiety among the aspirants who are awaiting the final decision from the apex court on their fates.

Sunday Oluwalafe Esq. an appellant counsel, said that the concerns of clients are most times not easily captured in the circumstances the country is facing as is their right to seek justice adding that they would find abrupt termination of their cases unbearable especially when the lower court erred in their decision.

He maintained that in situations where an appeal that was diligently filed expired due to time frame, an aspirant awaiting for it to be heard would naturally feels disappointed.

But it is clear that in situations like that there are hardly anyone to blame.When such occured like we are obviously going to have on February 25 with some appeals, the decision of lower court on such matter would abide.

The political parties have nothing to lose in such situations except where the lower court had nullified the party primary election .

Meanwhile, the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem has raised the alarm that lacked of funds may affect the smooth take off of the election petition tribunals.

She said when she received EU delegation lead by Amb. Samuela Isopi in her office over the weekend that “in preparation of delivering its Constitutional mandate, the Court is faced with numerous challenges which includes but not limited to paucity of funds

President of Court of Appeal said that to effectively manage the tribunals, deployment of ICT equipment and the need for continuous training of support staff with a view to enhancing their capacities and powers to effectively drive the electoral adjudication process funds are needed.

”Permit me to state that the Court is in a dilemma, we have just 21 days to the General Election and the special intervention fund to conduct the Election Petition Tribunal is yet to be released,” she said.

She added that this will impact negatively on the activities of the Court and Tribunals to effectively discharge its Constitutional duties.

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According to her, ”it is expected that by now, provisions would have been made for the procurement of necessary materials and equipment needed for the smooth running of the various Tribunals.

”Also we ought to have organised further trainings for Hon. Justices, Members of the Tribunals and Secretariat Staff but we cannot due to paucity of funds.

She told the delegation that the courts are hopeful that these challenges will soon be addressed before the conduct of the General Election.

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