A Critical Examination of the Effects of Delays in Electoral Cases in Nigeria
Delays in the determination of political and electoral cases in Nigeria has been the bane to her political development since the second republic. Electoral cases by their nature are sui generis, and thus ought to be decided timeously hence, protracted cases arising from elections can undermine the process of good governance and the laudable objective of the statutory provisions made thereon. This paper has attempted a critical examination of the effects of such delays using Nigeria as a case study. It appraised the constitutional timeline for the hearing of such cases. Some effects discussed include, staggered elections, instability in governance and uncertainty in the law, subversion of the people’s will, corruption and host of others. Recommendations on the way is also made. The research methodology used is doctrinal method.
Electoral cases are by their nature sui generis. This is not just because of its role in the democratic process but also because of its impact in the change of key leadership responsibilities and political offices in Nigeria, chiefly, the office of President/Vice, Governor/Deputy, and National and State Houses of Assembly. The time for the conclusion of such cases in one way or the other, is affected by law and practice and other technicalities which follow them, as well as injunctions by courts and tribunals. This paper will attempt a critique of the effect of delays in the final determination of all the issues in the various electoral cases from tribunals to the apex court. It also examines the sources of the problems in Nigeria’s democratic process, and makes recommendations, particularly towards expediting such cases within the timelines provided by law.
Meaning of Political and Electoral Cases
Political cases refer generally to pre- and post-election cases. They are court cases challenging the validity or otherwise of persons or parties elected into a public office or contestable positions.
Pre-elections cases are cases which border on primaries of political parties, and/or choice and change of candidate for elections. Section 285(14) of the Constitution defines pre-election matters as ‘any suit by an aspirant wherein he complains that any of the provisions of the Electoral Act or any Act of the National Assembly regulating the conduct of the primaries of political parties and the provisions of the guidelines of a political party for the conduct of party primary has not been complied with by a political party in respect of the selection or nomination of candidates for an election.
It is also any suit by an aspirant challenging the action, decision or activities of Independent National Electoral Commission1 Thus, pre-election matters may be commenced by an aspirant against his/her party, such aspirant against INEC and a political party against INEC.
Post-elections cases on the other hand, also called election petitions, arise from the conduct of elections into public office, and often is inter party. Political cases may also include cases on the eligibility or otherwise of candidates for executive and legislative positions in the various political parties.
As can be seen, political cases often arise from the conduct of elections, either at party levels or by state institutions, at Federal or State levels charged with such responsibility by statute. In Progressive Peoples Alliance v. Sariki2 while interpreting section 137(1)(b) of the Constitution, the court described elections as ‘the process of choosing by popular votes a candidate for a political office in a democratic system of government’.
The outcome of elections into public office is what is contested in elections petitions usually beginning at the designated tribunal or court, whereas party elections are litigated at the regular courts (usually the High Court). It must be noted that elections into public offices does not refer exhaustively to the polls, as the court has observed. The casting of votes by the electorate on the day of the polls is just part of the electoral process. Under the Electoral Act, Part IV, the word election is a generic term comprising among other things, submission of list of candidates and their affidavit by political parties, nomination of candidates, conduct of the polls, etc.
Political cases, particularly, election petitions by their nature have its unique characteristics. Post election cases in particular are accorded special treatment and status, and besides having its separate rules of procedure and practice, it is governed by timeline which is provided for under the constitution directly, and constantly under scrutiny to ensure compliance. It is also sui generis because it is concerned with access to justice in respect of political rights and obligations of the entire citizenry. People whose political rights have been injured by the electoral process have access to justice at the expense of technicalities of law.
Election petitions are also treated in a unique manner because it is not the candidates’ interest alone that is at stake, for the electorate could be denied their right of choice or disenfranchised altogether.3 Hence, they are usually distinguished or divorced from civil and criminal matters, as a special proceeding.4
Since elections allows a degree of communication between the rulers and the ruled and further provides a means of legitimizing the rights of the rulers to govern,5 an electoral case is a complaint of an undue return or undue election lodged before a competent forum pursuant to the provision of the Constitution and the Electoral Act.
To a large extent, its rules are strictly observed to ensure the timely conclusion of such cases. In Orubu v. INEC6 the court described election petition as not being the same as the ordinary civil proceedings. It is a special proceeding because of the nature of elections which, by reason of their importance to the well-being of a democratic society are regarded with aura that places them above the normal day to day transactions between individuals which give rise to ordinary or general claim in court.
As a matter of deliberate policy to enhance urgency, election petitions are expected to be devoid of the procedural clogs that cause delay in the disposition of the substantive dispute.7) The need to avoid undue delays is thus buttressed which is in fact, the touchstone of its specialty. In Olawepo v. Saraki,8 the Court highlighted this essence further:
The spirit of the law relating to election petition is that as much as possible, petitions should be given expeditious adjudication to enable the parties to know the result of the election in which they participated. And compliance with statutory provision as to time within which to file an election petition is a fundamental pre-condition a breach of which is incurable and failure to comply with the statutory provision is fatal. In such a case the court has no jurisdiction to entertain the petition or cause. See also; Balogun v. Odumosu (1999) 2 NWLR Pt. 592 at 590, Nnonye v. Anyichie (1989) 2 NWLR Pt. 101 at 110, Paul Osakpamwan Ogbebor v. Daisy Ehanre Danjuma & Others (2003) 15 NWLR Pt. 842, 403 at 489.9
Thus, compliance with the statutory provision as to time within which to file a pre-election matter as well as election petition is a fundamental pre-condition, the breach of which has been held to be incurable. This breach also takes away the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the petition.10
In PDP & Ors v. CPC & Ors,11 the Supreme Court held that the 60 days allotted for the disposal of appeals arising from election petitions includes Saturdays, Sundays, public holidays and even Court vacations. Clearly, the judiciary protects the sanctity and sustenance of democracy being an avenue to correct/rectify the wrongs following the conduct of election which is basically the foundation of democracy as it affords the people the chance to choose their government.
Constitutional and Statutory Timelines of Electoral Matters
It is important to note that the period statutorily provided before the conduct of an election is crucial in understanding the timeline for the commencement of an election petition.
In the case of pre-election matters, such matters must be filed not later than 14 days from the date of the occurrence of the event, decision or action complained in the suit.12 Thus, actions outside this time frame are liable to be dismissed for being statute-barred.13
By section 285 (10) of the Constitution, pre-election matters shall be heard and determined not later than 180 days from the date of filing of the suit. Appeal from decision in a pre- election matter must be filed within 14 days from the date of delivery of the judgment appealed against, while the appeal itself must be heard and disposed of within 60 days from the date of filing of the appeal.14
With respect to electoral matters, the Constitution provides for the period for the conduct of elections for members of the National Assembly, to be not earlier than 150 days and not later than 30 days before the House stands dissolved. Similar provision is also made in respect of a House of Assembly of a State under section 118.
Section 132 also provides that the election to the office of President shall be held not earlier than 150 days and not later than 30 days before the expiration of the term of the last holder of that office. Similar provision is made in section 178 in respect of the office of Governor of a State. By section 285(5)15 of the Constitution, an election petition shall be filed within 21 days after the date of the declaration of the result of the elections. By subsection (6) an election tribunal shall deliver its judgment in writing within 180 days from the date of filing of the petition.
Subsection (7) provides that an appeal from a decision of an election tribunal or court of appeal in an election matter shall be heard and disposed of within 60 days from the date of delivery of the judgment of the tribunal or court of appeal. It must be noted that subsection (5) did not differentiate the elections referred to therein, which clearly included both Executive and Legislative elections.
The requirement of 21 days within which to commence such action is sacrosanct by this provision, otherwise the legal action lapses by limitation of time,16 and the claim or relief is lost. With the exception of the time to file a petition, a court or tribunal may extend the time within which to do any other thing under the Electoral Act,17 such as service by substituted means, etc.
It should also be noted that the rule under subsection (6), that is, the requirement of 180 days within which a tribunal is to deliver its judgment includes where there is trial de novo ordered on appeal.
In emphasising the settled and unbending nature of this provision, the Supreme Court in ANPP v. Goni18 held that the 180 days required for the conclusion of hearing of a petition is to be calculated from the date of filing. It cannot be extended or expanded or elongated or in any way enlarged. If what is to be done is not done within the time so fixed, it lapses as the court is robbed of jurisdiction to continue to entertain the matter.19 The breach is thus incurable.20
Interestingly, the time provided above for filing also include amendment of contents of the petition or reply as the case may be.21 Furthermore, is has also been held that the 60 days period allotted for the disposal of appeals arising from election petitions includes Saturdays, Sundays, public holidays and even Court vacations.22
It is obvious that the aim of these provisions is to cure the mischief of prolonged pre-election contests and election petitions which could see a party who rode to power illegitimately remaining in office at the detriment of the rightful owner of the mandate.
Background to the Problem of Timelines in Electoral Cases
With the clear aim to fast-track electoral cases in Nigeria, the Electoral Act of 1982, sections 129(3) and 140(3) provided the time-frame to hear and determine all electoral cases from the High Court (which was the court conferred with jurisdiction to hear such matters, including petition on election into the office of President/Vice President and members of Legislative Houses) to the apex court of the land.
The Act further provided that a petition filed before the High Court in respect of any election shall be disposed of by the Court not later than 30 days from the date of such election and any election petition not so disposed of shall be time-barred and such petition shall be deemed null and void.
An appeal from a decision of the High Court to the Court of Appeal shall be disposed of within 7 days, while a further appeal to the Supreme Court shall also be heard and determined within 7 days, otherwise such appeals become abated in each case.
The opportunity to test this law presented itself in the famous case of Unongo v. Aku & Ors (((1983) 2 SCNJ 232)) and Kadiya v. Lar & Ors23 which emerged from the governorship election held throughout the country on 13th July, 1983. The facts of Unongo’s case are summarised as follows: the appellant contested the election with the 1st respondent who was then the incumbent governor of Benue State.
The 1st respondent was returned as having been elected as the winner of the election by the 3rd respondent. Aggrieved, the appellant lodged a petition at the High Court, Makurdi, claiming that the 1st respondent was not duly elected, and that he ought to have been declared winner instead. Several objections were raised and heard and eventually, the High Court struck out the petition on the grounds that the joinder of the governor was unconstitutional since he enjoys immunity under the constitution.
The court equally stated that the non-inclusion of the name and address of the petitioner for service was fatal to the petition. On appeal to the Court of Appeal, the appellate court upturned the decision of the High Court on all grounds. However, the court could not grant the consequential relief of “restoring the petition and ordering a resumption of hearing in the trial court” on the ground that such an order would run foul of the provisions of section 140(2) of the Electoral Act, 1982, which prescribed a time limit for the determination of an election petition.
On further appeal to the Supreme Court, the effect of section 140(2) of the Electoral Act 1982 on the jurisdiction of the court and the principle of separation of powers were strongly canvassed. The Supreme Court did not hesitate to declared as null and void and unconstitutional the provisions of sections 129 and 140(3) of the 1982 Electoral Act on the grounds that it constituted an affront to the right to fair hearing of a petitioner, in addition to not allowing the court sufficient time to hear such matters within a reasonable period. This is pursuant to sections 1(3), 4 (8), 6 (6) (a) and (b), section 33(1) of the 1979 constitution which is in pari materia with section 1(3), 4 (8), 6 (6) (a) and (b), and section 36(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). The apex court consequently ordered a retrial of the petition at the High Court.
In Kadiya’s case, the petition was filed on 29/8/83. Efforts to serve it personally on the 1st respondent (that is the incumbent governor) proved unsuccessful, hence, the petitioner applied for substituted service through a newspaper publication which was granted by the court. The order was made on 7/9/83 and the necessary publications appeared in the newspaper the following day.
The case was fixed for hearing on 12/9/83 which was the last day it could validly be heard, having regard to the stipulation in the Electoral Act for the petition to be disposed of within thirty days from the date of the election (in this case; 13/8/83). When the case came up for hearing on 12/9/93, objection was taken on behalf of the 1st respondent that it was not ripe for hearing because the 1st respondent had not filed his reply, which he was allowed six days to do from the date of service of the petition on him under section 135 of the Electoral Act.
The six days would not expire until 14/9/83. The objection was upheld by the election tribunal. The petition was accordingly struck out. On appeal to the Federal Court of Appeal, the court held that they could have ordered a rehearing in the High Court, but for the provisions of sections 129(3) and 140 (2) of the Electoral Act 1982 to the effect that all such proceedings would abate after 30 days.
The issues created by the two cases, particularly Unongo case include the Supreme Court’s decision that any provision of the law limiting the time within which election petitions must be determined is unconstitutional. The subsequent amendments to the electoral law, chiefly, the Electoral Act of 1993, 2006 and 2010 as well as the 1999 constitution did not provide any time limit within which to finally dispose of electoral cases.
This development created another problem, resulting in protracted delays of such cases, that became the bane of democratic advancement of the nation. This problem among others led to the subsequent amendment to the Constitution which has now embodied the strict timelines outlines above.24
Delay in the dispensation of electoral justice leaves a sour taste in our electoral process.25 The cases of Ngige v. Obi,26 Fayemi v. Oni27 and Aregbesola & Ors v. Oyinlola & Ors among other famous decisions illustrate this challenge clearly, some of which are discussed below.
Critical Examination of the Effect of Delays in the Determination of Electoral Cases
Delays in the determination of political and electoral cases in Nigeria especially before now has had a lot of political and social effects. The consequences are quite overwhelming, although it may be argued by some that the effects may have also helped in the democratic advancement of the country one way or the other.
i. Staggered Elections
This is one of the striking effects arising from the protracted delays in the final determination of electoral cases from the judicial decisions emanating therefrom on the issue. This is a situation whereby States in the country have different dates or calendars for their gubernatorial elections, in what is now called off circle elections. The case of Chris Ngige v. Peter Obi28 highlights this problem clearly.
The appellant and respondent contested for the office of governor of Anambra State in the 2003 general election. However, the appellant was declared winner, and the respondent, who contested on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance then headed to court to challenge the outcome.
His petition was filed on the 16th day of May, 2003 and he called 45 witnesses to prove his case. The Appellant on the other hand contested on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and called 425 witnesses.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) called 12 witnesses bringing the total to 437 witnesses for the defence of the petition. In all, 482 witnesses testified before the tribunal. The tribunal took more than two years to hear all the witnesses and delivered judgment on the 12th day of August, 2005.
The appeal came up for hearing on the 23rd day of January, 2006 and judgment was delivered on the 15th day of March, 2006. The Supreme Court nullified the election of the appellant and declared the respondent as the duly elected candidate. It also held that the tenure of the respondent would commence from the date he took oath of office in 2006.
This case lasted 35 months before it was finally determined which has brought about the staggered elections in Anambra as well other States with similar experience including Bayelsa, Edo, Osun, Ekiti, among others.
ii. Instability in Governance and Uncertainty in the Law
Delays in concluding electoral cases leads to instability on governance. Normally, electioneering campaigns comes with tensions in the polity arising from the struggle for power by the different political parties. After the elections have been conducted and a winner is announced, it is expected that stability will return.
However, where electoral cases arising from the election prolong in the courts, it usually heightens tensions as to a possible removal of a government newly inaugurated. This often leads to chaos and at times violence. There is also the problem of uncertainty in the law.
For instance, for a long time, there was uncertainty arising from misinterpretations as to real date of the commencement of the term of four years stipulated in the constitution for the office of governor where he takes oath of office on a date that runs short of four years for another round of general election. This was resolved in the Obi’s Case discussed above, leading to subsequent amendments of the constitution and judicial decisions that followed on the issue before it was finally laid to rest.
iii. Subversion of the People’s Will
A situation where a candidate who was not duly elected by the people is allowed to remain in office due to delay in determination of the rightful winner, is a subversion of the people’s will and choice of who governs them.
A government that does not emerge from credible election and popular acceptance cannot be said to be the people’s will. It is a hijack of power which is often the case, through violence, rigging and other malpractices. These irregularities constitute an afront to the tenets of democratic norms as obtainable all over the world.
Representative democracy as practiced in other climes recognises that sovereignty belong to the people from where government derives its legitimacy and authority. Legitimate governmental power must arise from the ballot and not through subversion or perversion. It also allows riggers and those with dubious mandate to hang on to power31.
Where electoral cases are concluded on time at least before handover, it will enthrone the rightful candidate and give him ample time to enjoy the mandate given him by the people who elected him.
When electoral cases are allowed to prolong in court, it breeds corruption and abuse of office especially where the government was not duly elected by the majority of the people as obtained in decent democracies. The institutions of government are often used to witch-hunt perceived enemies and opponents, suppress evidence, and threaten violence.
In order to prevent a lawful challenge of the election, some even go the extent of declaring a public holiday on a day when a judgment or ruling by an electoral panel suspected not be in their favour will be delivered.
Where time frame is fixed for election cases as in the present dispensation, such cases go on even on public holidays which may be excluded in order to meet up with the constitutionally allotted time to conclude such matters.
v. Loss of Confidence in the Electoral Process
A system which leaves room for uncertainty will often lead to loss of confidence by the electorate as to whether the ends of justice will indeed be 31 Kari, A.G.U., ‘Issues in Election Petition Adjudication in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic: A Sociological Critique of the Role of the Judiciary’, Global Journal of Politics and Law Research, Vol.5, No.7, pp.75-87, December 2017, accessed last on 23/8/2021 at www.eajournals.org served. It makes those who are aggrieved or their supporters to seek alternative means of airing out their grievances. A learned writer captured it thus:
‘An electoral dispute resolution mechanism that is slow and technically inclined and does not deliver substantial justice adds to the pains of the people and slows down the entrenchment of democracy. It also corrupts the electoral process and leads people towards alternative and unconstitutional means of resolving electoral disputes’29.
This is in addition to the apathy in the entire trial process that is prone to needless delays. On other instance, the judiciary itself is put on trial as to whether it can indeed be able to salvage the system from collapse.
The win-at- all-cost syndrome of politicians and some legal practitioners puts the pressure on the judiciary which if not handled carefully will lead to total systemic breakdown.
Having considered the effects of delays in the determination of electoral cases, it is important to observe that electoral and political cases when concluded on the timelines provided has the capacity to aid in better understanding of democratic culture in Nigeria, in addition to enriching our political jurisprudence.
Sources of Delays in Determination of Electoral Cases in Nigeria
Some factors have been identified and discussed herein which are responsible for the problem of delay or prolonged electoral cases. Despite the recent amendments to the constitution, these challenges persist, and if not addressed, they will continue to undermine the electoral process in the country.
i. Constitutional Timeline for Conduct of Elections
Section 132 of the constitution provides that an election to the office of President shall be held on a date to be appointed by the Independent National Electoral Commission, and such date shall not be earlier than 150 days and not later than 30 days before the expiration of the term of office of the last holder of that office. Similar provision is also contained in section 178 in respect of the office of Governor of a State.
With these provision in minds, where an election is conducted 30 days before the expiration of the tenure of the current holder of the office for instance, even the tribunal is left with insufficient time of the 180 days provided to conclude a petition before the rightful winner assumes office. Put differently, with 180 days at the election Tribunal and a subsequent 60 days at the apex court (making it total of 240 days or about 8 month), a new government would have come into power whose mandate is being contested in court.
The mischief created by this provision leaves room for a candidate who rigged his way into political office and who eventually losses out to enjoy a part of the tenure belonging to the rightful winner, and at times even using the powers therein to oppress or challenge the candidate with the people’s mandate.
In most cases, with the resources of State, power, weight and prestige of the office, it is often difficult to upturn their election in favour of the right candidate.
According to Ubanyionwu, if statistics were to be taken of the number of petitioners who succeed against sitting governors, it will be found that a very infinitesimal number of petitioners achieve success in their election petition against sitting governors; none has ever succeeded against a sitting president.30
ii. The Electoral Body
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is the body charged with the responsibilities and powers to organise, undertake and supervise all elections into specific political offices in Nigeria, that is, election to the office of President/Vice-President, Governor/Deputy Governor and members of Federal and State Legislative Houses.31)
In the discharge of this statutory functions, the electoral body is also the custodian of all documents and materials used by it in the conduct of elections. To prove its case on all grounds such as irregularity or corrupt practices for instance, a petitioner will require credible evidence to succeed.
In the bid to challenge the outcome of an election, a petitioner usually will join INEC as a party thus bringing its activities in the electoral process under scrutiny. One of the problems of the tribunals usually is the delay in the release of documents in INEC’s custody. In most cases until the close of the petitioner’s case such documents are never sited. This has affected the tribunal from properly delivering justice.32
In view of the practice of frontloading of documentary evidence and time limitation, this challenge becomes a bane of the system, and thus, most cases are often dead on arrival or needlessly delayed in search of evidence. Unfortunately, there have been allegations in the past that INEC wilfully withholds certain documents which may indict the Commission. While it is undeniable that INEC also has a duty to defend its action and activities including the conduct of elections, it is submitted that it has a legal obligation to maintain neutrality and assist the tribunal and court to discharge the mandate before it.
iii. Large Volume of Cases/Documents and Capacity of Panel Judges
Due to the nature of electoral cases, it is not uncommon to find a petition or their replies running into hundreds of pages, while appeals therefrom runs into thousands of pages and several heavy volumes stacked in sacks and bags as processes before the tribunals and court. All these voluminous documents are expected to be read and properly perused by the electoral panels before giving a ruling or final decision in a matter before it.
Most judges appointed to man the tribunals are rotated and most times find themselves unfamiliar with the practice and conduct of election petition tribunals. Although electoral cases are similar in many ways with the regular civil matters that come before the judges, lack of experience may affect justice delivery in view of the nature and technicality of documents and evidence which are presented before them, coupled with the short time within which the matter must be concluded. This is more so as the hearings are expected to conducted from day to day usually sitting until evening.
There is therefore the dire need for training and retraining of judicial officers regularly before electioneering seasons for optimum performance especially judges of High Court who are appointed chairman/members of respective panels. There is also the need to provide adequate facilities and materials to enable the judges perform well. For instance, provision of electronic facilities and well-equipped library with modern features is also key for their efficiency.
iv. Attitude of the Bar and Parties
The Bar no doubt plays an important role in the conduct of election petition as they represent the interest of litigants and parties. The Bar is therefore a crucial stakeholder in justice delivery.
One of major challenges faced by the tribunal is frivolous and baseless allegation and accusations from some lawyers. At times these leads to re-shuffling of the panel. And when this occurs, the new panel may have to start afresh to meet the requirement of law.
At other times, lawyers are caught in ploys aimed at wasting precious times, such as evasion of service, filing of frivolous processes, and appeals, and a host of others. The tendency of win at all cost by politicians and lawyers is another major problem which must be tackled.
v. The Tribunal Registry
The Registry of electoral tribunal is responsible for the administrative duties of the tribunal, which includes receipt of petition and other processes for filing, service of court processes timeously on parties, issuances of hearing notices, preparation of court proceedings and orders, custody and safekeeping of tribunal documents and exhibits, compilation of records, among others.
Some challenges associated with tribunal registry include ruthless demand for very high sum of monies for processing court orders and compilations, in some cases, needless delays in compilation of records, omission of important documents, unwillingness to carry out the tedious task associated with election petitions coupled with perception that election tribunal work is an opportunity to make money, hence, they are ready only to work with the higher paying side, which brings about partiality and affects the integrity of a panel. There is also the challenge of inadequate staff and absence of materials required for work, especially modern office facilities.33
Delays in the electoral process in Nigeria is the result of both systemic, social and direct human factors which can be tackled to bring about the much talked about reform in governance.
Looking at the sources of the problems highlighted in this paper, the following recommendations are made to that effect: First, an amendment of the constitution (particularly sections 76, 116, 132 and 178).
The amendment is basically to provide sufficient time in the electoral calendar to allow for conduct of the elections, the hearing of cases arising therefrom up to the point of appeal to the final court of law, before the expiration of the term of office of the current of holder of that office. This will prevent a situation where the term of a rightful owner as affirmed or declared by the court is encroached upon and expended during protracted election petition that linger into his term of office.
Similarly, the electoral calendar released by INEC should be early enough so that party primaries can be conducted timeously to allow sufficient time to pre-election matters to be concluded up to the apex court. it is suggested that there is need for an amendment of section 285(6) of the Constitution, to provide for exceptions to the 180 days rule for conclusion of petitions at tribunal level. The exception should accommodate rehearing and trial de novo. This will ensure that cases deserving extension of time to conclude them are not shut out which may clearly be due to no fault of the litigants and/or their counsel.
Secondly, the urgent to aggressively prosecute electoral offenders is hereby advocated. The Electoral Act 2022 proscribed several of such offences including under-age voting, voter intimidation, violence, improper use of voter’s card, disorderly conduct on election day, among others.34 The recent trends of vote buying and selling right at the polling centre, must be confronted headlong.
In some cases, security personnel posted at the boots turn a blind eye at such malpractices, and/or collude with politicians and their supporters. It is recommended that a special court just like the Election Tribunal be established in the Constitution to try such offenders, with a timeline within which the matter must be concluded.
To this end, a special Unit should be established under INEC to investigate electoral Offences and prosecute same or such unit may be established under the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) or Independent Corrupt and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC). This will aid the reduction of growing electoral malpractices in Nigeria.
Thirdly, the need for the INEC to be responsive to its duties under the law cannot be over-emphasised, especially with regards to logistics and preparations for elections in Nigeria. The experience during the 2023 presidential election showed several lapses.
For instance, the inability of INEC to display the results on its IReV portal from the Collation Centres after being announced, scanned and sent, as stipulated in its Guidelines35 cannot be excused.
Whether arising from system breakdown, technical hitches, or other problems, it was avoidable, in view of the huge budgetary provisions for the elections. It cannot be over- emphasized that display of result as stipulated would promote transparency and boost confidence in the electoral process.
There is also the need to effective training of ad-hoc staff deployed for the election, as experience shows that some of them do not know hot properly use the relevant devices provided for the elections.
Fourthly, provision of secure and conducive environment for election tribunal members to sit and discharge their functions is also key as well as providing modern facilities and equipments for the registry.
The place of training and re- training of staff of the registry cannot also be over-emphasised. Above all, the parties who come before the courts must view themselves as stakeholders in the match towards enthronement of sound democratic culture in the body polity. To this end, needless and baseless allegations and petition must be avoided.
This paper has attempted to examine the effect of delays in electoral cases in Nigeria. Some of the factors identified as responsible for the trend include timeline for elections, the challenge from electoral body, the volume of cases and document, capacity of electoral tribunals, etc.
The effect of delays includes staggered elections being witnessed in several States in the country, instability in governance and uncertainty in the law, subversion of the people’s will, corruption and host of others. Recommendations have also been made on the way forward in order to address the problem, particularly with regards to an amendment of relevant provisions of the constitution and the Electoral Act.
1. Okoye, F. “Do Elections Count?” Final Report of The 2003 General Elections in Nigeria Abuja: Transition Monitoring Group
2. Kari, A.G.U., ‘Issues in Election Petition Adjudication in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic: A Sociological Critique of the Role of the Judiciary’, Global Journal of Politics and Law Research, Vol.5, No.7, pp.75-87, December 2017, accessed last on 23/8/2021 at www.eajournals.org
3. Oni, E.O., Fagbadebo, O.M., & Yagboyaju, D. A., ‘Democratic Practice and Governance in Nigeria’ accessed last on 23/8/2021 at www.researchgate .com
4. Tarfa, R. SAN, ‘Key Issues and Challenges of Electoral Tribunals in Nigeria’ assessed last on 21/10/2021 at www.rickeytarfa.com
5. Ubanyionwu, C.J., ‘Election Petition Cases and the Right to Fair Trial Within a Reasonable Time in Nigeria’ accessed on 23/8/2021 at google.com.
Image Credit: United Nations Development Programme
Chidiebere A. Akalugwu studied law at University of Abuja, Nigeria, and the Nigerian Law School, and was subsequently called to the Nigerian Bar. He has been engaged in rigorous legal practice since then. He is currently a serving Magistrate with the Imo State Judiciary. He was appointed in 2019.
- NEC) in respect of his participation in an election or who complains that the provisions of the Electoral Act or any other law regulating elections in Nigeria has not been complied with by INEC in respect of the selection or nomination of candidates and participation in an election. ((It includes any such suit by a political party against INEC relating to non-compliance with the law of the election.
- (2007) 17 NWLR (Pt. 1064) 456
- Omoiregbai v. Ogedengbe (2009) 44 WRN 136 at 162
- Chief Collins Obi v. Mbakwe (1984) NSCC Vol. 15, 127,326
- (1988) 5 NWLR (Pt. 94) 323 at 347
- Ibid, per Uwais CJN (as he then was). See also the case of Abdulahi v. Elayo (1993) 1 NWLR 332, per Oguntade JCA (as he then was
- (2009) 45 WRN 80 at 145
- Owoade JCA
- Nnonyev.Anyichie(1989) 2 NWLR (Pt. 60) 32.
- (2011) 9 SCM 37
- Section 285(9) CFRN 1999 (as Amended); Garba v. APC (2020) 2 NWLR (Pt. 1708) 345 at 360
- Toyin v. Musa (2019) 9 NWLR (Pt. 1676) 22
- Section 285(11) and (12) CFRN 1999 (as amended); Toyin v. Musa (2019) NWLR (Pt. 1676) 22
- Amended by section 9 of the Second Alteration Act, 2010
- Kamba v. Bawa  4 NWLR (Pt. 914 43; Moghalu v. Ngige  4 NWLR (Pt. 914) 1
- Paragraph 45(1), 1st Schedule to the Electoral Act, 2022
-  7 NWLR (Pt. 1298) 147
- Nnonye v. Anyichie (1989) 2 NWLR Pt. 60 at 32
- Oni, E.O., Fagbadebo, O.M., & Yagboyaju, D. A., ‘Democratic Practice and Governance in Nigeria’ accessed last on 23/8/2021 at www.researchgate.com
- Paragraph 12, 1st Schedule to the Electoral Act, 2010
- PDP & Ors v. CPC & Ors (2011) 9 SCM 37
- (1983) 11 SC 209
- See the First and Second Alteration Acts to the 1999 Constitution.
- Ubanyionwu, C.J., ‘Election Petition Cases and the Right to Fair Trial Within a Reasonable Time in Nigeria’ accessed on 23/8/2021 at google.com.
- (2006) 14 NWLR (Pt. 999) 1
- (2010) 48 WRN 30
- Okoye, F. “Do Elections Count?” Final Report of the 2003 General Elections in Nigeria Abuja: Transition Monitoring Group
- Ubayionwu, C.J., op. cit p. 10
- Paragraph 15, Part 1 of Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution (As Amended
- Tarfa, R. SAN, ‘Key Issues and Challenges of Electoral Tribunals in Nigeria’ assessed last on 21/10/2021 at www.rickeytarfa.com
- Tarfa, R. SAN., op.cit.
- See generally, sections 114 – 129, Electoral Act, 2022
- See particularly, Paragraph 38 of the Regulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of Elections, 2022.