Aftermath of party primaries: INEC faces 600 legal hurdles 3 months to general elections

With about three months to the 2023 general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said it has 600 legal hurdles to contend with across different courts.

The cases, the body said, were all around the outcome of party primaries and nomination of candidates, which had become a source of worry to the commission.

The electoral body noted that this was happening at a time there were increasingly fewer cases challenging the conduct of elections by the electoral management body.

“For instance, 30 elections were upturned by the Tribunals in 2019 as against over 100 in a previous election. Even so, in 23 out of 30 constituencies (i.e. 76%), the elections were only set aside in some polling units and not the wholesale nullification of elections in entire constituencies,” INEC Chairman Professor Mahmood Yakubu said.  

The INEC boss raised the fear at the capacity building workshop for justices and judges on electoral matters Monday in Abuja.

The INEC chairman recalled that “one political party served about 70 Court processes on the commission in one day seeking to compel us to accept the nomination or substitution of its candidates long after the deadline provided in the Timetable and Schedule of Activities for the 2023 general election had elapsed.” 

“Some of the cases will go up to the Supreme Court. The implication is that we are still dealing with issues of nomination of candidates thereby eating into vital time for preparation of and procurement of sensitive materials for the materials. It also means that the Courts will be dealing with the same issues long after the general election,” Yakubu lamented.

He, however, said after studying the judgements of the tribunals arising from both the 2019 general election, the off-cycle governorship elections and the bye-elections conducted so far, the commission identified areas where it needed to do more to reduce litigations. 

“We have studied the judgements of the Tribunals arising from both the 2019 General Election, the off-cycle Governorship elections and the bye-elections conducted so far. We identified areas where we need to do more to reduce litigations. 

“As a result, we are witnessing increasingly less Court cases challenging the conduct of elections by the Commission.

“However, cases arising from the conduct of primaries for the nomination of candidates by political parties is on the increase. So far, we have been joined in about 600 cases relating to the conduct of recent primaries and nomination of candidates by political parties for the 2023 general election,” the INEC boss said.  

He reassured the judiciary that the commission would continue to abide by court orders, noting “however, strict adherence to stare decisis is critical for us as an election management body.”

On the provisions of the Electorate Act 2022, the INEC chairman said: “The new Electoral Act contains eighty new provisions intended to improve our elections and address some of the lacunae in the repealed Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), provide legal backing to the technological innovations introduced by the Commission overtime and the extension of timelines for the nomination of candidates and for other electoral activities. 

“Similarly, the new Electoral Act confers exclusive jurisdiction to hear pre-election cases on the Federal High Court with regard to candidate nomination in order to reduce forum shopping by litigants, abuse of court process and reduction in the spate of conflicting judgements by courts of coordinate jurisdiction. 

“We are reassured by the inspiring speech by My Lord the President of the Court of Appeal for the elaborate steps taken against conflicting judgement by Courts of coordinate jurisdiction.

“As a consequence of a similar workshop organised ahead of the 2019 General Election, we noticed a sharp reduction in the number of cases arising from that election and consequently a reduced number of elections nullified by the Election Petition Tribunals.”

CJN tasks tribunal members

In a related development, Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Olukayode Ariwoola read a riot act to members of the 2023 Election Petition Tribunals, saying, “I want you to operate above sentiment and abuse of office because I won’t condone any of it.”

Ariwoola stated this at the swearing-in ceremony/capacity building workshop for Justices and members of the election petition tribunals for the 2023 election at the National Judicial Institute (NJI) Abuja.

The CJN, who also unveiled the Judicial Electoral Manual (JEM) at the occasion, further cautioned the members against any act of recklessness or abuse of power from any judicial officials.

The programme was organized with support from the European Union (EU), Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) , INEC and other support organisations.

Trust, according to Ariwoola, is a burden, noting that judicial officers must discharge it with utmost sincerity, honesty and transparency.

Ariwoola said: “Your Lordships should count yourselves worthy to be entrusted with this humongous responsibility of deciding the fate of those that would be contesting elections into various political offices in the country in 2023.

“You are not known to possess some supernatural powers to perform wonders; I can confidently assure you that the society will certainly expect the impossible from you as members of Election Petition Tribunals.

“Therefore, I will not condone any act of recklessness, abuse of power and public trust. This is a rare privilege and you must give a good account of yourselves.

“There is virtually nothing that has not been seen or heard before, but you should be ready to see and hear more, especially as you begin to adjudicate on election matters in 2023.

“Even though I rejoice with you on this very important appointment, I still sympathise with you for the many troubles, inconveniences, verbal assaults and all sorts of uncomplimentary remarks that will be made about you by various litigants.

“You must rise and operate above every sentiment that might play out in the course of your adjudication in the various tribunals.

“There is no doubt that temptations, tribulations, intimidations and even sheer blackmails may be unleashed on you; but as thoroughbred Judicial Officers, you must gird your loins to rise above them and do what will earn you accolades from your Creator, and also from the court of public opinion.”

He warned them that all eyes were on them and should therefore always remember that their conduct would be publicly dissected and thoroughly scrutinised.

He said: “Do what is right in our law books and you will have your names etched in gold. Do what is at variance with your conscience and you will get a scar that will terminally dent your ascension to greater heights.”

PCA speaks

In her welcome address at the occasion, President Court of Appeal Justice Monica Dongban Mensem charged the tribunal members to be in total control and should refuse to be used to truncate the electoral process.

Mensem reminded them that the judiciary, as an institution, was under the spotlight, noting that they must resist pressures and gratifications.

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