BY BENEDICT NWACHUKWU, ABUJA
The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Mahmood Yakubu, has assured the judiciary that the Commission will continue to abide by court orders in the forthcoming general elections.
Yakubu gave the assurance at the capacity building workshop for Justices and Judges on election matters held at the National Judicial Institute in Abuja on Monday.
He said, “This workshop could not have come at a better time. It is exactly 109 days to the 2023 General Election holding in two phases: national elections (Presidential and National Assembly holding on 25th February 2023) and State elections (Governorship and State Assembly holding on 11th March 2023). The Election will be held in 1,491 constituencies made up of 1 Presidential Constituency, 28 Governorship elections, 109 Senatorial Districts, 360 Federal Constituencies (House of Representatives) and 993 State Constituencies (State House of Assembly). Most significantly, it is the first General Election since the repeal of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and its re-enactment as the Electoral Act 2022.”
Recalling that similar workshop took place as part of the processes leading to the 2019 general election, Yakubu said, “It is my great pleasure to once again be part of this capacity-building workshop. Some of you here may recall that prior to the 2019 General Election, a similar workshop was held in which the Commission interacted with the judiciary on the adjudication of post-election disputes. The workshop in no small measure led to a better appreciation of the electoral processes, reduction in the spate of conflicting judgements as well as consequential reduction in the number of elections nullified and/or overturned after the election.
“I am glad that the judiciary and the Commission are once again collaborating on the eve of the forthcoming General Election. Let me therefore express our profound appreciation to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Olukayode Ariwoola GCON, and other heads of courts for the sustained collaboration with the Commission.
“Over the next four days, 10 papers will be presented and discussed by eminent jurists, lawyers and election experts. There will also be an interactive, experience-sharing session on pertinent issues in the determination of election disputes presided over by the Honourable President of the Court of Appeal. I have no doubt that this workshop will enhance the understanding of INEC’s processes, especially the innovations introduced pursuant to the enactment of the Electoral Act 2022 which came into force on 25th February 2022.
“The new Electoral Act contains 80 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.”
He noted that as a consequence of a similar workshop organised ahead of the 2019 General Election, the Commission 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 given that 30 elections were upturned by the Tribunals in 2019 as against over 100 in a previous election adding that 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.
The INEC boss said, “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.
“Only two weeks ago, 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 rime 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.
“I wish to reassure the judiciary that the Commission will continue to abide by Court orders. However, strict adherence to stare decisions is critical for us as an Election Management Body. A situation where a trial Court sought to vary the judgement of the Supreme Court by ordering the Commission to issue a Certificate of Return in favour of a candidate whose emergence during the party’s primary election has been nullified by the apex Court (and affirmed by the same Court following an application for clarification) put the Commission in a difficult situation. The matter is currently being litigated again, possibly all the way back to the Supreme Court, thereby wasting the precious time of the Courts which are already inundated by even the most improbable cases by litigation-happy individuals and parties.”
Yakubu acknowledged the support of all the Commission’s development partners in supporting the capacity-building workshop in particular and deepening the democratic processes in Nigeria even as he reminded the jurists the job of the politician is intensely partisan while the work of the judiciary and INEC requires absolute neutrality. “We will not disappoint Nigerians,” he concluded.