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Election Tribunals Off To Slow Start

Francis Moses examines the slow start of election tribunal to preside over election petition owing to the uncertainty among politicians because of the new dispensation involving change in government.

The long awaited inauguration of the new transition government from the ruling People’s Democratic Party PDP to the opposition All Progressive Congress APC is ticking by just as the tribunal are getting set to keep off with the electoral offenders during the polls.

Warning lawyers involved in election matters against coming late to the tribunal’s sittings, the Chairman of the Abia State Election Tribunal, Justice Mohammed Wakili, has said in Umuahia over the weekend that the tribunal would not tolerate any form of tardiness by lawyers appearing before it.

According to him, it is improper for the court to wait for the arrival of counsel when it is expected that they should be seated before 9 a.m.

The chairman said that if the trend continued, the tribunal would be forced to strike out the case of any absentee lawyer when it was called up.

Wakili urged the lawyers to be diligent in their work because their clients expected results from their services.

Meanwhile, the tribunal entertained five petitions for mention and six exparte motions for substituted service.

It also entertained an exparte motion for Governor Theodore Orji of the PDP to be served by substituted means by Ahamdi Nweke of the All Progressives Grand Alliance APGA.

There were also three exparte motions presented before the tribunal for the inspection of card readers in Abia North by Orji Kalu of PPA and voting materials in Isiala Ngwa North and Bende.

In his ruling, the chairman granted the prayers on substituted service, instructing that respondents be served within seven days.

Wakili instructed INEC to cooperate with the petitioners whose applications for inspection had been granted by the tribunal and adjourned the sitting to May 25.

After losing Lagos State Governorship election on April 11, 2015, Mr Jimi Agbaje of the PDP had dragged both INEC and APC’s Akinwunmi Ambode who was declared the winner before a tribunal alleging some irregularities were observed during the election which contravened the provisions of INEC and approved guidelines for the election.

It will be recalled that Agbaje lost the election to Mr Akinwunmi Ambode of the (APC) who was declared winner by INEC.

Meanwhile the Tribunal Chairman, Justice Muhammad Sirajo, granted the request while ruling on a bid filed by Agbaje’s counsel Clement Onwuenmonor.

Justice Sirajo also ordered the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) to provide certified true copies of all polling documents, including printed data from card reader machines in each polling units.

The orders were among the five petitions filed by the petitioner before the tribunal.

The tribunal had earlier taken the submissions of Onwuenmunor and his (APC) counterpart, Ademola Sadiq.

The petitioner urged the tribunal to order the INEC to provide certified true copies of all polling documents, including printed data from card reader machines in each polling units.

The chairman of the National and House of Assembly Election Petition Tribunal, Justice Sylvanus Oriji, has warned lawyers against delaying the hearing and determination of petitions.

Justice Sirajo said the tribunal would not tolerate strategies aimed at delaying the expeditious hearing and determination of petitions by lawyers.

The tribunal chairman issued the warning during the inaugural sitting of the tribunal, which has Justices K. Dabo and Kadi Yusuf as members.

The judge noted that election petitions were delicate and sensitive to handle because they must be heard and determined within 180 days as specified by Section 285 (6) of the 1999 Constitution.

He said it has now been established that any judgment delivered by an Election Tribunal in an election petition after 180 days from the date of filing is a nullity.

It could be recalled that Agbaje, who had congratulated Ambode on his victory, filed the petition against the victory of Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode on Thursday, April 30, 2015.

However the President Elect Muhammadu Buhari said recently that, all those who engage in election rigging and violence must be punished according to the law.

Buhari said this while reacting to ballots snatching and electoral violence recorded in Rivers, Edo and Lagos states during the 2015 elections in his residence in Daura, Katsina state.

He said that law enforcement agencies that undermine the constitution by indulging in rigging and violence during elections must be exposed and punished.

He said he would make sure the National Assembly to ensure that relevant sections of the constitution and Electoral Act are amended to ensure that election offenders are adequately punished.

He said he would ensure that Justice Muhammad Uwais Report on Electoral Matters would be implemented. “I will say that I haven’t read the Uwais report, but I have read a few of the extracts from the papers, I think it is a good thing and we will encourage it,” he said.

He however added that “but we need to get a comprehensive report from the field. The running battle from Rivers, the Southeast and the rest of the South south, especially by Governor Amaechi, Rochas Okorocha and Governor of Edo State with INEC officials and law enforcement agencies including the Army is remarkable and I think it has to be totally exposed so that Nigerians will know which of the law enforcement agencies and at what levels are undermining the constitution of Nigeria.”

He said “because the Electoral Act is derived from the constitution of the country so that in future, those who are in position will know that they are not beyond the law. I think that is what will bring more stability into the system. In view of that, I will try and work with the National Assembly to make sure that we do something about it.”

“People must not benefit from being lawless. You can’t be in a position by virtue of the constitution, subvert the constitution and continue to enjoy the privileges offered by the constitution. I don’t think that will be acceptable by the APC. So, whether you are in the opposition or the government, you have to behave yourself. I think that is the way we can make progress,” he said.

However, the Ernest Ndukwe Campaign Organisation has raised the alarm over alleged pressure on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Anambra State to alter the voters register used in the recent elections to reflect figures the commission declared in the election.

While addressing newsmen shortly after the inaugural sitting of the state National and State Assembly’ Elections Petition Tribunal, he said his camp had it on good authority that serious pressure was being mounted on INEC to alter the register, “to reflect the variously cooked up figures contained in some of the EC8Bs.”

He alleged that same pressure had been on the commission to deny the Certified True Copies (CTCs) it issued to some petitioners, which have the potentials to expose the alleged rigging in the election, and urged the people of the state to be vigilant.

His words: “This is to alert the people to also be very vigilant because there are strong rumours that pressure is being brought on INEC to deny earlier CTCs it issued to some petitioners. We are also aware that INEC is under pressure to alter the voters register to reflect the variously cooked up figures contained in some of the EC8Bs .

“But our position is that this attempt will be futile, futile in the sense that there cannot be EC8B without an EC8A, and as it is presently, I can speak for my camp, both the forms EC8As given to us by our polling agents, who got them from INEC agents at the polling units and CTCs of EC8As issued to us by INEC so far, confirms that Dr. Ernest Ndukwe convincingly won the election and I understand it is so in a number of other cases. So, I do not believe that INEC will fall prey to any pressure to alter the books on post-election because that will be really, really embarrassing and can be unearthed in court.”

Nwosu assured the people of Anambra South Senatorial District that Dr. Ndukwe was not relenting in his effort to ensure that the mandate availed to him by them was retrieved from those who he said were trying to hijack it. While expressing implicit confidence in the Tribunal giving the way the chairman spoke at the inaugural sitting, Nwosu said the people of the state were looking forward to the Tribunal marching words with actions and urged the panel to be aware of the complicity of the state.

He said, “Second is to remind the Tribunal that Anambra State is a complicated state where all sorts of pressure will be brought to bear by those who have hijacked the mandate given to others by the people, to try to influence their judgments. And in reminding them of that, I will like to be very specific in recalling the matters involving Justice Opene and Adeniji who were two of the three Judges that sat over Nicholas Ukachukwu and Ugochukwu Uba in 2003 at the Appellant level. As you will recall, that matter led to the dismissal of these Judges and only Justices Akaahs who delivered the right judgment survived it and he is today Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

“The other thing is that I suspect that given the volume of cases that this Tribunal will have to deal with, there may be cause to have a second and even a third Tribunal. We are wary of a situation where the judiciary will allow time to elapse, perhaps two months into our time; they will now set up one or two more panels. “We are saying why not set the panels immediately so the people will get justice and those who are hoping to leverage on the 180-day window will find that no such situation will be tolerated.”

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