Electoral Reforms: Appeal Court President Lists Constitutional Amendments to Strengthen Jurisprudence

Electoral Reforms: Appeal Court President Lists Constitutional Amendments to Strengthen Jurisprudence

One year after the 2023 General Election was in Nigeria, the lady who constituted all the panels of judges for election tribunals to adjudicate on election petitions, Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem, President of the Court of Appeal (PCA) on Monday disclosed that 99 panels, comprising three judges each, heard the litigations that arose from the 2023

One year after the 2023 General Election was in Nigeria, the lady who constituted all the panels of judges for election tribunals to adjudicate on election petitions, Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem, President of the Court of Appeal (PCA) on Monday disclosed that 99 panels, comprising three judges each, heard the litigations that arose from the 2023 general elections.

She who spoke at the opening session of a two-day workshop organised by the Court of Appeal for the review of last year’s election petition tribunals/courts and appeals in Abuja has, however, appealed for an urgent need to review some sections of the Nigerian Constitution to strengthen the nation’s electoral jurisprudence.

The PCA who lamented that a huge number of judges were taken out of the judicial system during the process, described last year’s election litigation season as “very, very difficult and challenging given the volume of cases filed, I commend the judicial officers involved for a job well done”.

Justice Dongban-Mensem sought the amendment of some portions of the Constitution and the Electoral Act to improve the nation’s electoral system.

She identified some sections as 187, 233, 246, and 285 of the Constitution and Paragraph 85(2) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act noting that “some of these sections, particularly Section 285 of the Constitution, suffer from either process of poor legal draftmanship or for a desire that was not properly expressed and appreciated”.

Specifically, Section 187 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended relates to the nomination of Deputy Governor. Section 187 (1) states that : “In any election to which the foregoing provisions of this part of this Chapter relate, a candidate for the office of Governor of a State shall not be deemed to have been validly nominated for such office unless he nominates another candidate as his associate for his running for the office of Governor, who is to occupy the office of Deputy Governor; and that candidate shall be deemed to have been duly elected to the office of Deputy Governor if the candidate who nominated him is duly elected as Governor in accordance with the said provisions.

(2) The provisions of this Part of this Chapter relating to qualification for election, tenure of office, disqualifications, declaration of assets and liabilities, and Oath of Governor shall apply to the office of Deputy Governor as if references to Governor were references to Deputy Governor.

Section 233 deals with the Appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. By section 233(1) and (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as altered), the Supreme Court can only hear appeals where the grounds involve questions of law. The apex Court no longer has jurisdiction to hear appeals where grounds of appeal include questions of mixed law and facts. Appeals on grounds of mixed law and facts end in the Court of Appeal.

Appeals on grounds of mixed law and fact have no business on the docket of the Supreme Court. The same ought to terminate at the Court of Appeal. It also states whether an appeal to the Supreme Court is of right or whether the leave of court must be sought.

Section 187 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended relates to the nomination of Deputy Governor:
(1) In any election to which the foregoing provisions of this part of this Chapter relate a candidate for the office of Governor of a State shall not be deemed to have been validly nominated for such office unless he nominates another candidate as his associate for his running for the office of Governor, who is to occupy the office of Deputy Governor; and that candidate shall be deemed to have been duly elected to the office of Deputy Governor if the candidate who nominated him is duly elected as Governor by the said provisions.

(2) The provisions of this Part of this Chapter relating to qualification for election, tenure of office, disqualifications, declaration of assets and liabilities, and Oath of Governor shall apply to the office of Deputy Governor as if references to Governor were references to Deputy Governor.

Section 246 states the type of appeal to the Court of Appeal as a right and not through the leave of the court first sought and obtained. Section 246 (1) states that:” An appeal to the Court of Appeal shall lie as of right from:

(a) decisions of the Code of Conduct Tribunal established in the Fifth Schedule to this Constitution;

(b) decisions of the National Assembly Election Tribunals and Governorship and Legislative Houses Election Tribunals on any question as to whether

(i) any person has been validly elected as a member of the National Assembly or of a House of Assembly of a State under this Constitution,

(ii) any person has been validly elected to the office of a Governor or Deputy Governor, or

(iii) the term of office of any person has ceased or the seat of any such person has become vacant.

(2) The National Assembly may confer jurisdiction upon the Court of Appeal to hear and determine appeals from any decision of any other court of law or tribunal established by the National Assembly.

(3) The decisions of the Court of Appeal in respect of appeals arising from election petitions shall be final.
Section 285 deals with some of the innovations ushered in by the alteration are the provisions of the law embedded in Section 285(1 – 14) of Part III of the 1999 Constitution, which bother on practice and procedures in conducting pre-election and election matters at every round of the electoral process.

The summary of the provisions in Section 285 of the 1999 Constitution is to the effect of defining and delimiting the possible causes of actions in the election and pre-election suits, creation, composition, and quorum of Election Tribunals and the time frame within which to commence and conclude election and pre-election matters both at trial Courts/Tribunals and at Appeal.

Paragraph 85(2) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act deals with Supplementary Elections for state Constituency Elections.

Chief Justice of Nigeria Speaks on 2023 Elections

Speaking at the workshop, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, the Chief Justice of Nigeria said the 2023 general elections opened a new vista in the adjudication of political matters and threw up issues for the judiciary to review.

He said the workshop provides an opportunity to review things that may have been done with the best of intentions and professionalism. “No doubt, the adjudication on the 2023 election petitions came with varied challenges that have to be critically assessed and reviewed to forge a much better way forward.

“In those areas, we have done well, we can eulogise ourselves and strive to improve on them, as self-praise is no more an offender than self-denial.

“As for those areas where our inadequacies are manifestly obvious, we have to properly address them and bring on board new methods and approaches that would whet our appetite for success.

“We must intensify efforts in engaging in those activities that will earn us more accolades than vilifications”, he said.

Speaking on the pressures from political matters under the time frame provided by the electoral laws, he added:

“Besides, the kind of attention and emotions attached to political matters in this country have collectively made our work more excruciating, painstaking and sometimes, endangering, as we are occasionally exposed to threats, especially from some elements within the political fold.

“But as I would always say, no amount of threat or intimidation should make a thoroughbred judicial officer deviate from the law and pander to public sentiments and emotions which are often misplaced”.

In his address, Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) said the review was necessary as the findings and recommendations will provide appropriate guidance for stakeholders going forward to the next electoral cycle.

Prince Fagbemi noted that the Court of Appeal, in particular, plays a more pivotal role in shaping and strengthening the nation’s electoral jurisprudence through the exercise of its constitutional mandate in that regard.

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