Election Petition and the narrow path to justice
ELECTION is the hallmark of every democracy. And no election is worth it if it does not reflect the true intention of the electorate. Hence, in the American case of Jacob v. Seminole County Canvassing Board WL 1793429, the court held that the very purpose of election laws is to obtain a correct expression of the intent of the voters, without imposing unnecessary and unreasonable restraint on that right. However, the precision with which the election outcome mirrors the intendment of the people is a different kettle of fish. Thus, the Supreme Court of Nigerian in Okechukwu v. INEC  NWLR (Pt. 1438) p. 255 @ 300 held that “In S. 139(1) of the Electoral Act, the lawmaker recognizes the fact that elections in Nigeria or anywhere else for that matter is not conducted by angels or perfect beings. Like every human endeavor, elections conducted by human beings are subject to frailties of man.”Accordingly, either by innocent intention or mischief, elections could fall short of reflecting the intentions of the voters. When this happens, it gives room for disaffection which has the propensity of degenerating into the worst form anarchy. To correct such anomalies, redress genuine grievances arising from the electoral process and maintain the stability of the polity, there is entrenched in the system, the electoral adjudicatory mechanism. The first stage of this adjudicatory mechanism is the Election Petition Tribunals.
It is one thing for a party aggrieved by the electoral process to approach the Election Petition Tribunal for redress, it is yet another thing to get “justice” from the said Tribunal and the whole gamut of the adjudicatory process. It is more than double jeopardy to be aggrieved with the outcome of an election and also be aggrieved by the outcome of the electoral adjudicatory process. This is more so as both processes are capital intensive.
In the case of R v. Sussex Justices, Ex parte Mc Cathy  All ER Rep 233, the English Court, Per Lord Chief Justice Hewart held that “…it is not merely of some importance, but is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.” This dictum has since become a trite axiomatic concept of law in Nigeria and even globally. Be that as it may, justice in electoral matters is actually justice according to the applicable electoral laws. Therefore, understanding the workings of these applicable laws would be important to appreciate the judgments that would soon be emanating from the various Election Petition Tribunals across the country. The success or otherwise of any election petition matters will be contingent on some key elements as shall be discussed below.
This, perhaps above all others, is the most sacrosanct element of election petition. The timing of all the essential activities in election petition has been circumscribed by the Constitution, reinforced by the Electoral Act and strictly adhered to by the Tribunals and Courts.
The combined provisions of the Electoral Act and Section 285 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) particularize the time frame as follows: Election Petition must be filed within 21 days from the day of declaration of the result of the election being challenged. The Respondent to the Election Petition shall not later than 21 days of service of the Petition on him file his Reply to the petition in the Tribunal’s Registry. See paragraph 10(2) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended).Also seeHon. Moshood Salvador v. INEC  7 NWLR (Pt. 1300) p. 417. Application for Pre-hearing Session must be Within 7 days after the filling and service of the Petitioner’s reply on the Respondent or 7 days after the filing and service of the Respondent’s Reply, whichever is the case. In the case of Okereke v. Yar’ Adua & 35 Ors. 8 M. J. S. C. P 199-200, The Supreme admits that the said provision appears to be harsh on the Petitioner, however, held that the provision has to be complied with, anyway, as it is a condition precedent to the hearing of an Election Petition.
Hearing the Election Petition to delivery of judgment must be within 180 days from the date of the filing of the petition.See Senator John Akpanudoedehe & 2 Ors V. Godswill Akpabio & 3 Ors.  7 NWLR 419 (PART 1354) p. 485, the Election Appeals: Section 285 (7) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provided that “an appeal from a decision of an Election Tribunal or Court of Appeal in an election matter shall beheard and disposed of within 60 days from the date of the delivery of .judgment of the tribunal or court of Appeal.”Akpanudoedehe & 2 Ors v. Godswill Akpabio(supra).
Onwe is a Lagos-based Legal Practitioner and Notary Public for Nigeria