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Election petition and the narrow path to justice

By Dan Amaechi Onwe
26 May 2015   |   1:44 am
There has been the practice of Courts, particularly appellate courts, giving judgments and then adjourning till a later date to give the reason for the judgment.

GavelThere has been the practice of Courts, particularly appellate courts, giving judgments and then adjourning till a later date to give the reason for the judgment. However, in election matters both judgment and the reason for the judgment must be delivered within the specifically stipulated time frame.

Accordingly, in the case of Action Congress Of Nigeria (ACN) & Anor v. INEC & 2 Ors [2013] 13 NWLR (Part 1370) P 161, The Supreme Courthas this to say: A judgment and the reasons for same go together. There is no valid judgment without reasons for same.

Under section 285 (7) the judgment and the reasons must be delivered within the 60 days an appeal is supposed to be heard and disposed of.

Again, computation of time in election matters does not follow the provision of the Interpretation Act. Section 15(2) of the Interpretation Act provides as follows: A reference in an enactment to a period of days shall be construed – (a) where the period is reckoned from a particular event, as excluding the day on which the event occurs; (b) where… the last day of the period is a holiday, as continuing until the end of the next following which is not a holiday.

In NWOYE TONY OKECHUKWU v.INEC & 26 ORS [2014] NWLR (Pt. 1436) p.255 @ 285 A, the Supreme Court stated as follows: I hold no hesitation in concluding that the provisions of Interpretation Act on computation of time shall not apply to the requirement of time by the Practice Directions.

Time shall run, in the peculiarity of our Electoral Act, Practice Directions and the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), from the day of the act and the day shall not be excluded.

From the tone of the Supreme Court in FAROUK SALIM v. CPC & 2 ORS [2013] 6 NWLR (Pt. 1351) p. 501, it appears that it would not make any difference even if the Respondent fraudulently conspired to delay proceedings beyond the stipulated time.

In Akpanudoedehe v. Akpabio (supra), it was an issue whether strict adherence to the said stipulated time frames would not amount to violation of the right to fair hearing of the Petitioner as provided for under 36 of the 1999 Constitution.

In response, the Supreme Court held as follows: The legislature was aware of the provision of Section 36 when they made the later provision of Section 285 (6) to limit the time. …Apart from the above, the provision of Section 36 of the Constitution relating to fair hearing is not at large.

It can only apply to a live matter. There is no pending live matter herein. Even if there is a live matter that is pending, section 36 should not be interpreted in a way that makes the later Section 285 (6) of the Constitution moribund.

The Supreme Court further justified Section 285 of the 1999 Constitution saying that: Section 285 (7) of the Constitution seeks to protect not only the right and interest of the parties to an election matter, but also of those of the electorates, who have a right to expect that the matter be resolved expeditiously so that whoever has their collective mandate should settle down to discharge his/her duties instead of running in and out of court for the better part of the term of four years.

No doubt, the sanctity of Section 285 of the 1999 Constitution is good for stability of governance. However, we must not lose sight of the danger it portends.

This is in the light of protracted and paralyzing strikesthat have becomea common occurrence in our judiciary in the recent times. BURDEN OF PROOF This is another crucial element in election petition.

Despite the emotions, accusations or assumptions associated with elections,what actually counts at the end of the day is the ability of the Petitioner to discharge the burden of proof that the law places on him or her. And the burden of proof would depend on what the Petitioner pleads as being the bases of his Petition.

It is imperative that this be understood in the light of the respective grounds on which an election may be question under section 138 of the election Act, 2010 (as amended). Onwe is a Lagos-based Legal Practitioner and Notary Public for Nigeria