*Endless Litigation Hampering Planning, INEC Chairman Yakubu

The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, has warned judges appointed to adjudicate on disputes that will arise from the 2023 general election against recklessness in their application of the law.

He also warned them against betraying the oaths they swore to and advised to shun acts of malfeasance.

Justice Ariwoola spoke yesterday in Abuja during the swearing-in and training session for members of the tribunals who will determine the petitions that will arise from next year’s elections.

The CJN also launched the first edition of the Judicial Electoral Manual, intended to guide the tribunals.

Also at the event, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, decried the negative impact of endless litigations on his commission’s capacity to plan its activities.

“For being privileged to be found worthy to serve in these tribunals, Your Lordships are expected to conduct your affairs within the ambit of the law and the oath that has just been administered on you.

“Anything short of that will place you on a collision course with history; and then, God will ask you the questions that you might not be confident enough to answer.

“I can confidently tell you that this is a weighty undertaking you have just signed before the Almighty God.

“I am saying this because, as the Chief Justice of Nigeria, I will not condone any act of recklessness, abuse of power and public trust.

“This is a rare privilege and Your Lordships must give a good account of yourselves.

“Your Lordships should count yourselves worthy to be so entrusted with this humongous responsibility of deciding the fate of those that would be contesting elections into various political offices in the country in 2023,” the CJN said.

The President of the Court of Appeal (PCA), Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem, who explained how members of the tribunals were chosen, urged them not to betray the trust that Nigerians reposed in them.

She said: “Let me once again reiterate: you are expected to resist all and any form of political pressure and influence as well as gratification that may come your way.

“You are to discharge your duties strictly and in accordance with the ethics and dictates of good conscience and the oath of your office.

“Frivolous and unnecessary adjournments are to be shunned and applications for same strictly considered.

“Your Lordships must not allow yourselves to be used as conduit pipes.

“You must stand up to your values and good conscience at all times. Your decisions must be based on your convictions and the law that you swore to uphold.

“By the nature of your office, all sorts of avarice will come your way but you must be in total control of your courts and refuse to be used as tools to truncate due process.

Your Lordships must count yourselves worthy to be entrusted with the humongous responsibility of deciding the fate of those who would be contesting for political offices in the various states of our great nation.”

On how the judges were chosen, Justice Dongban-Mensem said: “Your various Heads of Court and the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) were consulted before your nominations and their resolve was based on their trust and confidence in your credibility, competence and integrity, which I pray you uphold in the discharge of your duties at the tribunals.”

According to the PCA, the tribunal members comprises four judges from the Federal High Court; three from the National Industrial Court; 213 from the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT); 13 from the Customary Court; 27 from the Sharia Court; and 17 from the rank of Chief Magistrate, making a total of 277.

To Prof. Yakubu, who lauded the initiative of familiarising tribunal judges with relevant electoral provisions and processes, the training has helped in reducing the number of post-election cases.

He said: “As a consequence of a similar workshop organised ahead of the 2019 general election, we 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.

“For instance, 30 elections were upturned by the tribunals in 2019 as against over 100 in a previous election. Even so, in 23 out of 30 constituencies (that is, 76 per cent), the elections were only set aside in some polling units and not the wholesale nullification of elections in entire constituencies.

“We have studied the judgments 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 are 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 time for preparation and procurement of sensitive materials for the elections.

“It also means that the courts will be dealing with the same issues long after the general election.”

Yakubu added: “I wish to reassure the judiciary that the Commission will continue to abide by court orders.

“However, strict adherence to stare decisis (a doctrine or policy of following rules or principles laid down in previous judicial decisions unless they contravene the ordinary principles of justice) is critical for us as an election management body.

“A situation where a trial court sought to vary the judgment 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.”

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