The Labour Party (LP) Chairmanship Candidate for Oredo in the September 2, 2023 local government election in Edo State, Daniel Ero, has petitioned the Chief Judge of the State urging him to comply with provisions of Edo Electoral Law in setting up a Local Government Election Tribunal.
In a letter addressed to Hon. Justice D. I. Okungbowa, Chief Judge of Edo State, dated September 15, 2023 and titled “Re: Urgent Request for the Immediate Establishment of a Local Government Election Tribunal in Line with Section 78 of the Edo State Local Government Election Law, 2012”, the LP candidate appreciated the Chief Judge for constituting a Local Government Election Tribunal. He, however, stated that the tribunal as approved by the Chief Judge comprises only three members contrary to the mandatory provisions of Section 78(3) & (4) of the Edo State Local Government Law, 2012 (as amended), which stipulate five members.
Part of the letter reads: “My Lord, I am gratified to note that within 24 hours of my letter, which requested the immediate establishment of the Local Government Election Tribunal in response to the numerous concerns and grievances arising from the recently concluded Edo State Local Government Election, a press release ostensibly dated August 31, 2023, and signed by the Chief Registrar of the Edo State High Court, Pastor Benson Osawaru, was posted on the Edo State Judiciary’s website on September 14, 2023, indicating the establishment of the Local Government Election Tribunal. Additionally, banners have now been hoisted at the gate of the High Court Complex, Sapele Road, Edo State, notifying the public of the existence of the Tribunal. I appreciate Your Lordship for the prompt response in this regard.
“May I however respectfully bring to Your Lordship’s attention to a matter of utmost importance that warrants immediate consideration. I have been informed by my lawyers that the press release in question, which may have been hastily drafted, contains a significant oversight. Specifically, it asserts that the Chief Judge has approved the composition of a Local Government Election Tribunal comprising three members only.”
Ero noted that that a Local Government Election Tribunal composed of three members deviates from the mandatory provisions of Section 78(3) & (4) of the Edo State Local Government Law, 2012 (as amended), which unequivocally stipulate as follows:
“(3) The tribunal shall be a judicial tribunal of five members, including the Chairman and four other members.
“(4) The Chairman shall be a serving High Court Judge and four other members shall be appointed from judicial officials who shall not be below the rank of Chief Magistrate. (underlining and bold letters are mine for emphasis.)”
He said the purported composition of the Tribunal with only three members is clearly in direct contravention of the law, and raises serious concerns about the validity and legality of any decisions or judgments that may be reached by the Tribunal as presently constituted.
“As My Lord is no doubt aware, it is a fundamental rule of our constitutional and administrative legal framework that where a legislation lays down a procedure for doing a thing, there should be no other method of doing it, and the failure to follow the laid down procedure renders any act purportedly done under that statute null and void. It is, therefore, imperative that we uphold the rule of law and ensure strict adherence to the provisions of the Edo State Local Government Election Law, 2012 (as amended),” the LP Candidate said.
“It is in light of the foregoing that I am constrained to once again respectfully request that Your Lordship takes immediate steps to remedy this situation by reconstituting the Local Government Election Tribunal with the full complement of five members, as required by law. This step is crucial not only to safeguard the integrity and legitimacy of the Tribunal’s proceedings but also to demonstrate the commitment of the Edo State Judiciary to upholding the principles of justice, fairness, and the rule of law,” he said.
He enjoined the Chief Judge to “take the necessary actions to rectify the composition of the Tribunal promptly”.
It would be recalled that Mr Ero had earlier written to the Chief Judge requesting the prompt establishment of a Local Government Election Tribunal in accordance with Section 78 of the Edo State Local Government Election Law, 2012 (as amended).
In the letter dated September 13, 2023, Mr. Ero had expressed deep concern and frustration that almost two weeks after the local government elections held on September 2, the Chief Judge had delayed the formation of a Local Government Election Tribunal to address disputes arising from the elections.
He had emphasized the provisions of Section 78 of the Edo State Local Government Election Law, 2012, which mandates the Chief Judge to promptly establish election tribunals following elections to resolve electoral disputes in order to ensure fairness, justice, and the rule of law in the democratic process.
Mr. Ero had also noted that the local government elections were marred by challenges such as voter suppression, violence, and irregularities, leading to disputes among candidates, including himself. He had, therefore, instructed his legal team to challenge the conduct and outcome of the elections.
A day after the letter, the Registrar of the Edo State High Court, B. O. Osawaru, on September 14 issued a Press Release dated August 31 with reference number CR/4930/V/67 announcing the Chief Justice’s approval of the constitution of a tribunal comprising three persons – Hon. Justice A. T. Momodu as chairman, and D. O. Fiade-Isirame (Mrs) and F. I. Oghoator (Mrs) as members.