A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr Femi Falana, yesterday described as ‘disturbing’ the incessant overburdening of Nigerian courts with election matters, stressing that all over the world, the country has the highest number of such cases before the judiciary.
The renowned constitutional lawyer argued that it was an anomaly that Nigerians say ‘elections have now moved to the courts’ after going through the ballots, maintaining that such utterances were a confirmation that the country’s electoral system was yet to fully develop.
Falana stressed that Nigerians cannot relinquish the function of the electorate who should ordinarily choose their representatives to the judiciary, pointing out that he was looking forward to such a time that Nigerians can choose their leaders without judicial interference thereafter.
The human rights activist who spoke on Arise Television, contended that there was nothing complimentary in a nation’s electoral processes always ending in court, explaining that all lovers of democracy must be genuinely concerned about the challenge.
“For me, it is extremely disturbing, and I’ve made the point that we cannot continue to involve the judiciary in the election of the representatives of our people. We must put an end to it.
“We had thought that with enough reforms of the electoral system that by now we should be taking the court out of the electoral system. I’m disturbed as a lawyer that Nigerians are now saying that the elections have moved to the courts. That’s not very complimentary.
“ Nigeria has the highest number of pre-election cases and the highest number of election petitions in the world. It should be a matter of concern to all genuine forces of democracy and all stakeholders,” he contended.
According to the senior lawyer, the authorities need to revisit the Uwais panel which sought to take care of many of the knotty issues in the electoral system, including the conclusion of all election matters before the inauguration of a new government and the setting up of an elections offences commission.
But he stated that successive governments have ignored the fine letters of the recommendation, a development he argued has further worsened the process of choosing leaders in the country.
He declared that a situation whereby over 1800 pre-election cases are before the courts, with 600 at the Court of Appeals and about 120 are before the Supreme Court was uncalled for and sounded quite unhealthy.
Falana stressed that the downside to that was that many parties in yet undecided cases, including innocent persons in several jails in the country were left to languish in prison without their cases being heard because election matters are time bound and take precedence over other matters.
On the contention relating to whether the courts can really upturn a presidential election, given that it has never happened in the country, Falana argued that if the facts before the justices warrant cancelling an election, then it must be done accordingly.
He argued that at a point in the current democratic dispensation, the supreme court had a three-four split decision, stressing that the judgement could have gone either way. He further argued that if it has happened elsewhere on the continent, there’s nothing stopping the courts in Nigeria from doing so.
Falana maintained that the presidential cases in court would be an epic battle , even though the process was still inchoate since all the relevant papers have not been filed.
He further stated that the electoral law should be reformed in such a way that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should prove before the courts that the polls it conducted are free and fair.