So far, nine members of the National Assembly, senators and members of the House of Representatives, have been sacked by election petition tribunals in the states, Daily Trust Saturday reports.
Those who won and at the tribunals are celebrating while most of those removed have rejected the verdicts and vowed to go to the Court of Appeal to seek redress.
This is even as dozens of judges assigned to handle litigations in the 36 states of the federation are racing against time to beat the deadline set by the Electoral Act, 2022 (as amended).
And while the judges are putting their verdicts together for delivery, dozens of legislators that have been inaugurated but have cases in the courts are anxiously awaiting the outcomes, with some saying they have nothing to fear, while others say they are going through emotional and psychological stress in view of the fact that they now have divided attention.
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The senators and members said while they had a lot on their tables in the National Assembly, they feared that anything could happen back home at the tribunals.
Daily Trust Saturday reports that the Electoral Act stipulates a 180-day lifespan within which the cases filed in March must be heard and determined, meaning that all the cases must be decided on or before September 16.
The presidential and National Assembly elections were conducted on March 25, 2023.
On Tuesday, September 5, 2023, the panel of justices at the Presidential Petition Tribunal delivered a 12-hour judgement on the cases filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Labour Party (LP) and Allied Peoples Movement (APM) and their candidates challenging the election of Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Experts who spoke to our correspondents said politicians required “surgical operation and complete change of mind set” to make Nigeria’s democracy work without needless litigations.
While noting that even though it was good for aggrieved political parties and candidates to go to court and seek redress, they said it was much better to fine tune the electoral process while politicians abided by the rules so that once results were declared, interested parties would be satisfied with the outcomes and wait for another election season to try their luck.
They said this was the only way that citizens would enjoy the dividends of democracy as the political actors would go to work in earnest, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would start planning for future elections, while judges would dedicate their time to other cases that would make life better for all.
Daily Trust Saturday reports that even though INEC or the Court of Appeal did not announce the actual number of petitions filed on the National Assembly elections in the aftermath of the 2023 general elections, it has constituted tribunals in all the states to attend to grievances.
Some tribunal officials in Kano, Kaduna, Bauchi, Adamawa, Lagos, Ogun, Imo and Delta said the judges were busy putting their findings together to deliver judgement as stipulated by law.
“The truth is that all the judges across the country are very busy to beat the deadline.
“This is what the law says. They should deliver judgement within 180 days. You can see that the justices sitting on the presidential election tribunal have passed their judgement and the candidates that are not satisfied have moved on to the Supreme Court,” an official in Kano said.
Another official in Jos, Plateau State, while noting that the justices deserved the support of all, said, “Honestly, they are overwhelmed with work; especially litigations on elections. They have been sitting on these cases for long. There are other cases outside politics requiring the attention of our justices.
“And when you go to the lower courts, there are similar cases on pre-election matters. This is not healthy for our democracy because other cases on marriages, inheritance, businesses, among others, are suffering and waiting to be decided.”
Daily Trust Saturday recalls that INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, in February this year, while hosting a delegation of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) led by its President, Yakubu Maikyau (SAN), at the commission’s headquarters in Abuja, declared that as of February 6, the commission had been joined in 1,241 intra-party lawsuits in different courts.
Yakubu noted that some of the cases had gone to the Federal High Court, while some were before the Court of Appeal and others before the Supreme Court.
He said, “On pre-election litigation alone as at Monday, February 6, INEC has been joined in 1,241 cases, making us one of the most litigated-against agencies in the country.
“These cases have nothing to do with elections conducted by INEC. They are primary elections conducted by political parties, but each time they go to court, they join the commission, and we have to engage either our own in-house lawyers or we transfer the cases out to external legal firms to represent the commission.
“Out of these 1,241 cases, over 300 are right now before the Court of Appeal and 155 before the Supreme Court as at Monday this week.”
Litigators recount ordeal
On the National Assembly elections conducted by INEC this year, sources said there were over 300 cases filed by aggrieved candidates drawn from 18 political parties.
The tribunals sitting in virtually all the states of the federation have sacked some parliamentarians and ordered the withdrawal of Certificate of Return issued to them by INEC.
The courts, in some cases, declared some elections inconclusive and ordered their rerun within the stipulated 90 days.
In others, they disqualified the candidates INEC declared as winners, while also nullifying the victory of others.
The petitioners had mostly prayed the tribunals to either order the conduct of supplementary polls or disqualify the respondents and declare them as the rightful winners.
At least nine lawmakers have so far been sacked in Benue, Delta, Kogi, Lagos, Kano, Bayelsa and Abia states, even as more judgments are expected to be delivered in the days ahead.
A member of the House of Representatives, who does not want to be named, said he was not happy with what was happening.
He said, “It was tough for me during the primaries of our party. I was taken to court but I won. Sadly, after winning the main election, my opponents went to court again. My attention is divided; I am telling you the truth. I am exhausted and concentrating is tough for me even though we are on recess.”
A senator said, “Honestly, I don’t know what will happen if I lose. I just hope that the case would be ruled in my favour, but the whole process is exhausting. I hope our children will not go through the tough times we are going through to win elections.”
Meanwhile, those whose victory have been affirmed so far by the tribunals include the Senator representing Borno Central, Barrister Kaka Shehu Lawan of the APC; Sunday Karimi (APC, Kogi West); Member representing Balanga/Billiri Federal Constituency of Gombe, Ali Isa; Rep Abdulmumini Jibrin of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) in Kano; Idahosa Dennis of Ovia Federal Constituency of Edo State and Rep Obinna Aguocha (LP, Abia).
Latest upsets in states
Tribunal sacks Udende, declares Suswam senator
The latest sacking of a federal legislator was in Benue State, where the National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Makurdi declared Senator Gabriel Suswam of the PDP as the winner of the February 25, election for Benue North East.
Our correspondent reports that the tribunal’s judgement which lasted over three hours sacked the All Progressives Congress’ (APC’s) Emmanuel Udende from the upper chamber of the National Assembly.
The Chairman of the three-man panel, Justice Ory Zik-Ikeorha, and another member, ruled in the favour of Suswam and PDP.
The duo averred that Suswam and PDP fulfilled the requirement of the law in proving his case of irregularities such as mutilation, non-signing of documents and non-inclusion of lawful votes.
But in a minority judgement, Justice Umar Mohammed opposed the decision of the two, saying that the petitioner failed to prove his case.
Suswam and PDP’s petition was predicated on one ground, that Udende did not score majority of the lawful votes cast during the election.
To this end, Justice Mohammed in his lone ruling held that the evidence by Suswam was grossly insufficient to sustain his petition.
Meanwhile, Daagba, on behalf of the APC, said, “We are not satisfied with the decision and will advise my client to appeal.”
Kano NNPP Rep, Yerima, sacked over forgery
The National and House of Assembly Election Petition Tribunal in Kano State nullified the election of Muktar Umar Yerima of the NNPP.
A three-man panel of the tribunal led by Justice I.P. Chima held that Yerima was not qualified, having forged his primary school certificate.
According to the tribunal, the case of the petitioner, Hafizu Kawu of the APC, challenging Yerima’s emergence succeeded, having proven a case of forgery against Yerima.
The tribunal, therefore, held that the NNPP had no candidate in the election and that all the votes that were cast for Yerima were wasted votes.
The tribunal held that Yerima’s defence that he made a change of name in 2022 did not hold water having been using three (Umar Mukhtar Zakari) names on his international passport since 2009, while his primary school certificate still bore Umar Mukhtar.
It, therefore, directed INEC to withdraw the Certificate of Return issued to Yerima.
Lagos LP Rep, Sowumi’s, election nullified
The National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal has nullified the election of Seyi Sowunmi, the member representing Ojo Federal Constituency in Lagos State.
The three-member panel led by Justice Abdullahi Ozegya declared Lanre Ogunyemi of the APC as the winner of the election.
Other members of the panel are Justices Ashu Ewah and Muhammad Sambo.
Inconclusive poll boots Delta South’s Onowakpo out
The parliamentary election tribunal sitting in Asaba, the Delta State capital, declared as inconclusive the election that brought Senator Thomas Onowakpo of the APC to the National Assembly to represent Delta South and ordered that his Certificate of Return be withdrawn.
His main challenger in the poll, Michael Diden of the PDP, had prayed the tribunal to declare him the duly elected senator or order a supplementary poll for the disputed Warri South.
INEC had cancelled the results for Warri South LGA, claiming that they were not supported by accreditation.
The three-member tribunal headed by Justice Cathrine Ogunsola held that Onowakpo was not duly elected by lawful votes cast, adding that the votes for Warri South LGA were wrongfully cancelled.
The panel ordered INEC to conduct a supplementary election for Warri South LGA of the senatorial district within 90 days.
Justice Ogunsola who read the judgement, argued that the electoral body did not follow the Electoral Act before declaring APC winner of the election.
The tribunal held that it would be a travesty of justice for INEC to declare that there was no senatorial election in the area while holding that there were presidential and House of Representatives elections in the same locality.
LP rep asked to go too
Still in Delta, the tribunal sitting sacked the lawmaker representing Aniocha/Oshimili Federal Constituency, Ngozi Okolie.
The tribunal nullified the election of Okolie who contested on the platform of LP and instead declared the candidate of the PDP, Ndudi Elumelu, winner of the February 25, election.
The three-member tribunal, headed by Justice A.Z. Mussa, declared that the LP candidate was wrongfully declared winner by INEC.
The PDP candidate, Elumelu, who was the Minority Leader in the 9th House of Representatives, had in his petition urged the tribunal to disqualify Okolie because he was not properly sponsored by LP, and that he did not resign his position as a public office holder.
Kogi East’s Echocho removed
The Senator representing Kogi East, Jibrin Isah Echocho, was sacked by the tribunal sitting in Lokoja after considering the petition by the PDP’s Victor Adoji.
The tribunal ordered the conduct of a supplementary election in 94 polling units with over 59,730 votes.
The panel’s Chairman, Justice K.A. Orjiako, who delivered the judgement, agreed with the prayers of the petitioners.
Adoji had through his counsel, Johnson Usman (SAN), challenged the return of Echocho because elections were cancelled in some polling units where PVCs collected were more than the margin of his (Echocho’s) win.
The petitioner had pleaded with the tribunal to void the election and order a supplementary election in the affected 94 polling units in the senatorial district.
Senator Ohere’s victory nullified
The declaration of Senator Abubakar Ohere (APC) as the winner of Kogi Central election was also nullified by the tribunal.
The tribunal declared Natasha Akpoti-Uduagan of the PDP as the winner of the February 25, parliamentary election.
In a unanimous judgement of the three-man panel, the tribunal’s Chairman, Justice K.A. Orjiako, said Ohere’s results were inflated in nine polling units of Ajaokuta LGA in the said election while that of the PDP candidate was intentionally reduced by the INEC collation officers.
Justice Orjiako also stated that three other polling units’ results were deliberately not entered for the PDP candidate in the same LGA.
He said Natasha’s results in the nine polling units of Ajaokuta LGA were 1,073 against the 77 that were recorded by the collation officers, while those of the APC candidate were inflated to 1,553 against the actual figure of 1,031.
He held that, “The tribunal is also convinced that the petitioner’s 996 votes in polling units 009, 046 and O49 of Ganaja village of Ajaokuta LGA were deliberately not recorded at the ward collation centre.”
The tribunal added that it was not the duty of collation officers to reject results submitted by presiding officers from polling units in elections that followed the electoral guidelines substantially.
He added that, “The issues raised by the petitioner are hereby resolved in favour of the petitioners, and after making the proper corrections, Natasha Akpoti-Uduagan (PDP) having polled 54,074 against Abubakar Ohere (APC) who polled 51,291 is hereby declared the authentic winner.”
Ohere faulted the decision of the tribunal, insisting that the facts of the law were not properly followed.
The lawmaker, who was recently named the Chairman, Senate Committee on Local Content, vowed to defend his electoral victory at the appellate court.
Abia LP Rep, Ogah, sacked
In Abia, the tribunal sacked the Member representing Isuikwuato/Umunneochi Federal Constituency, Amobi Ogah, of LP, and declared the APC candidate, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, as winner of the February 25, poll.
Onyejeocha, a Deputy Whip in the 9th House of Representatives and incumbent Minister of State for Labour, had approached the tribunal to seek the nullification of Ogah’s emergence, alleging that he was not qualified to contest for the election and was not validly nominated and sponsored by his party.
Onyejeocha also sought a declaration that Ogah and LP did not win the majority of the validly cast votes in the election.
She further urged the tribunal to declare that she and not Ogah won the majority of the valid votes in the election.
Delivering judgment on the petition, Chairman of the three-man panel, Justice Adeyinka Aderegbegbe, granted her reliefs.
Meanwhile, Ogah has rejected the judgement, saying, “I want to state categorically and for the record that I will appeal the judgment by the tribunal as soon as I conclude with my legal team.
“My opponent, whom I know did not win the election, and the judge cannot announce a result presented by the petitioner as concrete against the result presented by INEC.
“With the benefit of hindsight, this bizarre outcome is not totally strange as we have seen tendencies of clear compromise by the panel which discarded all known principles governing election adjudication and enunciated their own principles.”
Bayelsa PDP Rep, Agbedi, asked to go
In the same vein, the tribunal sitting in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, sacked Fred Agbedi of the PDP and ordered INEC to withdraw the certificate given to Agbedi and conduct a fresh election for the 26,000 voters unlawfully excluded.
Michael Bless Olomu of APC had prayed the court to return him as the winner of the election following violence witnessed during the election.
The 9,000-vote margin which Agbedi had against Olomu in the election remains valid.
The tribunal directed INEC to conduct a re-election in Ward 5 and five units in Ward 11 in Sagbama LGA, as well as some units in Wards 11 and 12 in Ekeremor LGA with a total of 25,000 registered voters.
Meanwhile, Agbedi said he was ready for the supplementary election and that he was not going on appeal.
Electoral Act needs another amendment – CODE
Speaking on the preponderance of litigations after elections, Mallam Hamzat Lawal, activist and Chief Executive of Connected Development (CODE), said that the development was a lesson that Nigeria must learn from and ensure that all legal issues were concluded before the swearing in of all elected officers.
He said, “This means that we should amend the Electoral Act 2022 to ensure that all legal issues on elections are concluded before the swearing in to prevent the courts being the decider of electoral processes rather than the voters.”
He also said that the development continued to recur because there were no consequences for electoral infringements, thus the need to ensure that the judiciary was strengthened to discharge its responsibilities to the Nigerian people.
He further said, “As a society, we must live with the consequences of our actions. People go scot free even when they are to face the consequences for their actions. Changing this would help us get it right.”
Speaking on what should be done to stem electoral litigations, he said that strengthening internal party democracy was one of the ways, as most party primaries were not transparent, leading to litigations.
He said, “Internal party mechanisms are not adhered to. Then in the main elections, when you look at most of the political campaigns, they go to the podium to dance, insult their opponents and not what they would do for their constituents. And during the elections, they intimidate opponents, get involved in vote buying and other inducements.
“Most importantly is to strengthen the electoral process at INEC level. If INEC follows its guidelines to the latter and observers can attest that it is free, fair, credible and transparent, then cases would reduce.”
He noted that the judicial process was provided so that those who felt aggrieved could utilise it and not take law into their hands.
When asked what INEC can do differently to stem electoral litigations, he said, “I think the National Assembly needs to amend the Electoral Act on this, to strengthen it and give it more powers that beyond undertaking elections, INEC should also have powers to prosecute and power to indict.”
He added that security operatives must continue to be neutral and loyal to the people of Nigeria.
‘Courts are part of rule of law’
Reacting, Tawo Eja Tawo (SAN) said the courts were part of the rule of law process and democracy.
He said, “Incidentally, the people are governed by laws and democracy by laws, while the courts are to interpret the constitution.”
He noted that it was proper for the people to determine their representatives and choices through votes, but that the courts could interpret where there were disputes.
He further said, “Where two parties claim they won an election, how do you determine if the arbiter does not step in?
“Our democracy is less than 30 years and we want to compare with those that have lasted for centuries.
“Yes, the system is not working in Nigeria, and people act arbitrarily, but with time it will evolve to a more civilised order.”
Abdullateef Salau, Itodo Daniel Sule, Abbas Jimoh, John Chuks Azu (Abuja), Hope Abah Emmanuel (Makurdi) & Willie Bassey (Yenagoa)