TUNDE OYESINA writes that lawyers have expressed deep concerns over the disruptions in the justice delivery system occasioned by the massive deployment of judges for handling of election petition cases
Some senior lawyers have raised serious concerns over the negative impact the appointment of about 257 judges who are presiding over various election petition Tribunals will have on the nation’s justice system. The lawyers while baring their minds on the issue at the weekend were unanimous in stating that such appointments will no doubt slow down adjudication on other matters which are not election-related. New Telegraph Law recalled that Nigerians had on February 25 and March 18, 2023 voted for the candidates of their choice in the Presidential, National Assembly, Governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections respectively .
Afterwards many political parties and their candidates have approached the court to challenge the results declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). As it is constitutional to attend to issues and dissatisfaction which may arise from the poll, Election Petition Tribunals were constituted with judges assigned to handle the petitions at various levels. Section 130 (1) of the Electoral Act 2022 provides: “No election and return at an election under this Act shall be questioned in any manner other than by a petition complaining of an undue election or undue return (in this Act referred to as an “election petition”) presented to the competent tribunal or court in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution or of this Act, and in which the person elected or returned is joined as a party.”
It is a statutory responsibility of the Court of Appeal to set up the Tribunals not later than 30 days before the elections as stated in Section 130(3)(a) of the Electoral Act 2022. The register of the Tribunal is expected to be opened for business at least seven days ahead of the elections. While there are separate petition Tribunals for the National, State Houses of Assembly and Governorship elections, the Court of Appeal serves as the court to hear Presidential election disputes. With regards to the timeline for filing of petitions and judgement delivery, Section 132 (7) (8) of the Electoral Act 2022 stipulated that; “An election petition shall be filed within 21 days after the date of the declaration of result of the elections” while “the Tribunal shall deliver a judgement in writing within 180 days (6 months) from the date of the filing of the petition”.
CJN’s appointment of judges
In fulfilment of his constitutional mandate, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, had appointed about 257 judges that would serve on Election Petitions Tribunals across the country. The judges were picked from State High Courts, the FCT High Court, the Federal High Court, the National Industrial Court, and the Court of Appeal.
Judges from Abia State are; C.O. Onyeabo, Ory Zik-Ikeorha, C.H. Ahuchaogu, A.O. Chijioke, K.C.J. Okereke, L.T.C. Eruba, Benson Anya, Nweke Philomena, A.O. Phoeba, and C.K. Nwankwo. Those from Adamawa State are; Justices H.N.H. Joda, B.I. Ladukiya, Musa Usman, K.L. Samuel, A.J. Balami and K.Z.U. Modibbo. Justices P.P. Idiong, A. D. Odokwo, O.A. Okon, F.J. Ibanga, and N.M. Obot, were picked from Akwa Ibom State, while Justices W.I. Kpochi, T. A. Kume, T. T. Asua, P.T. Kwahar, M.T. Ugar, A. I. Ityonyman, M. M. Odinya, and I. Muhammed, are from Benue State. Justices H.Y. Mshelia, A. Z. Musa, U. S. Sakwa, M. G. Abubakar and Binta Othman, are from Borno State, while judges from Cross River State are; F. N. Isoni, E. O. Abua, O. I. Ofem, A. A. Ewah, U. A. Ibrahim, E. I. Ebri, I. B. Etape, and E. A. Ubua. From Delta State are; Justices A.O. Apkovi, F.N. Azinge, C. N. Ogadi, E. N. Ejiro, T. O. Uloho, M. O. Omovie, C. O. Emifoniye, and C. I. Dafe. From Ebonyi State are; Justices H. A. Njoku, B.A.N Ogbu, N. E. Nwibo, C. E. Eze, I. P. Chima, O. Elekwa, T. A. Achom, and U. Onwosi, while those from Edo State are; Justices V.O. Eboreime, J.O. Okeaya, Irele- Ifijeh, V.O.A. Oviawe, I.P. Buraimoh and T.I. Eghe-Abe. From Ekiti State are; Justices A. L. Ogunmoye, A. A. Adeleye, L. O. Ogundana, E. B. Omotoso, A. O. Familoni, J. A. Apuabi, and O. O. Oluboyede. From Enugu State are; Justices R. O. Odugu, E. N. Oluedo, N. R. Oji, C.A.B. Onaga, U. J. Nweze, and E. N. Alukwu. From Kaduna State are; Justices E. Y. B. Lolo, K. Dabo, M. T. Rashid, M. N. Sidi, A. Y. John, and E. Michael. From Kano State are; Justices M. Yusuf Ubale, A. A. Amina, I. M. M Karaye, N. Saminu, J. S. Suleiman, S. A. Maryam, S. M. Ado, and A. A. Maiwada. Justices A. B. Abdullahi, A. K. Tukur, I. W. Baraka, B. U. Safiya, I. I. Mashi, L. Umar, A. Yarima, and M.D. Hadiza, were from Katsina State, while Justice A. M. Abubakar, Justice A. Y. Birnin Kudu, Justice I. Ya’u, and Justice N. Zargina, were from Jigawa State. . From Sokoto State were; Justice M. U. Dogondaji, Justice A. G. Sifawa, Justice M. Mohammed, Justice S. Shehu, Justice M. A. Sambo, Justice D.Y. Danjega, Justice B. Y. Tambuwa, and Justice B. Ibrahim. Justice B. M. Tukur, Justice H. Mikailu, Justice B. M. Kucheri, Justice I. H. Ismaila, Justice U. AbdulNasir, Justice S.G. G/Bore, and Justice B. Rabi, are from Zamfara State, while Justice U. Abubakar, Justice N. I. Umar, Justice S. B. Shuaibu, Justice F. H. Bunza, Justice S. K. Manya, Justice A. S. Bello, Justice S. U. Mukhtar and Justice U. A. S Kudu, were from Kebbi State. From Taraba State are; Justice S. Haruna, Justice A. B. Abbare, Justice C. J. Katabs, Justice M. A. Badamasi, Mrs E. Tata (CM) and Mr K.A.A. Yara (UAC). Justice M. Z. Usman, Justice K. B. Yusuf, Justice M. Kyari, Justice H. L. Musa, Justice H. S. Tahir, Justice K. M. B Inuwa, and Justice A. K. Kime, are from Yobe State, while Justice A. M. Yakubu, Justice H. H. Kereng, Justice S. Y. Abubakar, Justice M. Fatima, Justice D. S. Sikkam, Justice M. A. Haruna, Justice B. H. Abbayo, and Justice M. I. Gombe are from Gombe State. Justice F. Ajayi, Justice S. Umar, Justice M. M. Gwatana, Justice A. S. Husaini, Justice S. Zubayru, Justice B. Aina and Justice D. Yakubu are from Kogi State. Justice M. O. Opara, Justice G. C. Aguma, Justice F. Onyiri, Justice L. T. Senewo, Justice F. A. Fiberesima, Justice L. Ngbor-Abina, Justice O. D. Gbasam and Justice S. S. Popnen are from Rivers State. . Justice A.I. Ashom, Justice N. J. Dadi, Justice T. Zololo, Justice G. M.Kamyal, Justice V. Dadom, Justice D. S. Damulak, Justice S. S. Fomber, Justice B. M. Bassi are from Plateau State. Justice R. G. Soji, Justice A. M. Mainoma, Justice S. A. Ayiwulu, Justice A. A. Ozegyu, Justice M. A. Ramat, Justice J. K. Kurape and Justice A. T. Chanbo are from Nasarawa State. Justice M. Abdullahi, Justice S. T. Zainab, Justice Y. G. Bilkisu, Justice I. Usman, Justice I. Hauwa Kulu, Justice L. M. Amina, and Justice M. I. Khadijat are from Niger State. From Lagos State are; Justice M. O. Obadina, Justice J. E. Oyefeso, Justice A. O. Opesanwo, Justice L. B. L. Akapo, Justice J. A. Kudirat, Justice S. S. Ogunsanya, Justice I. O. Akinkugbe and Justice O.A. Adamson. From Ogun State are; Justice C. C. Ogunsanya, Justice O. Ogunfowora, Justice A. A. S. Femi, Justice A. O. Araba, Justice A. A. Adewole, Mr I. O. Awofeso (CM) and Mr. D. I. Dipeolu (CM) From Osun State are; Justice A. A. Ajeibe, Justice A. O. Ayoola, Justice K. M. Akano, Justice A. L. Adegoke, Justice M. O. Agboola, Justice S. A. Oke, Justice M. O. Okediya and Justice A.O. Adenji. From Ondo State are; Justice O. A. Osadebay, Justice P. O. Ikujuni, Justice W. R. Olamide, Justice O. Sunday, Justice J. O. Abe, Justice A. Enikuomehin, Justice T. M. Adedipe, and Justice A. E. Akeredolu. Justice G. A. Sunmonu, Justice O. M. Fadeyi, Justice E. O. Ajayi, Justice M. L. Owolabi, Justice M. I. Sule, Justice L. A. Ganiyu, Justice B. A. Taiwo, and Justice O.A. Adetujoye are from Oyo State. Justice A. A. Adebara, Justice A. S. Halima, Justice A. Gegele, Justice F. D. Lawal, Justice J. Z. Umar, Justice M. A. Oniye, Mrs O. I. Olabisi, and Justice K. Abdul-Latif are from Kwara State. Justice L. C. Azuama, Justice K. A. Ojiako, Justice B. C. Iheka, Justice S.I. Okpara, Justice V. I Onyeka, Justice E. N. Eke, Justice K. A Leweanya, and Justice J. I. Obichere are from lmo State. From Bayelsa State are; Justices J. B. Egele and Justice TY Abasi, while those picked from the Federal Capital Territory High Court are; Justice M. E. Anenih, Justice O.A. Adeniyi, Justice A.I. Kutigi, Justice A.O. Otaluka, Justice Y Halilu, Justice A.O. Ebong, Justice B. Hassan, Justice E. Enenche, and Justice A.S. Usman.
From the Federal High Court are; Justice A. A. Okeke, Justice M.A. Onytenu, Justice H.R.A. Shagari and Justice J.O. Abdulmalik, while Justice I.S. Galadima, Justice S.H. Danjidda, and Justice K. D. Damuak were picked from the National Industrial Court.
Implications on regular court cases
It is implied that these appointed judges may not be available to attend to other cases in the next 180 days during which they would be expected to conclude the election petition cases. Consequently, these judges will have to suspend hearing of regular matters for the period that they will be on this special assignment. This is because Section 285(9) of the Constitution provides the basis for time factor in the determination of election disputes. However, the preamble of the provisions of the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules, 2009 requires that cases bordering on violations of fundamental rights of citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are to be given accelerated hearing. By the provisions of Section 36(4) of the Constitution “any person charged with a criminal offence… shall..be entitled to a fair hearing within a reasonable time..” These provisions are hardly complied with by the courts. We now have fundamental rights enforcement cases and criminal trials spanning an average of two and five years respectively at the trial court. No sense of urgency or priority given them, as required by the law. Sadly, these are now part of the cases that will be further adjourned for another six more months.
In the meantime, a cross-section of senior lawyers have advocated for a more reformative approach at handling electoral disputes without disrupting the justice delivery system. They frowned at the practice of deploying serving judges to election Tribunals, saying it is negatively impacting routine court cases. Speaking on the issue, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Jibrin Okutepa, suggested that retired judges should be employed on contract basis to attend to electoral petitions. Okutepa said: “It has been advo-cated that retired judges and senior lawyers should be appointed on contract basis to hear election petitions.
“The need for immediate appointment of more judges has also been suggested. There is no State High Court that can claim to have sufficient number of judges to man their High Courts. “In Delta State, many of the judges run two courts in different judicial divisions. Inspite of the fact that the State is grossly lacking in the required number of Judges, four judges (two from the High Court, Warri) were selected to suspend their regular court sitting for at least six months. All the cases in those courts will now suffer until the judges resume after concluding their election assignments”. .
Another SAN, Chief Mike Ozekhome, noted that asking over 200 judges to leave their various duty posts across the country for an election tribunal would negatively affect other cases, the judicial system and might scare away potential foreign investors. Another silk, Kunle Adegoke, called on the NJC to look into the appointment of retired judges and magistrates to assist at the tribunals. He opined that many of the judges who retired at 65 and 70 years were sound to adjudicate on such matters, which they had been doing all their lives Also reacting, Executive Director of Citizens Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights (CASER), Frank Tietie, said that election petitions have always taken a very heavy toll on the regular processes of the court because the judges that man the tribunals are usually regular judges who have many cases pending in their courts.
“And whenever they are attending to election petitions by way of presiding over tribunals, cases in their dockets suffer; lawyers often have to wait by taking long adjournments before their cases can be heard. “That is not very good for the country’s judiciary which has been described as inefficient because of the undue delays associated with the prosecution of cases. “Such Tribunals could affect litigants because based on legal practice, once a judge has started a case, he must be the one that must end the case because if another judge takes over, he would have to start all over again taking fresh witnesses and statements.
“That means that once a case has been started by a judge who has now been posted to serve in an election petition, that effectively means that he will be away for a period of over 6 months from the court and that is a very costly delay to the interest of litigants. “Sometimes, even though let us acknowledge that it does not take quite a number of judges from a jurisdiction, the thing is, for those few judges that constitute the panels, those courts are usually affected. “The fact that the Tribunals are many for Governorship, State Houses of Assembly, Senate and House of Representatives, you will find a multiplicity of tribunals involving at least a minimum of a panel of six judges in a state. “And that has a very strong implication when it comes to the court being manned by those judges and being that those judges are usually very experienced judges, they are the ones who handle high profile and important cases that will now suffer for a period of six months. So we are going to grapple with the problem for a long time”. On his part, Bright Enado, while narrating his personal experience, recalled how a case he was handling suffered series of adjournment because the presiding judge was handling election petition. Enado said: “Oh yes, many times, we’ve had cases where we had to just adjourn sine die (indefinitely) because a judge has either been sent to preside or participate in election Tribunal. The experience is that of helplessness where you have to wait”. In his own reaction, a rights activist, Marshall Abubakar, noted that , “It (election petition) does, quite maximally, and the impact is huge. 257 judges of various High Courts across the Federation were drafted by the NJC to sit over the about 436 petitions filed by 10 different political parties and their candidates, challenging the various elections results as announced by INEC. “These judges are drawn from the bench, across Nigeria, the primary victims of this exercise are the cases these justices were presiding over before they were so drafted. “It means proceedings in those cases would be put on hold until after the judges complete their election petition duty assignments. I would advise litigants whose cases are urgent to apply for reassignment of those cases to judges who were not saddled with election tribunal duties”