- That judges have to forfeit their leave over electoral petitions speaks volumes about our electoral system
The suspension of the annual vacation of judges of the Court of Appeal because of the number of election petition cases that will come before the court within the vacation period is another manifestation of our malignant electoral system. Clearly, an electoral system which majority of its outcomes are contested, is a slow killer of democracy; just as the vindictiveness of going to court by nearly every election loser is akin to mobocracy.
Agreed that it is better to go to court than to settle election disputes in a street brawl, we are worried at the huge cost to our country. One of the major causes of this near-electoral anarchy is the election-petition-lawyers who apply their expertise in petty-fogging to foist the courts with too many cases. Except to advance their careers, many of these experts file matters and applications that are manifestly so frivolous.
In a statement, the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, was quoted to have said: “we have to forfeit our annual vacation to enable us to entertain and determine all appeals arising from the various election petition tribunals transmitted to the court.” No doubt, the number of cases pending before the election petition tribunals is so enormous that the court of appeal is justified to be apprehensive enough to cancel their vacation.
In the statement, the media officer of the court, Ms Sa’adatu Musa-Kachalla, noted “that State House of Assembly recorded the highest figure (of election petitions) of 415; Senate, 105; House of Representatives, 214; governorship, 62; and presidential, four.” Her report also showed “that 65 election petitions relating to the last governorship, state House of Assembly, National Assembly and presidential elections had so far been either dismissed or struck out while 735 were pending before 77 tribunals sitting across the country.” This number of disputes is grossly too high for a modern election that ought to very transparent.
Of note, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has not lived up to expectation as regards transparency in the electoral process, and that has been a major cause of disputes that pervade the electoral process. Also, the parties have contributed to the anarchical electoral disputes through their manipulated party primaries. While many of the disputes over the pre-election matters arise from disputed primaries, the post-election ones complain about the conduct of the election proper.
So, between the parties and the electoral commission on the one hand, and the petty-fogging lawyers on the other lies the bedlam that elections have become in our country. To stave off these crises, the political parties must learn to conduct free, fair and credible primaries. Perhaps a transparent direct primary may be the solution to rancorous pre-election disputes.
On the part of the electoral commission, there is the urgent need for the use of technology to steal the thunder from the pervading electoral crisis. Towards that, INEC should introduce enhanced card reader machines and electronic voting, or a variant of it, such that after voting is completed in any voting centre, the results are tallied and electronically stored. As for the lawyers who use their skills to stress the system, the courts are better situated to deal with their menace.
Above all, the headship of the judiciary must also take steps to rein in corruption in the judiciary. Some of the petitioners go to court, trusting that the judges could help them manipulate the outcome for a determined end.