Election petitions: Tribunals as custodians of judiciary’s fate,hope of all Nigerians
THE Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal (PEPT) today commences hearing on petitions challenging Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)’s verdict on the February 25 presidential election. The stakes cannot be higher as the die is cast and all eyes are on the three-man panel of law lords who are to sieve chaff from wheat in knowing candidates whose petitions or defence have or lack merit and those merely crying wolf.
WITH about three petitions from People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Labour Party (LP), Action Alliance (AA) and their candidates against President-elect, Senator Bola Tinubu and his party, All Progressives Congress (APC), as well as INEC, it’s clear that PEPT’s hands are full. Indeed, the tribunal’s work makes it a golden fish with nowhere to hide. Anyone in doubt should watch the country’s political barometer now nearing breaking point because of build-ups to these petitions. Perhaps, AA’s Maj Hamza Al Mustapha (rtd) who, according to reports, has indicated his disinterestedness in continuing, is a reprieve but that is not enough relief.
ALTHOUGH chaotic weather has become predictable on Nigeria’s political climate as current tension puts the tribunal itself on trial, addressing three particular factors can help matters.
FIRST, it is necessary to get the candidates’ confidence not withstanding that they are currently inflaming the polity — firing broadsides at each other. It is important they all express confidence in PEPT. This throws back unenviable burden on the tribunal – the burden of not only doing justice but ensuring that justice is manifestly seen to have been done –with the totality of evidence aggregated on the balance of probability. Given that wading through ‘mountains of evidence that legal teams already bandy in their claims and counterclaims may not be easy, it is important that the tribunal notes that its fate is in its own hand and shows that it did a thorough job.
FOR example, a major hurdle before it in this regard includes enquiry on when and how figures were uploaded on IReV. The tribunal will have to find out if there was any delay or failure in uploading figures and what caused such delay or failure between human and digital factors. But a bigger task here for the tribunal is the duty not to rubber stamp any error. Yet, its biggest headache in solving the puzzle should be whether any provision of Electoral Act 2022 was violated by such delay or failure to upload result by INEC where it’s established.
ANOTHER factor the tribunal should unlock is the method by which results were generated. If the tribunal will score the bull’s eye, it has one major compass, which is evidence of parties. There’s no iota of doubt that only through evidence rather than opinion or mindsets will PEPT know if polling, because of power or network failure, went on anywhere without deference to Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BIVAS) which INEC had more than three off-season polls before the 2023 general elections. From this, using combined operation of Electoral Act and its subsidiary Electoral Guidelines, the tribunal’s duty is to interpret the data or figures generated under such condition. It will no longer matter whether such figures were uploaded or not, if they ought to be excluded from outset.
INDEED, anything to the contrary will produce an absurdity bordering on judicial travesty.
THIRDLY, the burden of doing justice without fear or favour, brooking neither fan nor foe and not succumbing to outside influence or intimidation, PEPT has to navigate its way through another labyrinth. This time, the crucible of delivering justice according to law in resolving conflicts arising between ‘is’ and ‘ought’ propositions. The gravity of this duty is in no way thawed by another burden, which is to deliver justice promptly, making time of essence. While striking balance between orthodoxy and activism, PEPT should avoid being slow or rash in its proceedings and strive to reflect the legal maxim that “justice delayed is justice denied, and justice rushed is justice crushed”.
THIS point cannot be over-emphasised given massive investments on judicial waste time and other factors that lull the tempo of justice delivery by unscrupulous politicians whose antics make courts alternate electoral umpires. This is why National Light recommends consolidation of the three petitions and narrowing down parties’ disputes into core issues that connect borderline contestations. Apart from consolidation of action being an integral component of Nigeria’s adjectival law, we believe it will pull rug off the feet of any party investing in delay tactics.
THIS is why the tribunal’s fate is solely in its own hand while it decides parties and their candidates’ fate.