Election Tribunal Judgement and a Rape of Justice
In the wake of the 2015 general election across Nigeria, election petition tribunals were set up to attend to cases of electoral malpractices and irregularities witnessed during the election. Thus, at the inauguration of these tribunals, they were inundated with barrage of election petitions. Delta State election petition tribunal received a total of 39 petitions. These include the national assembly, governorship and state assembly elections.
As the tribunal resumed sitting, the complex nature of most of the cases began to unfold. In the long, the grounds of their arguments were established, while it took about four months of hearing to start judgement. However, the different twist of the judgments has elicited this piece. Most of them have been upheld on the grounds of technicalities.
The judgement of the election petition tribunal sitting at the Delta State Multi Door court complex, Asaba in the House of Assembly election petition between Chief Tony Azuya, the candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and Hon. (Barr.) Princess Pat Ajudua of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) on Tuesday 20th October, 2015, has further illustrated the bias nature of the Nigerian judicial system. It is nothing short of judicial parochialism.
After the 11th of April 2015 House of Assembly election held across the state, the candidate of APGA, Chief Azuya had written a petition, challenging the declaration of Hon. Princess Pat Ajudua as the winner of the election, which was marred by a lot of irregularities, violence, snatching of ballot boxes and stuffing same with thumb-printed ballot papers by thugs believed to be members of PDP. During the tribunal proceedings proper, the 11 witnesses produced by the petitioner equally corroborated on how the election in the 69 units of the 10 wards in the local government was fraught with massive rigging with the collaboration of both the INEC ad hoc staff and the Nigeria police.
At the commencement of the preliminary hearing at the panel 3 of the court complex under the chairmanship of Hon. Justice Ururuaka-Onyesoh and later Hon. Justice M.E. Umar, all evidence regarding to election including the mutilated result sheets, were tendered as exhibits. But instead of basing their arguments on evidence on ground and basic facts of the issues, the counsel to the respondents were harping on technicalities to have the petition dismissed on the grounds that it lacked merit.
The crux is that even at this 21st century, it is very clear that the era when matters were based on technicalities to determine judgement is becoming obsolete. Therefore, taking us back in time because the panel has compromised is a complete judicial travesty. It is on good record that the sum of N25 million was offered to the presiding judge of the panel, Hon. Justice M.E. Umar through one of his kinsman, Mr. Zaki M. Ahmed, Deputy Commissioner – Admin, Delta State Police Command.
There is no doubt that circumstances surrounding the judgement in question are a rape of our judicial process. It is often said that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man, but recent events, especially the judgement of Hon. Justice M.E. Umar at Delta State legislative election petition, is pointing otherwise. Where then is the hope of the common man?
The use of card reader was introduced in the last election by INEC chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega to checkmate the high spate of election malpractices and rigging which characterized our elections in Nigeria in the past. Yet, it is quite surprising that the 2015 House of Assembly election in Oshimili North is giving us a figure that now questions the introduction of the card reader device in the first place. The number of accredited voters as recorded on the day was 14,769, but the figure declared as valid votes cast for the winner was 21,458.
Quite incredible, but however conflicting it may seem to be, one had expected that the main reason for constituting election petition tribunals is for fair hearing and to correct all anomalies witnessed during the elections. But the results of judgement coming out from various election petition tribunals across the country further heighten our fears on the way forward for our democracy.
A recent one involved the speaker of Delta State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Monday Ovwigho Igbuya of PDP and Chief Felix Anirah of APC. The case was dismissed on the grounds that the petitioner only prayed for awarding him the winning, instead of a rerun of the election widely observed to be redolent with a lot of irregularities.
Interestingly, this dispensation under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari took effect with a big heave of relief as his high sounding trump of war against corruption was dizzying. There are morbid fears in all sectors owing to his disciplined military background. As a result, the composition of his cabinet is taking a longer and arduous task in constituting because of his corrupt-free nature. In essence, the anti-corruption hammer is seriously dangling and falling on culpable victims. The administration is showing that there are no sacred cows anymore.
As it is, the likes of Hon. Justice M.E. Umar will not escape the long hand of the anti-corruption bludgeon. He and his likes should be ready to receive the consequences of his actions and inactions. They should be made scapegoats to serve as a deterrent to other judges and also sanitize the judiciary. The president is bent on dealing with the corrupt public servants in the various sectors of the Nigeria economy.
Given that the spate of judgement being handed out by these corrupt judges is swaying in the wrong directions, it is imperative that the Federal Court of Appeal, whose right it is to assign these judges, strip them of their practicing licenses. Then the federal government should review the cases once again with a view to ascertaining true winners and returning their mandates.
In conclusion, our judiciary, as the third tier of government needs reform. It should be sanitized by flushing it of corrupt judges so as to retain its glory and hope for the endangered strata of the public once again. A serious searchlight should be beamed mostly on all constituted election petition tribunals and anyone who derails should be shown the door as soon as possible.
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