The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has again raised the alarm that conflicting judgments, especially by courts of co-ordinate jurisdiction at the High Court level, are putting the commission in a very difficult position and creating uncertainty in the electoral process.
The Chairman of the commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, disclosed this yesterday at the workshop for justices and judges on electoral matters held at the National Judicial Institute (NJI) in Abuja.
Yakubu, who was represented by the INEC National Commissioner on Legal Matters, Ms. Agbamuche Mbu, said the workshop was coming at an auspicious time, barely two weeks to the 20l9 elections, saying there was no gain belabouring the obvious that elections in particular and democratic processes in general, are governed by legislations.
The chairman said the inevitable disputes that arise in the course of democratic elections are adjudicated by the judiciary, stressing that there is no democracy without the rule of law and there is no rule of law without the Judiciary.
Yakubu lamented two major areas of concern, which he said include the issue of conflicting judgments, arising from pre-election and post-election cases, saying that as a firm believer in the rule of law, the commission always obeys court orders or, where it is considered necessary, appeals them in the interest of justice.
He revealed that there have been over 1,200 cases involving the commission since the 2015 general elections and not in a single case has the commission disobeyed a court order.
Yakubu said, “However, conflicting judgments, especially by courts of co-ordinate jurisdiction at the High Court level, are putting the commission in a very difficult position and creating uncertainty in the process.
“The court in one judicial division may order the commission on a particular course of action only to be contradicted by another court of coordinate jurisdiction from another division or even within the same division on the same subject matter.
“Conflicting court orders are negatively affecting the consistency, neutrality, and public perception, not only of the commission, but the judiciary as well. There is therefore the urgent need to address the issue of conflicting judgments in order to engender certainty in the electoral process.
“Our second area of concern relates to the lack of consequential orders by the courts after making findings on an issue and stating the position. In such cases, the commission is compelled to take a position relying on previous decisions of the Court on the subject.
This, as in some cases made the commission appears inconsistent and also led to protracted litigation. Closely related to this, is the issue of Orders to maintain the status quo by the Court without stating the exact status quo intended. This has given room to parties to misinterpret the order to soothe their purpose, thereby knowingly causing confusion and controversy.”
On his part, the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, said the workshop chart a common course towards addressing the challenges, which judicial officials face while serving on election petition tribunals.
He added that the workshop provides judicial officials with a unique opportunity to deliberate and agree on the basic tenets and guiding principle as well as ensuring quick dispensation of electoral matters.
Tanko noted that election litigation was an inevitable part of the country’s electoral process, stressing that while INEC has the responsibility to conduct and manage elections, the judiciary on its part, is charged with the responsibility of resolving issues arising from the process.
He advised that productive engagement between the judiciary and INEC was sacrosanct for efficient and effective dispensation of justice on matters bothering on the electoral process.
Justice Tanko added that the federal system has consistently developed, amended and re-enacted the Electoral Act to accommodate the changes that come with modern day challenges and development of the electoral process.
“It is however common knowledge that our present electoral system is still fraught with several issues, which include party nomination and substitution of candidates, late conduct of party primaries and other ancillary matters that ultimately prompt disputing parties to resort to litigation requiring the attention of the courts.
“It is in the light of the foregoing, it is expedient that participants are constantly equipped with the rudiments of the law to enable them accomplish this onerous task with the desired efficiency and competence at arriving at well researched judgments and work out modalities to reduce the spate of conflicting judgments emanating from our courts.
“Conflicting judgments do not only confuse counsel, but also leads to uncertainty with regards to slum decision. Furthermore, conflicting judgments impact negatively on the public perception of our ability to guarantee unequivocal justice”, the Acting CJN further explained.