By Sylvester Udemezue
Please, which one is more appropriate/suitable, speaking legally/constitutionally and grammatically: (A) ELECTION TRIBUNAL (ET)? or (B).ELECTION PETITION TRIBUNAL? Well, during a survey, recently conducted by me, many held the view it’s the latter. This comment has become necessary to show, with due respect, that legally and grammatically, “Election Tribunal”, not “Election Petition Tribunal”, appears to be the more appropriate terminology.
(1). The word “petition” In “Election Petition Tribunal” serves no purpose; it’s unnecessary to insert the “Petition” because the term “Election Tribunal” already adequately explains the purpose of the tribunal. Election tribunal is a special court that resolves election disputes; “dispute resolution” is already an inherent element in the definition of tribunal. Those who use “election petition tribunal” ignore this aspect of the meaning and function of “tribunal”; if they considered the meaning and function of tribunals, they wouldn’t have any difficulty in seeing that the “petition” In “election petition tribunal”, is redundant, even tautological, reason being that one doesn’t need the appearance of the ” Petition ” to appreciate the particular work of election tribunals; presence of the word “election” has provided sufficient particulars to distinguish it from all other fields!
(2). Meaning of “TRIBUNAL”: “a body established to settle certain types of disputes” (Oxford Languages); “special court or committee that is appointed to deal with particular problems” (Collins Dictionary) ; “special court chosen, esp. by a government or governments, to examine a particular … disagreement” (Cambridge Dictionary); “any person or institution with authority to judge, adjudicate on, or determine claims or disputes” (Wikipedia); “kind of court that has authority [to resolve disputes] in a specific area” (Britannica). Thus,its seen that, as I said earlier, the term “DISPUTE RESOLUTION/SETTLEMENT” is a necessary element in the definition of “TRIBUNAL”. The english word petition is a form of dispute. Accordingly,
(a) . Saying “ELECTION PETITION TRIBUNAL” gives the false impression that election tribunal is “a body set up to settle disputes arising from election disputes ” (THIS APPEARS ABSURD).
(b). On the other hand, “ELECTION TRIBUNAL” means: “a special body set up to resolve disputes arising from conduct of elections” (This is ACCURATE/APT).
(3) The definition of “TRIBUNAL” as offered by the UK Judiciary shows it’s unnecessary to add “Petition:” “tribunals are specialist judicial bodies which decide disputes in a particular area of law”. See:
(4).Further, let’s take a cue from regular Courts; they sit over “LAW-SUITS” just as Election tribunals sit over “election petitions”. This notwithstanding, instead of using “LAW-SUIT COURTS” (so as to show they sit over lawsuits) , we use “LAW COURTS “. So it’s with election tribunals; although they sit over election petitions, it is tautological, redundant, to use “Election Petition Tribunals”, instead of “Election Tribunals”, to describe courts that sit over, resolve, election cases/disputes.
(5). Finally, our laws support that it’s wrong to use petition to describe tribunals that sit over election disputes. The “MARGINAL NOTE” of Section 285 in Part III of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, is “Election Tribunals”. Specifically, Section 285(1) &(2) establishes two types of tribunals, namely (1) Governorship Election Tribunals and (2). National and State Houses of Assembly Election Tribunals. Indeed, throughout the Constitution, the term used is “ELECTION TRIBUNAL ” OR “ELECTION TRIBUNALS”. No where in the Constitution is the term, “Election Petition Tribunal” used! Not even one!
(6). In like manner, throughout the Electoral Act 2022, the term used is “Election Tribunal”, not “election petition tribunal”. Please see Sections 130(3), 131(1)-(6), 131(1) (d), 132, 135, 136(2), 138(2), 140(2) (b), 146, to name just a few.
(7). “PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION TRIBUNAL” OR “PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION COURT”: Meanwhile, it’s submitted that, in the case of presidential election petitions, any of the following terms could be used to describe or refer to the Court of Appeal when Court of Appeal sits as a court of first instance to resolve presidential lection petitions, pursuant to Section 239(1)(a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, which provides that “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the Court of Appeal shall, to the exclusion of any other court of Law in Nigeria, have original jurisdiction to hear and determine any question as to whether -(a) any person has been validly elected to the office of President or Vice-President under this Constitution”: (a) PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION TRIBUNAL (PET) OR (b) PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION COURT (PEC) or (c) COURT OF APPEAL. Under Section 130(1)&(2) of the Electoral Act, 2022, either “Court” or “Tribunal” Could be used to describe the Court of Appeal when the Court sits up on presidential petitions, although under the Act, Tribunal means “Election Tribunal established under this Act or the Court of Appeal “, of course while discharging its jurisdiction pursuant to Section 239(1)(a) of the Constitution. See Paragraph 1 of the 1st Schedule to the Electoral Act, 2022. Section 140(2)(a)&(b) of the Electoral Act, 2022, appears to support that use of Presidential Election Tribunal is more appropriate than use of “Presidential Election Court”, because paragraph (b) is unequivocal that the Court of Appeal when sitting at first upon an election petition is a tribunal. Yet, from Sections 130(1) -(2), 135, 136,138, and 139 of the Act, it could be concluded that both terms could be used interchangeably. In the final analysis, since the Constitution supersedes the Electoral Act in the case of conflicts (although I am not saying there’re), the Court of Appeal has two different types of jurisdictions: (a) appellate jurisdiction and (b) original jurisdiction. Sitting to resolve disputes arising from presidential elections, is an aspect of the ORIGINAL JURISDICTION of the Court of Appeal. The question is, does the name of a court change depending on whether it’s exercising APPELLATE or ORIGINAL jurisdiction? The answer is absolute NO. This settles it: when the Court of Appeal exercises its original jurisdiction under section 239(1)(a), whether you refer to it as (1) The Presidential Election Tribunal, or (2) the Presidential Election Court or (3) the Court of Appeal, you’re right. However, use of Presidential Election Petition Court or Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, is a no-no, because each and both are legally and grammatically inapt.
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Sylvester Udemezue (udems)
English for Lawyers (EFL), Nigeria