How Reps voted against time limit for election cases

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On February 22, 2012 the House of Representatives threw out a bill seeking to alter the provisions of the 1999 Constitution to provide a time frame within which all disputes and litigations emanating from elections in all political offices will be concluded in order to make sure that such litigations are disposed of before those elected are sworn in. Our correspondent examines the issues.

Sponsored by the House deputy Minority Leader, Rep. Suleiman Kawu Sumaila (ANPP, Kano), the bill sought to alter the provisions of Sections 76, 116, 132 and 178 of the Constitution and also Sections 2, 3, 4 and 5 of the second alteration act to further ensure that judgment of an election tribunal is heard and disposed of as set out in Section 285 of the Constitution and Section 9 of the second alteration before the time the winner of the election is due to take oath of office.

Presenting the bill to his colleagues, Kawu made a passionate appeal saying: “Over the years in the history of elections in Nigeria, cases in election tribunals or Courts of Appeal usually drag for too long. Judgments arising from election petitions filed by candidates are usually exhausted far into the tenure of the regime the petitions are challenging. This gives an undue advantage to someone occupying a position or an office he or she didn’t win in the first place.”

To buttress his point, the three-time legislator cited the case of Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State and Senator Chris Ngige in 2003 which ended after nearly three years of litigations on March 15, 2006 when the Court of Appeal overturned Ngige’s election and declared Obi as the winner of the 2003 governorship election. “At the moment no fewer than five states had their timetable for governorship elections altered and if we continue in this manner Nigeria’s democracy will suffer and the economy will be drained by too many elections”, Kawu  emphasised.

The proposed amendment reads thus: “Elections to each House of the National Assembly shall be held on a date to be appointed by the Independent National Electoral Commission. The date mentioned in subsection (1) of this section shall not be earlier than 240 days before and not later than 180 days on which the House stands dissolved.”

This means that all elections will be conducted between eight to six months before the expiration of tenure of the incumbent.

Supporting the bill, Rep. Jerry Manwe (PDP, Taraba) who also is the Chairman, House Committee on Electoral Matters lamented that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), now faces serious problems in conducting fresh elections after courts have quashed the earlier ones thereby creating confusion as “there is no adequate funding. This will cure the illness and solve a lot of problems”.

Also, Rep. Port Dike said: “People elected into powerful positions use the power of incumbency to their advantage in the courts. If we are sincere about free and fair elections we should pass this bill.”

However, Rep Dakuku Peterside (PDP, Rivers), cautioned that Nigeria lacks the capacity and personnel to administer justice before elected people are sworn in, saying, “conducting election one year before the end of tenure of the incumbent will lead to lots of distractions of governance.”

When it was time to vote on whether the bill be read a second time or not, majority of the lawmakers looked the other way and voted in opposition to the bill thereby throwing it to the waste bin.

Deputy Speaker Emeka Ihedioha who was presiding, made desperate but unsuccessful effort to convince the lawmakers  by putting the question three times but it all came to naught.

Political analysts believe that the implications of this singular but unpopular action by the House at a time when most Nigerians see it as “the House of the Nigerian people” are far reaching.

First, it has made nonsense of the House Legislative Agenda which is supposed to guide its activities; prominent among which is the issue of constitutional amendment geared towards the attainment of free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria.

Secondly, it dashes the expectations and enthusiasm of Nigerians that the House which they see as theirs is now beginning to “derail”. Also, the independence of the green chamber achieved by the way and manner the leadership emerged on June 6, 2011 against all odds and in disobedience to the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) zoning arrangement, is either compromised or is beginning to be compromised since most of those opposed to the bill are known to be top loyalists of President Goodluck Jonathan in the House.

The refusal of lower legislative chamber to really set a time limit for election cases despite its desirability in the current political dispensation makes it clear that they just don’t have the deep connection with the Nigerian situation.

However, observers believe that its not late for the lawmakers to make amends by retracing their steps through a revision of the apparently unpopular decision which is allowed by the House standing orders through a substantive motion particularly since the same amendment was done in the last House but had to be set aside due to time constraint ahead of the 2011 general elections.

In : Politics