The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, has raised the alarm over conflicting judgments emanating from the various divisions of the Court of Appeal which he said are making it difficult for the commission to do its work.
Speaking in Abuja at a National Conference on Election Petition Tribunals and Appeals held at the Appeal Court Headquarters in Abuja, Yakubu said the commission had always complied with the judgments of the Supreme Court on electoral disputes.
He said: “However, contrary to the subsisting judgment of the Supreme Court, there were conflicting decisions by the Appeal Courts arising from the 2015 general election. The Court of Appeal, in one judicial division, ordered INEC to conduct fresh election ‘in which only the duly qualified candidates shall participate’. In another division, the Court of Appeal, under similar circumstances, nullified the election, disqualified the candidate and allowed the political party to submit the name of another candidate for the re-run election. Yet in another division, the Court of Appeal nullified the election and ordered INEC to conduct fresh election but is silent about the status of the disqualified candidate, thereby giving room for endless commentary and new rounds of litigation on the eligibility of the disqualified candidate to participate in re-run elections.”
Yakubu said as a law abiding institution, INEC would always respect court judgments.
“Although, we have implemented these judgments on their own merit, the conflicting decisions make us sometimes appear inconsistent in our application of the law thereby encouraging some disqualified candidates to initiate fresh litigation in the Federal High Courts,” he added.
He cited the cases in Plateau and Anambra where the commission had been forced to postpone re-run election because of injunctions and judgments from high courts which ordered INEC to include new candidates in re-run elections to represent political parties whose candidates had been disqualified by a court of superior jurisdiction and whose judgment is final in election disputes.
He said: “In one case, a high court defines a fresh election as a ‘new election’ based on dictionary definition rather than the clear and judicial precedence set by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.”
While commending, the Court of Appeal for holding the conference which was supported the International Foundation for Electoral System (IFES), Yakubu said INEC had mooted the idea of approaching the judiciary for an overview of matters arising from the judgments of the various election tribunals and appeals.
He said: “That this initiative is coming from the judiciary itself is most commendable.”
According to him, the fact that the Court of Appeal intends to use this conference to share experience and chart a way forward for future tribunals is one of the best decisions to come of the judicial arm of government in a long time.
He said it was even more challenging to manage re-run elections arising from candidate disqualification.
He said: “While it is appreciated that courts treat each case on its own merit, certain trends point to conflicting judgments on similar cases by different judicial divisions of the Appeal Courts.
“We are made to understand that the courts have a principle of obeying the decisions of superior courts by what lawyers call the doctrine of stare decisis.This has helped the court’s to streamline their decisions on the same matter.”
“But recent judgments seem to deviate from this time honoured principle of law. The truth is that, there is need for certainty in the rules governing the resolution of electoral disputes.
“Judicial precedence is of immense importance without which neither the judiciary nor INEC will be spared of impunity by political actors.
“For instance, can a disqualified candidate stand in a re-run election? Can the political party that sponsored a candidate disqualified by the court be allowed to field another candidate to contest in a re-run election? What is the meaning of a ‘fresh election’ following the nullification of a general election?”
In her opening remark, the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa said the court would continue to work within available resources to improve on its performance.
She admitted there had been challenges while adjudicating on electoral disputes arising from the 2015 general election.
Representative of IFES at the event, Shalva Kipshidze, said sustainable democracy could only thrive on a strong and reliable judicial system.