By Yusufu Shehu Usman
The election petition tribunals have over the years, exerted serious stress on our judicial system and slowed down the dispensation of Justice in all the superior courts across the nation
The Election petition tribunals are established under the constitution to resolve disputes arising from the conduct of elections at all levels from Chairmanship to the presidential elections across the country
The constitution of the tribunals have become more of a regular ritual since the return of democracy in 1979 and have assumed what seems to be a permanent and integral part of our electoral system.
The focus of this post is not the merits or demerits of the election petition tribunals as arbiters for election disputes, rather, it is drawing attention to the serious stress the tribunals are exerting on the already over stressed judicial system of Nigeria.
At the conclusion of general elections and this happens every four years (including off season polls), the judiciary is tasked to constitute tribunals to adjudicate over hundreds of petitions filed by the politicians challenging the declaration, the results or the conduct of the election by the electoral umpire.
The normal functions of the courts at all levels of the judicial heirrachy becomes impaired or disrupted as judges and administrative staff of the judiciary are deployed for many months to participate in election petitions.
This means a major disruption of the administration, delivery and dispensation of Justice in all the superior courts including the supreme Court
It is to be appreciated that election cases are given priority and precdence over the normal proceedings of the courts, thus, accounting for congestion and backlog of criminal and civil cases pending before the constitution of the tribunals and frustrating the filling and determination of new cases that would be filed within the period the election petition duties would be undertaken by the judges
The judges are transferred out of their normal jurisdictions and their courts remain virtually shut for more than three months that the election duties will linger.
This is a serious constraint on access to Justice in an already over stressed judicial system. It militates against the efficient delivery of Justice and bogs down the entire machinery for the administration of Justice in Nigeria
If we must continue to resolve electoral disputes through the election petition tribunals ( which is mandatory under the constitution), I recommend that we have to restructure the tribunals in such a way as to to free serving judges from the burden of sitting over election petitions.
This will allow them to focus and concentrate on the already enormous and burdensome cause list in their courts and also give the citizens a wider latitude for acsess to the courts and ensure a speedy and more efficient dispensation of Justice in the country.
In addition, it will help save many of the serving judicial officers from the allegations of corruption rightly or wrongly levelled against them by politicians as a result of their involvement in handling election petitions
It is instructive to note that through election petitions many otherwise erudite judges had their careers truncated on allegations of corruption arising from the election petitions and the judiciary itself as an institution, has severally come under attack by the public this diminishing the image and tarnishing the integrity of our judicial system
It is my considered opinion that the election petition tribunals should be manned by retired judges and credible lawyers whose proceedings could regulated by the extant laws and rules of procedure.
We have a pool of unblemished judges on retirement and a cream of respected legal practitioners who have earned for themselves an enviable reputation through their respective practices
The retired judges and respected legal practitioners are intellectually equipped, eminently qualified, richly and widely experienced and undoubtedly competent to adjudicate over election disputes at all levels
In order to implement this recommendation transparently, it is hereby further suggested that the tribunals envisaged by this post may be consituted by the Chief Justice of Nigeria in consultation with the National Judicial Council