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Swearing in winners before end of litigation amounts to travesty of justice –Onodi

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Public affairs analyst and legal practitioner, Mr. Ikechukwu Onodi, has described as travesty of justice, the current practice in Nigeria where people are sworn into office after election while their electoral victories are still being challenged in the elections petition tribunals or court of law.

He argued that the proper thing would have been to trash out the matter and the validly elected declared by such tribunals or law courts before the swearing-in can take place.

In an interview, Onodihe speaks on what he described as legislative absurdity, why the practice has persisted and would continue to persist, the constitution of the electoral body and the fuel subsidy removal among other issues of national interest. 
While speaking on the overall assessment of the electoral process, Onodi said:

“The gains recorded and the achievements of the 2015 general elections have been eroded and lost in the 2023 elections. The elections of 2023 can safely be said to be the worst ever conducted in Nigeria since the colonial days.”

“Starting from the impunity of certain candidates, who shunned the media chats and debates because they had concluded rigging plans, which, of  course, eventually became manifest; to intimidation, suppression and harassment of opponents by those in power, the handwriting was very clear on the wall”.

Continuing, he said:

“The last straw that broke the camel’s back was the flagrant violation of the Electoral Act and guidelines by the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).”

“The assurances by the INEC that results from polling units would be scanned from the Form EC8A and posted with the aid of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) to the INEC result viewing (IRev) portal, where the public could view the results in real time, was not adhered to. There was clear evidence of INEC’s compromise during the elections. The Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), and Returning Officer of the Abia State Governorship election, Professor Nnenna Nnannaya Oti, revealed how the powers that be tried to intimidate, harass and bribe her to compromise the results of the election, but she stood her ground.”

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According to Onodi, there was a significant improvement in general elections in 2015 by former President Jonathan, who made and pursued his declared determination to give the country free, fair and credible elections.

“Even though he was a candidate in the elections, he also declared and lived up to the mantra that his ambition was not worth a jut of the blood of any Nigerian. The INEC under Prof. Attahiru Jega also played a major role in seeing to the success of that election”, he said.

On the practice of swearing in candidates whose electoral victories are still being challenged in the court, Onodi said:

“It negates all known principles of fairness for a person whose election is being challenged in the tribunal or law court to be sworn into office. It is a dirty slap on the individual faces of the people who have decided with their ballot power to elect one of their own only for another person, for whatever reason, to be sworn into the same office. It is a travesty of justice, and it thwarts the whole essence of elections.”

“This was not the intention at the birth of the current Fourth Republic. I recall listening to General Abdulsalam Abubakar during a media chat before the outset of the Republic. He was asked the reason behind the choice of May 29, 1999, for handover of power to the civilian administrators, as there was nothing to suggest that May 29 was significant in any way in the country’s political cum democratic journey. But, his response was that he got the advice from the then Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Mohammed Lawal Uwais. He said the former CJN told him that three months were the periods needed to determine the electoral petitions after the elections in February. That was what informed the choice of May 29 for handover. Thus, all electoral petitions and subsequent appeals were meant to be finally determined before the successful candidates were to be sworn into offices.”

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“There is no doubt that the Electoral Act of 2022 is a major improvement in our electoral journey as a state, especially since the fourth Republic. However, the aspect of speedy resolution of disputes arising from elections is a snag in that piece of legislation.
By Section 132 subsection 8 of the Electoral Act, 2022, the Tribunal shall deliver a judgment in writing within 180 days from the date of the filing of the petition. Subsection 9 gives the appellate courts 60 days to hear and dispose of appeals from the tribunals. So, for a dispute that will commence at the tribunals and terminate at the Supreme Court, as in the case of gubernatorial elections, a period of 300 days, equivalent to 10 months are needed to dispose of such disputes. This accounts for the impunity by the electoral officers as we have witnessed in recent time, especially during the just concluded 2023 general elections.”

“It is further compounded by the provision that even when the election is nullified by the tribunal, the person who had been declared elected by the INEC will remain in office till the final decision on the matter provided he has filed an appeal within the stipulated period. Section 138 of the Electoral Act, 2022 accounts for the impunity presently seen among the officers of the INEC in their handling of the elections in recent times.”

“It provides that where the election is nullified by the Court and notice of appeal against the decision is given within the stipulated period for appeal, the elected candidate shall, notwithstanding the contrary decision of the Court, remain in office and enjoy all the benefits that accrue to the office pending the determination of the appeal and shall not be sanctioned for the benefits derived while in office. It went further to also state that if the election tribunal or the court, as the case maybe, determines that a candidate returned as elected was not validly elected, the candidate returned as elected shall, notwithstanding the contrary decision of the election tribunal or the court, remain in office pending the expiration of the period of 21 days within which an appeal may be brought”, he said.

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