In our maiden editorial on The Electoral Cave, we bring you some electoral law principles to reflect deeply on. Without ado, here we go!
It is a trite principle of law that an Election Petition Tribunal must deliver its judgment within 180 days from the date of filing of the petition. SEE THE CASE OF ANPP V. GONI (2012) All FWLR (Pt. 623) 1821; SECTION 285(6) OF 1999 CONSTITUTION OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA (AS AMENDED). From this trite principle of law, certain salient questions scream for informed answers:
What happens where, in the course of trial, a member of the panel or the entire panel, for one reason or the other, cannot proceed with hearing after commencement of Trial?
It appears that in such circumstances, the member or entire panel which is unable to proceed with trial will be replaced. From this, a question further erupts:
Where the member/panel is replaced and continues from where the last panel stops, will an infringement on the principles of fair hearing not be occasioned, since Trial had already commenced?
It is a settled principle of law that it is only the panel/judge that hears a matter from the beginning that passes judgment. SEE THE CASE OF KUNLE KALEJAIYE V. LPDC (2019) LPELR- 47035, where the Supreme Court vehemently frowned at a procedure where the panel/Judge which gave judgment was different from the panel which reviewed evidence. The apex Court declared such procedure as a violation of the principle of Fair Hearing enshrined under section 35(6) of the 1999 Constitution. SEE ALSO THE RECENT DECISION IN ADELEKE V. OYETOLA (UNREPORTED), APPEAL NO: SC/533/2019, DELIVERED ON 5TH JULY 2019.
The afore-cited Supreme Court pronouncement brings to fore another indispensable situation in the course of election petitions. In order not to offend the principles of fair hearing, a new panel would have to begin a trial de novo (afresh). This ultimately ensures that the Tribunal fails to conclude its assignment within the remaining days. Even a hearing with the speed of light would be extremely doubtful in terms of the level of justice done. Over speeding might just not only be dangerous on the highways but also in the Courtroom. Therefore, upon completion/lapse of the statutory 180 days, the Tribunal no longer has jurisdiction to entertain the Petition. This translates to a situation where a party’s mandate or even his right to seek redress is jeopardized on the altar of circumstances beyond his legitimate control.
Is this not another Lacuna in our Jurisprudence? Indeed, only time will tell.
Mohammed A. Oyelade Esq.
Editor, Law Axis 360°
Mohammed A. Oyelade Esq is a Legal Associate in Afe Babalola SAN & co, Abuja. His core area of interests spans through Constitutional Law & Election Petition. He is very current on National isues and always ready to learn.