N.4m Deposit For Election Petition Is Absurd, Outrageous – Akingbolu | Independent Newspapers Limited
Newsletter subscribe

Business, Law

N.4m Deposit For Election Petition Is Absurd, Outrageous – Akingbolu

Posted: Jul 30, 2015 at 12:15 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Kabir Akingbolu is a constitutional lawyer, human rights activist and election petition expert. He attended the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and was called to bar in 2003. In this interview with TUNDE OPESEITAN, Akingbolu offered better ways to handle election petitions so as to bring about justice and fairness. He also spoke on other issues affecting the polity including the National Assembly crisis and the removal of service chiefs. Excerpts.    

You have been involved in several election petition cases. From your experience, how can we make it better for justice to be done?

Generally speaking, election petition is a very good process that is welcomed in every polity. It is a way to throw more light into the electioneering process to show that it is transparent. To show that the election was conducted substantially and to admit that well, it may not be hundred percent perfect. There may be some errors but you have the power to challenge the electoral body for the return of any candidate. But unfortunately in Nigeria, the law is too cumbersome and again, it is law that is 99 percent in favour of the winner. The loser has one percent to sink or afloat with. If you look at the entire law, there are lots of landmines that are planted on the path of the petitioner which makes justice difficult. For instance, you that just spent millions on an election that you lost, when you want to file election petition, the filing fee is not more than N10, 000 but then, they will ask you to deposit another N400, 000. They will say it is refundable but I’m not aware of any situation where they have refunded the money, and so it’s more or less like you are dashing them the money and we don’t know where the money is going. I know of a fellow who had a very good case in Delta State and a friend of mine prepared the petition, it was ready for filling, but he could not raise the N400, 000 and he told his lawyer that come I’ve been living from hand to mouth for the past few years campaigning for election, I cannot beg again and he abandoned the petition. That security for cost must be removed. In those days it used to be N3, 500 before 2009 or 2010, and it was around that time that they increased it to N400, 000. It is very absurd, ridiculous and oppressive to the petitioner. It is more or less saying that we have declared the winner and there is nothing you can do.


What in your opinion you think can be done to correct the so called anomaly?

I think the law itself is not good because there are lots of terrible provisions in the law. It is very draconian. Like for instance, this issue of 21 days for filing of petition must be revisited. In 1983, the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo did not just succumb without filing an election petition, but in his words, he said the 30 days limited by the electoral law to file a petition is not enough for me to put up an iron-cast case; to arraign my witnesses and the documents I’m going to use. Those were Awolowo’s words and for that reason, he did not file the petition. People thought he was satisfied with the result, but he said he could not arrange his witnesses within 30 days. That was in 1983 and now, they have even reduced it to 21 days and you are saying it cannot be extended; you are saying election petition cannot be amended once you file. If you are saying that amendment cannot be granted, then you are saying that human beings are perfect. We are not God, it is only God that cannot make mistakes. More so, at that time, you are still asking for the result of the election, the materials and so on. As a matter of fact, there are situations whereby the result given to your agents at the polling booths are different from the one INEC will give out at the end of the day. Though you have gotten your own for a particular unit for instance like 201, but the one INEC may declare may be 300 or 500 votes. So, if you get that one and you have already put 201 in your pleadings, can’t you amend? They will say no, you cannot amend. To me, they can even say that probably after seven days you have put in your petition, you cannot amend, but they will tell you no, you cannot amend after filing. There is also the 180 days for the final decision of the petition which is very welcomed. In the regular court, there is no limit and that’s why we are having the issue of delay. Like in Aregbesola’s case, it took three years and six months to reclaim his mandate in Osun State and Kayode Fayemi took three years and five months to reclaim his mandate in Ekiti. And now, this is somebody who has collected a salary for three and half years without being the proper person.


Are there things you think government should do to correct these identified lapses in election petitions processes?

And another problem with the tribunal is that when they give the order, they don’t usually follow it with caveat that all the monies received should be paid back. It means government has been paying money to a wrong person. They ought to refund the money, but the tribunal has not been making such consequential order and I think such should be the case. And also on the 180 days, I think it is enough to do the case and it is left for you as a petitioner to move ahead of the delay tactics that the defence team might want to play. If the petitioner does not have a tribunal lawyer who knows the in and out of the game, the defence might capitalise on such. It is a different thing that I’ve been called 20 or thirty years ago, no election petition is a separate proceeding that there are experts in it. If you are not an expert, if you dabble into it, you dabble out as we have seen in some election petitions.

Another issue is that under the law, election petition tribunal must be inaugurated two weeks before the election and the registry of the tribunal in every state of the federation shall be opened not more than one week before the election, but in the issue of appeal from those decisions, they will set up another panel of the court of appeal, and normally it is not necessary because for every division, there is a court of appeal. They can easily take it. The appeal can go directly to that division, but they will still want to constitute another panel of the court of appeal. There was an instance in a petition that I represented the defence. We won at the tribunal, the petitioner filed their appeal within time and we also responded within time, but the President of the Appeal Court did not constitute a panel to hear us within time. When they eventually constituted the panel, on the day of hearing, there were 23 appeals and all of them were struck out for being out of time. And all of them filed their briefs within time. The law should be that if you don’t put in your processes within 60 days, then the appeal will lapse, but in a situation whereby you are within time and the panel was not constituted within time, then it should not be used against you. It is unjust for the ineptitude of the bench to be visited on litigants, not even the lawyer now because it is litigants that suffer at the end of the day.

I also think it is wrong for governorship petition to get to the Supreme Court. The simple argument being that others are just two stages and there is no reason why the governorship petition should be extended to three courts. Something must be done on that as well.


President Muhammadu Buhari has been accused of being too slow instead of hitting the ground running ever since coming to power on May 29, 2015. How would you assess his administration so far?

There are two ways to go about it. First of all, those who say the president is slow, I think they are right and they have their reasons and the reasons can be attributed to the fact that there have not been positive things happening in any sector of the economy or the nation at large. I mean those accusing the president of being too slow are saying that nothing is happening whether in the economic sector, social sector, power sector and even the political sector, which is believed to be the worst. But if you look at it on the other way round, you will find out that this is a man who is coming into government at a time when the economy has become completely comatose. The moral aspect of life is almost dead; people’s consciousness of politics is also dying and the awareness of people about their rights is even not there and corruption has taken over every sphere of live to the point that an average Nigerian has been made to believe that you can never thrive without corruption and there is nothing that is done normally in Nigeria. In every normal thing done, you see an element of illegality and this illegality has crept into our consciousness as a people that you cannot find it easy to say that if somebody has come in within 60 days he has not done anything you can rarely blame him or find genuine reason to blame him. But in addition to that, you can say that this non-appointment of ministers or cabinet members is another factor that people can use to justify the criticism. But on the other way round also, if you look at the history, in 1984 when he came in as military Head of State, he took is time before he appointed people and all the appointments he made them remained until he was booted out of office, but that is not to say that this is correct now because this is a democratic setting and again, the patience of Nigerians has been stretch to the elastic limit that people do not want to hear anything, they want magic and when he was campaigning, he also talked as if he was a magician. He said he had done it before; he knew how to do it again and could do it again. Now, the people want him to do it again and he has not done it. But let us keep our fingers crossed and watch him to see what he will do.


Taking a holistic view, how would you describe what has happened in the National Assembly and what is the way out of the leadership crisis rocking the federal legislature?

Basically, the emergence of the leadership of the 8th National Assembly is a coup. You see a kind of desperation on the part of the leadership; I mean, those who emerged. You see a kind of betrayal of people. And legally speaking, as far as I’m concerned, the proclamation of the 8th Assembly was not legally done. Yes, you can argue that the president sent a letter for that to be done, but it must be all of them or at least 2/3 members, but in a situation whereby half of them were present just because you wanted to become the president at all cost, you went ahead in commando style; took over the assembly and proclaim yourself as Senate President is not too good. But in this regard, I will like to blame the President (Buhari) and his party for this. But the president deserved to take the largest percentage of the blame. Yes agreed, the legislature is a different arm of government which is supposed to be independent and according to Mr President, he is not interested in who becomes the president of the senate. But then, you don’t just leave things like that; there must be some qualifying factors or traces to qualify who gets what.

The party came up with zoning arrangement and the point is if you don’t guide against such thing by presenting people who gets what, what we are now seeing is definitely the result. You see, considering the nature of Nigerian politicians that they are selfish and greedy, they will always want to get what favours them and because of this, they can go extra mile just as we have seen in Bukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu. They are pretending to say everything is alright. The APC is trying to say that everything is alright but I tell you, it is a stimulated peace of the graveyard because there is no how it can be alright because the process that produced Saraki is not transparent.