The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has expressed worry about the spate of forum shopping from one court to the other by politicians ahead of elections, saying the situation poses a serious threat to the 2023 general election.
National commissioner and chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee of the electoral umpire, Festus Okoye, who said this yesterday while speaking on LEADERSHIP Podcast’s live show, ‘Inside Nigeria’, decried the situation whereby politicians tend to abuse the geographical jurisdiction of a court.
The nation’s electoral body however called on the leadership of the judiciary to intervene to halt the practices, even as he noted that such interventions would bring sanity to the judiciary.
Forum shopping is a colloquial term for the practice of litigants moving from one court to the other in a bid to have their case heard in the court thought most likely to provide a favourable judgment.
Okoye who also called on the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to intervene said, “We now have a recurrent situation where people tend to abuse the geographical jurisdiction of the court by going to a court that it does not have jurisdiction over. So this is the challenge we are facing as a commission. Candidates are now engaging in forum shopping.
“Our colleagues in the law profession are the ones advising politicians on what to do and bringing the judiciary to disrepute. We cannot carry this into the 2023 general election. If we continue with what is going on in the Anambra election into the 2023 elections it will be very disastrous for our democracy, and it can lead to a situation where there may be a breakdown of law in many states of the federation, if not all”.
Okoye said the people should be determinants of the electoral process and not the court, noting however that the court does not activate itself.
“If people don’t go to them they don’t go to the people either. So, it is when people activate them that is when they help to settle a dispute,” he added.
The INEC commissioner pointed out that when there is a different issue before the court other than pre-election matters it creates its own challenges.
“The jurisdiction of the court is clearly set out. I believe that the judiciary is the guidance of our democracy. We will get empowered in a situation where only those who win elections through the ballot get into office.
“Once in a while, we have a situation where our members go overboard and give the impression that the power to get into political office is now with the judiciary,” he noted.
On electronic voting, he said the commission has been test-running different solutions in respect of the transmission of results, adding that INEC is confident that it has the capacity and will to transmit results electronically.
He said for a few areas where there are blind-spot issues, the commission is consulting with service providers and they have assured that it was something that could be easily dealt with.
He stated: “People are also afraid that the commission will create a portal where all results will be warehouse. The fact is our election is on a step-by-step basis where it goes to the Area Collation Centre, the to the Local Government Collation Centre, and if it is a State Assembly then the returning officer will collate and make a return. If it is a Senatorial election it moves to the senatorial district where the senatorial district returning officers will collate and make a return.
“So, if our people understand the trajectory then that gap between the polling unit and the first level of collation is bridged because that is where all the malpractice and challenges take place. We want to make sure that the vote of the people counts.’’
He added that the commission does not want to disenfranchise any Nigerian no matter their location, adding that INEC wants the vote of the people to decide who gets elected.
Speaking further, he said the National Assembly has two chambers, the National Assembly and the Senate, adding that the Senate passes a different version of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill and the House of Representatives passes another version.
He said each house would nominate its members and then proceed to the conference committee where they will harmonize the Bill.
“It is after the harmonisation that it will be passed to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for his assent. For now, the extant law remains the Electoral Act 2010 as amended,’’ he added.
On the Anambra election slated for November 6, he said the commission released the list of candidates based on changes from the party on candidates that joined the race recently and also Court Orders.
On why PDP’s space is vacant in the list, he said the political party released the name of Valentine Ozigbo and there was a court order that PDP as a party should submit the name of a different individual to the commission as the candidate of the party.
“However, the Court of Appeal also gave an order of accelerated hearing on the matter involving the PDP and gave order that the commission should not publish the name of any candidate pending the hearing of the appeal in the Court of Appeal.
“So, there is the possibility that by the time we are publishing the final list of candidates for Anambra election that the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court would have resolved the PDP challenges but, if it is not, we will just leave the space of PDP as a political party on the ballot empty without the name of the candidates then if it is resolved we will add the name,” he explained.
On the crisis in the build-up to the Anambra election, he said there was nothing wrong for a person or political parties to approach a court of law for judicial interpretation or judicial resolution of a particular matter.
He said that is the hallmark of the democratic system rather than individuals taking the laws into their hands while inflating their grievances.
Okoye continued: “Secondly, political parties have both constitutional and legal existence. The law allows them to have an internal mechanism to resolve their dispute.
“But when a political party wants to cut corners, or its members want to take laws into their own hands, they run into this type of logjam that they have.
“The section 87 of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended requires parties to conduct free, fair and credible party primaries and submit only the names of the candidate that gets the highest vote as the candidate of the party. But if a party refuses to conduct free and fair party primaries then it runs into this type of challenge.”