Lagos — In yet another round of dire combustion, the Court of Appeal sitting in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, last week nullified the election of Senator Iyiola Omisore. Omisore, who until his sack, was the Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, represented Osun East senatorial district at the National Assembly.
Unlike the previous cases of election annulments, the dismissal of Omisore as a member of the Senate, did not elicit any jubilation in the polity even among members of the Action Congress (AC), whose candidate, Babajide Omoworare, filed the appeal against Omisore’s victory.
The nullification was described as a dire combustion because keen watchers of the Nigerian situation expressed dismay that election petitions over a senator’s election could run for almost three years, when the entire tenure is almost exhausted.
The situation was viewed to be much more disturbing moreso, that the Justice Clara Ogunbiyi-led panel of justices, ordered a rerun election as against the expected clear-cut judgment in favour of or against the petitioner or the defendant. A critical analysis of the previous cases of rerun, so far ordered by the election petitions tribunals, has revealed further waste of funds by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), while such reruns continue to be fraught with irregularities which culminate in the orders in the first instance.
It is against this background that many viewed a rerun order towards the end of the tenure, as another setback for a country which has been boasting of electoral reform process in the last three years. It was not only the election of Omisore that was annulled. The former Deputy Speaker of the Oyo State House of Assembly, Jelili Adeleke, also had his own share of the rerun judgments. The case of Adeleke was viewed as much more provocative. This is moreso, that a less severe petition, bordering on the exclusion of the Labour Party (LP) logo from the ballot papers used at the April 14, 2007 election which produced Adeleke, could also drag for almost three years. This has resulted in insinuations that the Nigeria’s judicial system requires a total overhaul, if Nigeria’s democracy must grow after all.
However, the crux of the matter, according to analysts, is that rerun elections have been a recycling experience which has failed to produce the desired change expected at the polity. While the victims of election annulments have remained the beneficiaries of the exercise, it has amounted to double tragedies for the petitioners. Double tragedies, because they remain eternal losers.
Apart from the millions of naira they expend to pursue their protracted petitions at tribunals without any reimbursement, they are compelled to spend the little left in their pockets for another reruns, which they still lose in the end. Whereas, the defendants who have taken oaths of office make huge sums of money from the system and hence have no difficulty in prosecuting their cases at tribunals as well as undertaking another rerun.
Omisore and Adeleke will participate in another rerun respectively, which the Appeal Court had ordered the INEC to conduct within 60 days. Even Omoworare, whose petition and appeal culminated in the annulment of Omisore’s election, has already expressed despair on the possible outcome of the election, saying nothing better than the April 21, 2007 election which he contested, may result from the rerun.
Though he commended the justices for their courage to annul Omisore’s election, Omoworare said he had expected his outright declaration since cases of irregularities were identified by the judges. He did not mince words to express pessimism in the rerun.
“We will just keep trying our best. We all know elections are not properly conducted. We all expect electoral reform, which was what the President said when he was sworn in. We have not seen any effort to that effect. Now, are we going to have a free and fair election if this election is done all over again? I can’t answer the question, the people of Nigeria and Ife/Ijesa should answer the question,” the AC candidate said.
The lower tribunal sitting in Osogbo, had upheld the election of Omisore as the lawful winner of the April 21, 2007 poll in Osun East. But dissatisfied with the lower tribunal’s judgment, Omoworare through his counsel, Miss Folasade Aofolaju, filed an appeal at the upper tribunal, insistiing that Omisore was not duly elected as the senator representing the senatorial district.
Omoworare also argued that having been impeached as the Osun State Deputy Governor by the House of Assembly on December 13, 2002, Omisore was not qualified to contest the disputed poll. He also argued that the election was marred by violence, thuggery and intimidation and not done in compliance with the 2006 Electoral Act.
However, the three-man panel of the Appeal Court justices led by Ogunbiyi, upturned the decision of the lower tribunal, noting that there were evidences of “widespread violence, acts of thuggery, electoral malpractices and non-compliance with the electoral laws.” The Appeal Court however, argued that his impeachment as deputy governor did not disqualify him from contesting the election.
“The tribunal judges grievously erred by failing to attune themselves to the word while the tribunal seriously somersaulted in overlooking the absence of signatures of presiding officers on the election result sheets, absence of voting in some polling booths arising from violence and acts of thuggery.
“With the findings of the tribunal, it established that there were thuggery, violence and absence of signatures of officials; one wonders what could be a serious proof. They erred in their majority conclusion. It is of significance that the justices in the lower tribunal were not unanimous in their judgment,” Ogunbiyi submitted.
At any rate, this twin rerun orders have again lent credence to the calls for the implementation of Justice Muhammadu Uwais Committee on Electoral Reforms. Following the inauguration of the Presidential Committee on Electoral Reform by President Umaru Yar’Adua on August 28, 2007, the committee after public hearings held in each of the six geo-political zones of the country, recommended among others, the conclusion of election petitions before the swearing in of the purported winner of any election.
The committee reported that to achieve this, the general election should be held at least six months before the commencement of a new tenure to enable the election petitions tribunals conclude their jobs. But the Federal Government rejected this seeming important recommendation, among others.
This action has provoked anger in the Civil Society Co-ordinating Committee (CSCC) on Electoral Reform, which rejected the decision of the Federal Government, saying only the implementation of the recommendations of the Uwais’ committee, can serve as a benchmark for the conduct of a credible electoral process in the country.
In addition to the ERC recommendation for the conclusion of election petitions within six months, the committee recommended the appointment of the INEC Chairman by the National Judicial Council (NJC); the finance of the electoral body from the federation account, the split of the electoral body into three independent institutions; the introduction of proportional representation into the system as well as independent candidature.
On the constitution of INEC, the ERC recommended that professional and interest bodies such as the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), civil society organizations, women groups among others, would send three nominations to the NJC, which upon examination, would make recommendations to the National Council of State, after which one would be recommended to the Senate for confirmation.
Comrade Emma Ezeazu, Chairman of CSCC insisted during a campaign he led to Kaduna recently, that election should hold six months before a new tenure to enable the election petitions tribunals conclude all litigations arising from general elections before the commencement of another tenure. This he reasoned, would forestall illegal occupation of undeserved offices as well as looting by election riggers.
The last recommendation, whose implementation is of utmost importance to the CSCC, according to Ezeazu, is that the onus of proof in an election at tribunals, should be the responsibility of INEC and not the petitioner.
Therefore, given this recent development, campaign for a total electoral reform has been heightened as the Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reform (CODER), has vowed not to relent in its effort to ensure the implementation of Uwais report.