Judicial Application of Election Petition Laws at the 2017 Anambra State Governorship Election Tribunal


The Governorship election in Anambra State was held on 18th November, 2017. Some 37 political parties fielded candidates for the governorship election. At the end of the election, INEC returned the incumbent, Mr. Willie Obiano, as elected having polled the highest number of votes cast at the election. He was closely followed by Mr. Tony Nwoye of the All Progressive Congress (APC).
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declaring the result in Awka on Sunday 19th November, 2017 through the Returning Officer, Prof. Zana Akpagu, said Obiano polled 234, 071 votes to defeat his closest rival, Mr Tony Nwoye of All Progressives Congress (APC), who scored 98, 752 votes.
The Returning Officer, who is the Vice Chancellor of University of Calabar, said the candidate for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Mr Oseloka Obaze, came third with 70,293 votes. INEC further disclosed that the total valid votes cast at the poll were 422,314; after deducting 26,457 rejected votes from the 448,771 total votes cast at the election. The Resident Electoral Commissioner for the state, Dr. Nkwachukwu Orji, commended the people of the state for exhibiting good behaviour, confirming that no lives were lost during the election, and declaring that the election was largely free and fair. However, serious allegations of wide spread buying of votes by some of the parties including APGA belied INEC’s claim that the election was free and fair.

Prior to the governorship election in Anambra State, on the 5th day of November, 2017 or thereabout the President of the Court of Appeal, Honourable Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, in exercise of her Constitutional powers, [1]set up the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal to hear and determine any petitions that might ensue from the outcome of the election.[2] The Election Tribunal was comprised of the following members: Honourable Justice H. A. Olusiyi as Chairman, Honourable Justice A. O. Ayoola as member 1, and Honourable Justice A. Y. Birnin Kudu as member 2.
Expectations were rife that the major contenders at the election and their political parties would immediately challenge the outcome of the election by submitting Petitions at the Registry of the Tribunal in Awka. However, the candidate of the All Progressive Congress, Mr. Tony Nwoye, who came second at the election congratulated the victorious Governor Willie Obiano and openly declared his willingness to concede to the outcome of the election by not challenging same at the Tribunal. 

Similarly, the Chairman of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Ndubuisi Nwobu, declared in a press statement shortly after announcement of the election result by INEC that the party and their candidate, Mr. Oseloka Obaze, would not contest the victory of Governor Willie Obiano at the Tribunal. He revealed that instead, the party would rather give credible opposition to the administration.
According to the Chief Registrar of the Tribunal, Mr. Surajo Ahmed Gusau, Esq., at the end of the 21 days statutory time frame within which to file election Petition, only three Petitions had been filed at the Election Petition Tribunal. The 1st Petition was between African Peoples Party (APP) and Mr. Willie Obiano. Also joined by the Petitioner were the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The Petition was filed on 7th December, 2017 by Mr. Okerie Kingdom as Counsel for the Petitioner. This Petition was numbered EPT/AN/GOV/01/2017 and was predicated on grounds that the election was invalid by reason of corrupt practices and non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act. The Petition further alleged that the 1st Respondent was not duly elected by majority of lawful valid votes cast at the election. The Petition prayed the Tribunal to nullify the election on grounds of substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act or in the alternative, to declare the APP candidate the winner of the election. The APP at the time of filing the Petition through one of its State officials, claimed that it would lead evidence through some United States-based forensic experts led by one Joe Mckenzie, with a retinue of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) to prove their case.[3]
The second Petition was between Praise Okechukwu and her Party, the Mega Progressive Peoples Party (MPPP) against Mr. Willie Obiano. Joined in that Petition are the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The Petition was filed on the 9th day of December, 2017 by Prince Chris Nkem Ekweozoh as Counsel for the Petitioners. The Petition was numbered EPT/AN/GOV/02/2017, and alleged non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2011 (as amended), and that the election was marred by corrupt practices.
The third Petition was between Dr. Paul Chukwudi Obianaso against Mr. Willie Obiano. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was joined as Co-Respondent to the Petition. This Petition was numbered EPT/AN/GOV/03/2017, and alleged that the 1st Respondent was not duly elected by majority of lawful valid votes cast at the election. This Petition alleged that the election was invalid by reason of corrupt practices or non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act.
The Constitution stipulates in section 285 (5) that an election petition must be brought within 21 days from the declaration of the election results. The results of the 2017 Anambra State Governorship election were announced on 19th December, 2017. Therefore Petitions in respect of the election needed to be brought on or before 9th January, 2018. The three petitions that were filed obviously complied with this requirement.
Filing of election Petition at the Tribunal attracted filing fees as assessed by the Registrar and security for costs of N400,000. This high cost of filing election Petition and prosecuting it might have discouraged some potential petitioners, given the large number of candidates that stood for the 2017 governorship election in Anambra State. Candidates, having expended so much during the election campaign were usually in very tight financial circumstances at the stage of election petition, so unless such candidates have huge financial muscles, they would really be discouraged from venturing into the capital intensive project of election Petition.
One of the candidates in the election who also filed an election Petition had cause to write a petition to the National Judicial Council (NJC) complaining among other things that the said N400, 000 demanded from Petitioners as security for cost was asked to be paid into the personal account of the Tribunal’s Registrar, Mr. Surajo Gusau, Esq. and that no receipts were issued for the payment of such huge sum of money.[4]
Access to relevant election materials or documents by candidates in the election for purposes of election petition continued to be a challenge with the Independent National Electoral Commission levying very exorbitant fees for issuance of certified true copies of the election results and other election documents to candidates. Petitioners at the Anambra State election Petition Tribunal had to pay application fees in the range of N1,000,000 to N1,500, 000 to access such documents. The huge financial cost attendant to procuring election materials and documents from INEC for purposes of Election Petition might have contributed in dissuading potential Petitioners from challenging the outcome of the November 18 , 2017 Anambra State governorship election. 
The Section 285 (6) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) requires that an election Tribunal must deliver its judgment in writing within 180 days from the date of filing of the Petition. Effectively, this means that the hearing and determination of an election petition will last no longer than a period of 6 months. In the case of the 2017 Anambra Governorship election, going by the time the petitions were filed, it is expected that this time limit will elapse sometime around early July, 2018. There were delays during the preliminary stages of the Petition process in Anambra due to the inability of members of the Tribunal to all assemble. However, the Tribunal though with the constant absence of its member 2, was eventually able to conclude hearing and delivered judgments in respect of two out of the three Petitions on Tuesday, 5th day of June, 2018 one having been dismissed earlier for want of diligent prosecution by failure to file application for issuance of Pre-Hearing Forms. It is worthy of note that the Anambra Election Petition Tribunal for the 2017 Governorship election did not witness a deluge of witnesses and documentary evidence that normally characterize election petition tribunals. This is also a key factor that facilitated the expedited hearing and determination of the Petitions filed.
It deserves to be pointed out that one of the Petitioners challenging the Election, Dr. Paul Obianaso, actually petitioned to the NJC[5] over what seemed a lethargic activation of proceedings by the Tribunal, and called for the Tribunal to be disbanded and a fresh one constituted.[6] Shortly thereafter, proceedings before the Tribunal commenced in earnest. There is no knowing whether the said complaint sent to NJC facilitated the triggering of the Tribunal. Delay indeed was dangerous in election Petition matters given the abbreviated time lines constitutionally allowed for hearing and determination of Petitions.
[1]  Section 2 (3) of the 6th Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 ( as amended)
[2]  See ‘Appeal Court sets up Election Petition Tribunal for Anambra’ by: Zovoe  Jonathan. Punch Newspaper of 8th November, 2017
[3]  ‘APP Seeks Nullification of Obiano’s Victory’ by Leo Sobechi Guardian Newspaper 18/12/2017
[4]  ‘ADC candidate petitions NJC over non-sitting of Anambra Tribunal’ by: Pamela Eboh - New Telegraph 8/2/2018
[5]  National Judicial Council
[6] ‘ADC candidate petitions NJC over non-sitting of Anambra Tribunal’ by: Pamela Eboh - New Telegraph 8/2/2018

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