Debate Arises Among Legal Experts Regarding Timing of Post-Election Cases and Swearing-In of Elected Officials

Some senior lawyers are advocating for post-election cases to be resolved before the inauguration of elected officials to mitigate potential conflicts of interest, particularly involving presiding judges.

However, there are differing opinions on whether the time frame provided by the 1999 Constitution, as amended, is sufficient to address election petitions, irrespective of whether the process concludes before or after the assumption of office.

Section 285 of the 1999 Constitution stipulates that “an election tribunal must deliver its judgment in writing within 180 days from the date of filing the petition.” Furthermore, Section 285 (5-7) specifies that “an election petition must be filed within 21 days after the date of the declaration of the election results. An appeal from a decision of an election tribunal or Court of Appeal in an election matter must be heard and disposed of within 60 days from the date of the tribunal or Court of Appeal’s judgment.”

During the recent presidential election, both the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) and the Supreme Court spent 140 days handling petitions brought by Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP), and the All Peoples Movement (APM). Ultimately, the apex court upheld the victory of the elected candidate, Tinubu, in the February 25th presidential election.

Amid concerns that such judgments in favor of incumbents are often met with suspicion and fears of conflicts of interest, legal experts shared their perspectives on the way forward.

Renowned legal scholar Prof. Awa Kalu, SAN, emphasized the need to conclude electoral disputes before elected officials assume office. He likened politics to a race, suggesting that the winner should only receive the prize after the competition has ended. This, he argued, ensures fairness and avoids complications that may arise if litigation occurs after someone has taken office.

Mr. Kunle Adegoke, SAN, supported the idea of resolving election petitions before swearing-in but noted the need for amendments to the Electoral Act to provide more time for election preparation and litigation. He stressed the importance of free, fair, and transparent elections and commended the 2023 elections for their relative fairness, while acknowledging that no electoral process is perfect.

Senior lawyer Mr. Ebenezer Apata maintained that election petitions should be concluded before swearing-in, as the winning candidate already has an advantage. He argued that none of the candidates should have an undue advantage, emphasizing the importance of amending laws to move forward.

Professor Paul Ananaba, SAN, suggested amending the Electoral Act to address Section 137 and streamline the evidence process. He proposed that all elections should occur by the end of February, with three months allocated for election petitions. The burden of proof should, according to him, fall on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and election petitions should have shorter time frames: six weeks at the tribunal, three weeks at the Court of Appeal, and three weeks at the Supreme Court, concluding before May 26 to ensure a more orderly process.

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