Members of the Penpushing Media an online and WhatsApp group news platform devoted to publication and analysis of authentic news items already circulated by credible media, held a discussion session between July 26 and 27, 2020 on the need for timely determination or resolution of election petition matters, even up to the highest court prescribed by the law before an elected official takes the oath of office and officially inaugurated to resume duties.
It is believed that the determination of such election petitions before the swearing in date will avert the use of government funds by elected officials to prosecute court cases challenging their elections.
It will also prevent the distraction that such litigations pose to elected officials while also stopping the practice in which a person not qualified to be in an office in the eye of the law continues to earn salary, take far reaching decisions in the course of governance and use government funds for some time before the courts will eventually pronounce that he be removed.
In this case, the fund he has earned or utilized during the period he was illegally occupying the office become a waste and decisions taken could become questionable.
Members of the platform after an extensive debate on the instability and waste that the unnecessary elongation of election petition matters pose to the nation’s political system therefore resolved and suggested as follows:
* That the 9th National Assembly should without further delay dust up the Electoral Act 2010 (Amendment) Bill passed into law by the preceding Assembly and immediately review the provisions with a view to putting in place a law that will comprehensively reform the electoral process and ensure the nation has credible, free and fair elections, at all times.
* That the passage of the Electoral Act 2010 (Amendment) Bill should be done not later than the end of this year and forwarded to the President for his assent so as to avoid a situation where the law becomes mired in partisan controversies if passed too close to the 2023 general elections as it happened with the last exercise undertaken by the 8th National Assembly.
* In the Amendment of the Electoral Act, the National Assembly should examine or interrogate the existing laws, constitutional provisions and judicial convention with a view to arrive at what is legally permissible in setting strict guidelines and deadline for the conclusion of election petition matters at different levels of the court.
*That President Muhammadu Buhari should take it as a priority the need to bequeath to the nation an electoral law that will ensure credible electoral process as he prepares to leave office in 2023. Therefore, the Presidency should co-operate with the National Assembly to ensure the passage of a workable and effective amended Electoral Act which will be signed into law as a first step in the preparation for the 2023 polls.
*That political parties should improve on the internal process of selecting their candidates so as to avoid clogging the political and judicial process with pre-election matters, even after elections must have been concluded.
* That security agencies should help in furnishing reports to political parties on the background of candidates and fact-check on the qualifications they claim to possess so that the issue of forged, fake or false qualifications presented by candidates will cease to be a major ground for the successful challenge of the election of many office holders and thus disrupt the electoral process.
*That there should be stiff penalties stipulated for personnel of security agencies who collaborate, aid, passively or actively act in support of any action through which the electoral process is undermined, sabotaged or corrupted.
* That political parties should canvass the need for sincerity on the part of aspirants to various political offices as regards submission of credible, relevant and genuine certificates and other educational qualifications. After all, the minimum certificate required for elective office as at today is still the West African School Certificate and its equivalents and the electability of a candidate is not determined by the number or type of his certificates.
* That the National Assembly in its on-going plan to further amends the 1999 Constitution should consider setting up constitutional courts as part of the judicial architecture. One of the exclusive responsibilities of this court would be to serve as a court of first instance in election petition matters while the Supreme Court then serve as the second and final court on such cases.
* That the Supreme Court should at all times be constituted to have its full strength of “not exceeding 21 judges” as prescribed by Section 230 (2) (b) of the constitution. This will enable the court to have several panels sitting coterminously on different election matters. It is believed that this can also contribute to timely determination of the various cases before the inauguration of the elected officials.
*That the government should commence a public enlightenment campaign for all Nigerians to see it as a civic, patriotic and obligatory duty the need for the country to have a peaceful, credible, free and fair electoral process.
Members of the Penpushing platform believe that the above resolutions are not absolute but should contribute to stirring the debate towards having a credible electoral process in Nigeria, curbing abuse of office and misuse of public funds as the nation prepares for the next set of elections.