Legal Experts Proffer Solutions to Electoral Challenges at NBA-SLP Conference
The One Day Conference of Section on Legal Practice, put together by the NBA’s Committee on Democratic Process and Electoral Litigation has as its theme: “The Role of Litigation in the 2019 Nigerian Electoral Process” is indeed very timely as we approach the general elections in 2019.
“Elections are the hallmarks of democracy; they also serve the purpose of peaceful change in government and confer political legitimacy on the government.”
Viewed from this prism, elections represent the expression of the sovereign will of the people.
“However, the conduct of elections in a plural society like Nigeria is often fraught with animosities and violence. Failing is the process to satisfy the test of popular participation and legitimacy.”
Electoral seasons more than anytime else reveals the fragility and soft underbelly of the Nigerian state.
The country’s electoral history is replete with narratives of flawed and disputed elections that have turned violent, resulting in numerous fatalities and reversing previous attempts at democratic consolidation
Delegates rose from the final session of the NBA’s Section on Legal Practice in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, in unanimous agreement that electoral reforms and offences, along with post-election violence, should be handled without partisan bias Stakeholders are advised to work together in order to make the Nigeria’s Electoral Process transparent in the coming general elections and for democracy to be further entrenched in the country.
Immediately after the early registration and the arrivals of the chief host, the Executive governor of Rivers state, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, and the Special Guest of honour, his Ondo state counterpart, Chief Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), speakers and delegates settled for the business of the day.
Welcoming delegates and speakers to the conference Miannaya Essien (SAN), welcomed everyone to the conference venue, the NBA Port Harcourt House. Mrs. Essien thanked the governor of Rivers State for his first hand encouragement, endorsement and his strong support to the legal profession and the judiciary in so many visible ways.
In his welcome remarks, the Chairman of the Democratic Process and Electoral Litigation Committee, Chief Ferdinand Oshioke Orbih (SAN) also appreciated all delegates and advised them to make the best of the conference to learn more from stakeholders and election matter professionals as we approach the 2019 polls.
The General Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Jonathan Taidi, who represented the President of the Bar, Paul Usoro (SAN), said, the time had come for the NBA to go for monitoring elections decisions and electoral proceedings.
Taidi said, the NBA disciplinary committee would sanction any lawyer who aided politicians in election cases to disrupt or to make caricature of the Nigerian Electoral Process.
Thereafter, there were goodwill messages from the Chairman, NBA Port Harcourt Branch, Sylvester Adaka; the Attorney-General of Rivers State, Dr. Zaccheaus Adangor; the Chief Judges of Rivers and Bayelsa States, Hon. Justice Adama Iyayi-Lamikanra and Hon. Justice Kate Abiri (CON) with words of encouragement and commendations from them all as they express gratitude.
While declaring the conference opened, the Rivers State governor Chief Nyesom Ezenwo Wike (CON), in his keynote address, said, “The 2019 presidential elections in Nigeria will be the country’s sixth since 1999, when it shifted to democracy after a long period of military rule. Most of these elections have been tarnished by acts of violence – including attacks on politicians – and vote rigging often influences the results.
Wike said, “With the 2019 elections less than three months away, Nigeria’s ability to hold free and fair elections is open to question. He prayed for elections that would not be characterized by needless litigations.”
The Rivers State governor said he believed Nigeria electoral process can be made credible to dissuade politicians from vote buying, imposition of candidates and militarisation of the elections.
The conference was chaired by the Presiding Judge of the Federal Court of Appeal in Rivers State, Honourable Justice Alli Gumel who represented the President, Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice Zainab Adamu Bulkachuwa.
NEWSWIRE’s correspondent in Port Harcourt reports that, the first session, which was the Showcase Session with the sub-title – “INEC, Judiciary Interventions and the Cumulonimbus of Nigeria’s Elections: Bringing 2019 under the Radar,” has the governor of Ondo State, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association and a Life Bencher as a discussant and was moderated by Mr. Emmanuel C. Ukala (SAN). Other discussants are the Attorney-General of Rivers State, Dr. Zaccheaus Adangor and INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Mr. Festus Okoye.
Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN shared his experience as a leading counsel in several electoral matters to defend security reasons usually adduced by election tribunals for moving court sittings from proximate jurisdiction to a secured place.
Arakunrin Akeredolu expressed disatisfaction at the conduct of some lawyers who often aided litigants to mislead courts to give conflicting judgements on the same matter.
On the roles of the INEC during the primaries of political parties, Akeredolu said, the electoral body should be more constitutionally involved to end the current practice of being a mere observer.
He believed the current role of the INEC was prone to abuses and as such should be more constitutionally defined to checkmate manipulations by party officials.
He added that an aspirant who obtained a nomination form from his party should be dully recognized as a participant in an election so that he would have the legal standing to approach the court for adjudication should his party disqualified him.
Gov. Akeredolu however disagreed with a claim that all elections in Nigeria would end up in litigations said, his election as governor of Ondo State did not generate any litigation despite the fact that his co-contestants were top rated lawyers two whom are Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
INEC’s National Commissioner, Mr. Festus Okoye, who represented the chairman of the electoral umpire, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, appealed to the political class and the electorate to work together with the electoral body at making votes count for the purpose of enhancing the sanctity of the ballot box thereby deepening the tenets of democracy in Nigeria.
Okoye reiterated that the electoral commission is irrevocably committed to the rule of law and due process and has consistently maintained that it would obey the orders of properly constituted courts of law.
The second session sub-title: Burden of Proof in Election Petitions: – Need for Reforms? So many questions were asked by delegates and stakeholders which many think may be a deciding factor as the country gets set for the 2019 elections.
Chaired by Chief O.C.J. Okocha (SAN), the session has as discussants, Hon. Justice Peter Afen, Chief Charles Uwensuyi-Edosomwan (SAN) and one of the youngest Senior Advocates of Nigeria at this year’s conference, Kehinde Ogunwumiju. A paper presentation by Mallam Yusuf Ali (SAN) elicited many unanswered questions for INEC.
Mallam Ali added that the electoral problem is compounded by lawyers and advised that the NBA should constitute a disciplinary committee to deal with/interrogate any legal practitioner who bend on the sides of injustice in the forthcoming 2019 polls
He called on all security agencies especially the police to do their work in a thorough professional manner and also the government should ensure that security agencies are adequately equipped and morally boosted to contain ongoing violence, safeguard lives and property as well as ensure free and fair elections devoid of violence across the country.
“The problem with Nigeria’s elections have historically been with the collation and counting, not the voting. We insist that Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), security agencies, the candidates, their parties, the citizens and partners must put this right, they should accept their candidates loss in good faith,” Ali emphasized.
NEWSWIRE’s correspondent reports that the third and final session with the sub-title: ‘Key Issues and Challenges Election Petition Tribunals in Nigeria’, chaired by another former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Chief Okey Wali, SAN, DSSRS, is of the summation that problem of electoral reform in Nigeria is a problem of the bar and the bench. Chief Wali said, election petitions are ‘sui generis’, which means “they are kind of their own type of law”. Things that happen there may never happen in an ordinary case.
The former NBA President said it is worrisome to read about order and counter order written by lawyers. He said Nigerian lawyers must recognize their importance in the sustenance of our democracy.
Discussants at this session were Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN; Chief Mrs. Victoria Awomolo, SAN, and Oluwole Osaze Uzzi.
Donald C. Denwigwe, SAN made his paper presentation which throw questions wide open to delegates to deliberate upon.
A discussant, Oluwole Osaze Uzzi on Card Reader machine for election, said the data generated by it on the day of election and stored in INEC server should essentially be the needed output for litigation and not necessarily the machines used on Election Day.
Chief Awomolo said, procurement of ballot papers and sensitive materials requires careful planning and preparation and unless some of the contentious and conflicting orders are resolved by the judiciary, planning with certainty will be very problematic,” she expressed.
The organizing committee honoured distinguished speakers and stakeholders for their immense contributions to the progress of electoral reform and administration of justice system in the country.
In his expression of appreciation, a member of the Section on Legal Practice, Mr. Ayodele Akintunde (SAN), expressed the NBA-SLP’s and conference planning committee’s gratitude to the government and people of Rivers State for their support for this year’s conference. He also expressed pride in the manner in which the state has acquitted itself, and expressed the hope that Rivers state would continue to host Nigerian lawyers in the nearest future.
He wished all the delegates a safe journey back to their respective destinations.
The 2018 NBA SLP Conference came to a memorable end immediately after the vote of thanks was given against the backdrop of fine wine, good food and networking among delegates.
See photos below:
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