Zainab Bulkachuwa
President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa
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Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
Worried about conflicting judgments emanating from courts on election-related matters and the implication for the stability of democracy, the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, will organise a national conference where stakeholders will meet to iron out all outstanding issues.

Titled: ‘Election Petition Tribunals and Appeals: An Overview’, the conference is aimed at finding a lasting solution to conflicting judgments emanating from the various divisions of the Court of Appeal. It is being supported by Ifex.

THISDAY learnt that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) whose work is being allegedly stifled by these conflicting judgments would participate in the conference.

The commission’s Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, is expected to lead a high-powered delegation to the forum which would take place at the Ceremonial Court Room of the Court of Appeal in Abuja on March16 and 17.

Insiders at INEC told THISDAY that the commission found frustrating the role played by the judiciary with respect to various conflicting court pronouncements on elections, especially the National Assembly election in Anambra State.

“The courts have turned out to be worse than the politicians. Except the judiciary put its house in order, it will end up being blamed for the chaos taking place in Anambra State,” a source at INEC said.

Not even the Supreme Court is blameless in the state debacle in view of its judgment that declared Ejike Oguebego-led executive of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the authentic executive in the state.

Critics faulted the judgment, saying that it failed to take cognizance of the orders made by a judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Evos Chukwu, which were later overturned by the Court of Appeal. Had the apex court appraised all the issues raised in the originating summons that resulted in the appeal, it would have delivered a better judgment.

As it is, the Supreme Court judgment decided nothing, and that has further compounded the problem in Anambra State as well as opened up a gateway for another round of litigation. One of such new cases is the one filed by members of the National Assembly from state at the Federal High Court in Abuja to stop INEC from withdrawing their certificates of return.

In another desperate move resulting from the ambiguity in the Supreme Court’s judgment, the Oguebego leadership had also written to INEC chairman requesting him to issue certificates of return to all the candidates, including Chief Chris Uba, whose names were forwarded to it for different political offices in the state before the last election held.
As a result of the seeming judicial confusion, INEC has had to postpone indefinitely the rerun election for Anambra Central Senatorial zone scheduled for March 5.

While the commission is still battling to make sense of many courts orders on the Anambra State issue, some aggrieved parties had initiated a contempt proceeding at the Federal High Court seeking to send the chairman to jail for alleged disobedience of court orders.

Before postponing the state election, INEC had pondered over several courts’ judgments and decided who would participate in the rerun elections it planned to hold in some other states.
An insider said coming out with the rerun timetable was a nightmare as the commission had to decide the implication of some of the courts’ judgments.

Politicians and lawyers had expressed concern at the rate at which the various divisions of the Court of Appeal were churning out conflicting judgments.

In December last year, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, expressed concerns over conflicting judgments emanating from the Court of Appeal.

Addressing justices of the Court of Appeal in Abuja at the annual conference of the Court of Appeal, Justice Mohammed said: “As the guardians of the law, we must not only be just but also convey certainty in our justness.
“My Lords, it reminds us that the overriding objective of every legal system in the world is to do justice. However, this cannot be achieved where there is confusion as to the state of the law as pronounced by the court,” the CJN stated.
He told the justices that they were not allowed to continue to shift the goal posts when the game was on.

While advising them to adhere to certainty and stop creating confusion, Justice Mohammed said: “As your lordships will agree, where an aggrieved person perceives, whether rightly or wrongly, that they will not receive justice, such a situation can indeed bode ill for the community in which he lives and can lead to acrimony and anarchy.

“We must not ignore the negative perception that is occasioned by conflicting judgments delivered at various divisions of the Court of Appeal. Such judicial contradictions only result in untold hardships to litigants in their quest for justice. They further cast your lordships in an unfavourable light and leave the judiciary at the mercy of innuendos, crass publications and editorials.”