By Udora Orizu
The House of Representatives at plenary Wednesday passed for second reading, a Bill which seeks to alter the constitution to stipulate timeline within which to file and determine election petitions and appeals.
The legislation titled: ‘A Bill for an Act to Alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to make further Provisions Relating to the time within which to file and determine Election Petitions and Appeals; and for Related Matters,’ was sponsored by Hon. Olajide Olatubosun.
Leading the debate on the general principles of the Bill, Olatubosun said the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has continued to ravage most countries of the world, unveils the imperative of amending laws to accommodate force majeure in computation of the time where statutes provide time within which certain things are to be done.
He said that it has become obvious that computation time in election petitions should take into account natural occurrences (force majeure) that would render it impracticable to meet the stipulated timelines provided.
The lawmaker made reference to the case of Ngige v. 0bi & Ors (2006), where it took three years for the matter to be determined from commencement at the tribunal to its conclusion at the Court of Appeal.
Delayed cases like the above, according to him, delays justice with adverse effect on governance.
He stressed that if the alteration is not carried out, the country will have a situation where parties to election petitions are punished for a situation they are not responsible for, and that would be most unfair, unjust and immoral in a civilised and democratic society.
Olatubosun said: ”As part of the Covid-19 lockdown, the courts were also shut except for a few criminal cases. The question that agitates our minds is whether parties to election petitions would not be thrown into a state of
helplessness under such circumstances, in the absence of a provision in the constitution reckoning with force majeure in the computation of time.
”The Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized that the various timelines provided in section 285 of the Constitution relating to election petitions are meant to operate as limitation laws so that election matters which are sui generis and time is of essence are not affected by the endemic delays in the prosecution of cases. Ordinarily, where the law prescribes a period within which a matter should be brought, heard, or disposed of, legal proceedings cannot be properly or validly instituted or heard after the expiration of the prescribed period. An action instituted after the expiration of the prescribed period has no legal effect whatsoever, as it has become extinguished by effluxion of time. Furthermore, where the limitation of time is imposed in a statute, unless the statute makes provision for extension of time, expansion or elongation, the courts cannot extend the time.
”Consequently, this seeks to amend section 285 of the Constitution by inserting immediately a new subsection (9) to the effect that where there is a force majeure, whether at national or state level, that prevents filing of petition or sitting of an Election Petition Tribunal or an appellate court, the period of the force majeure shall not be reckoned with in the computation of time under subsections(5), (6) and (7) of the section. This is to prevent the hands of the parties to a petition and the court from being tied in the face of force majeure.”
In a similar vein, the House also adopted two Bills which emanated from the Senate.
They are ‘A Bill for an Act to Provide for Establishment of National Transport Commission as an Independent Multi–Modal Regulator for the Regulated Transport Industry Sector; and for Related Matters (HB.1082); and a Bill for an Act to Repeal the National Health Insurance Scheme Act, Cap. N42, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and Enact the National Health Insurance Authority Bill, 2020; and for Related Matters (HB.1117).”