March 2, 2024

On Understanding the Role of the Nigerian Courts in Adjudicating on Intra-Political Party Disputes [Part 2]

by O.C. Ali

1.0 INTRODUCTION

As a follow up to my earlier introductory publication on this subject, this second aspect of the article briefly points out to major Intra-Political party disputes that forms justiciable pre-election matters in courts and also consider the limitation of time in commencing, hearing and appealing such matters in order not to rob the court of jurisdiction. 

Section 87, of the Electoral Act, , 2010 (as amended)  provides that political parties are required to conduct internal primary elections to nominate candidates who  will be the flag bearers of the  party during the general election. It flows therefrom, that disputes are bound to emanate from issues bordering on qualification, disqualification, nomination, unlawful substitution, and sponsorship of candidates for the main polls. The sensitivity of this pre-election issues arising out of internal conduct of political parties have been remarked to be live issues which must be heard and judgment delivered. (My Lord Rhodes-Vivour JSC,  in APC v. LERE (2020) 1 NWLR (pt 1705) 254 at 279.) 

This pre-election disputes have the ability to continue in court even after the General election and candidates sworn in. It also has the capacity to change the decision of the purported results at the polls as delivered by the Electoral commission and or the verdict of an election tribunal. ( The case of PDP v. Degi-Ereymienyo & Ors. (2020) 1-2 SC (PT.1) is instructive on this: wherein the apex court voided the election of the Bayelsa APC candidate and his deputy in the 2019 election, for perjury). Another striking feature of pre-election matters of this nature is the ability of depriving a political party of the opportunity to field a candidate in running for an election. (…A Reflection on the Supreme Court ruling in May 2019, on all the candidates of the All Progressive Congress (APC) primary election in Zamfara State in the 2019 Elections. The Court ruled that the party did not conduct a valid primaries in the build up to the general elections, and also held that a party that had no valid candidate cannot be said to have emerged winner of the general election.)

2.0 PRE-ELECTION MATTERS EMANATING OUT OF INTRA- POLITICAL DISPUTES

The following activities of a political party results into justiciable pre-election matters, to wit:

1. Nomination of candidates 

2. Double nomination of a candidate

3. Complaints about the conduct of primaries

    However, for your knowledge other disputes which qualifie as pre-election matters are:

1. Wrongful substitution of a successful candidate’s name by the Electoral body,

2. Wrongful omission of a successful candidate’s name on the register

3. False declaration of Oath about particulars of a candidate.

See Modibo v. Usaman (2020) 3 NWLR (pt. 1712) 470 at 500-515; PDP v. Degi-Ereymienyo & Ors. (2020) 1-2 SC (PT.1)

The Constitutional provisions of Section 285 (14) (a) of the 1999 Constitution is very instructive on the nature of Pre-election matters particularly targeted at the internal conducts of political parties. 

 Paragraph (a): which deals with the complaint by an aspirant (targeted at his political party), that there has been failure to comply with the Electoral Act, party constitution or party guidelines in the conduct of the party’s primary election in respect of selection and nomination of candidates for the said primary election.

The aforesaid provision simply deals with a suit envisaged under Section 87(9) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) which can be commenced at the Federal High Court, State High Court and High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Thus, where a political party conducts its primaries and an aggrieved aspirant at the primaries complains about the conduct of the primaries, in respect of selection and nomination of candidates for the election, the Courts by virtue of Sections 285(14) (a) and 87(9) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) has the requisite jurisdiction to determine whether the party complied with its’ own constitution and party guidelines during the said primaries. This is chiefly to ensure that the administration and operations of political parties are not laced with irregularities and the African political syndrome of ‘godfatherism’. Hence, our court has held that in the conduct of political party primaries, it will never allow a political party to act arbitrarily or as it likes. A party must obey its own constitution. See UZODINMA v IZUNASO (NO.2) (2011) 17 NWLR (PT. 1275) 30, A.P.C v LERE (supra).

3.0 CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISION ON LIMITATION OF TIME FOR COMMENCEMENT OF PRE-ELECTION MATTERS IN COURT

Understanding the limitation of time for the commencement of a suit is essential as it goes to the jurisdiction of the court in entertaining same. It is pertinent to note that the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, (as amended) provides for limitation of time for the commencement of pre-election matters under section 285 (9) thereof. It provides thus:

“9) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Constitution any pre-election matter shall be filed not later than 14 days from the date of the occurrence of the event, decision or action complained in the suit.”

It is germane that the application of the above Constitutional provision has resulted in the dismissal or striking out of some cases in court for being statute barred, (even though there is a reasonable, genuine and compassionate cause of action), where the matters are filed outside the prescribed time limit of 14 days. The Apex court has settled this strict provision of the constitution in an avalenche of cases. ( kindly refer to GARBA v A.P.C (2020) 2 NWLR (PT.1708) 345 at 360.)

Therefore, because of the sensitivity of pre-election matters, it is fundamental that if redress must be sought in court, pre-election matters must be filed within 14 days of the accrual of the cause of action, otherwise no matter how compelling, cogent, convincing or compassionate the case of the litigant is, the matter will be statute barred and struck out or dismissed by the Court.

The constitution equally makes provision on limitation of time for hearing and determination of Pre-election matters, hence making its proceedings time bound. 

There is a Constitutional provision for the time within which to hear and determine a pre-election matter. This is because in election related matters, time is of the essence. Section 285 (10) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, (as amended) stipulates thus:

“A court in every pre-election matter shall deliver its judgment in writing within 180 days from the date of filing of the suit”

The importance of this provision cannot be overemphasised as cases (even though compelling) have also been struck out or dismissed by the appellate courts as the case was heard and determined outside the prescribed time limit of 180 days. (Kindly see USMAN ABUBAKAR TUGGAR v ADAMU MUHAMMAD BULICA CHUWA & ORS (2019) LPELR 47883)

For appeals steaming out of pre-election matters, there are also Constitutional provisions on the limitation of time for commencement, hearing and determination of same. Section 285(11) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, (as amended) provides:

“An appeal from a decision in a pre-election matter shall be filed within 14 days from the date of delivery of the judgment appealed against.”

Similarly, the provision of Section 285 (12) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, (as amended) provides:

“An appeal from a decision of a court in a pre-election matter shall be heard and disposed of within 60 days from the date of filing of the appeal”

The foregoing constitutional provisions, regulates the  limitation of time regarding commencement, hearing and determination of appeals in Pre-election matters.

Consequentially, pre-election matters have been struck out by the appellate courts on the ground that the appeal was not been brought within the stipulated period of 14 days or was not heard and determined within 60 days.  see TOYIN v MUSA (2019) 9 NWLR (PT 1676) 22

4.0 CONCLUDING REMARKS

In view of the foregoing, it is crystal clear that intra-party disputes forms a major part of pre-election matters in Nigerian courts, and pre-election matters being sui-generis by its nature occupy a sensitive and significant position in the Nigerian electoral jurisprudence. The successful determination of pre-election matters as highlighted in this article is totally dependent on the compliance with the provision of the laws and guidelines regulating the determination of matters of this nature. 

 Hence, possessing an indept knowledge of the concept of intra-party disputes, pre-election matters and the mode and procedure for the successful resolution of same is eminent, hence this piece for our general knowledge and to promote an electoral process centered on law, justice and fairness. 

 O.C. Ali, Esq. is an Abuja based legal practitioner with experience in Dispute Resolution & Corporate Legal Advisory. He is a Partner at MCALI LEGAL CONSULT, LP.

mcalilegal@gmail.com 

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