My legal Opinion on the Judgement of the Honourable Justice of the Federal High Court Kano State Division on the Provisions of Section 77(3) of the Electoral Act 2022
Following the reactions sorrounding the recent judgement delivered by the Honourable Justice of the Federal High Court Kano State Division wherein the Honourable Court invalidated the Candidature of all the Labour Party Candidates in Kano and Abia State. Many Legal Experts and even non legal Practitioners on their own has tried to give legal interpretations and opinions to it some from their own understanding of the interpretation of the law and some from a baised political mind.
But however it may be looked at, laws are not meant to be interpreted with emotions, an attempt to do so may mislead the person involved and push him into illegalities or fruitless ventures.
For the purpose of this article and the general public, I want to give my own analysis and legal opinion based on what I understand and issues of laws that was raised by such judgement and subsequent legal opinions given by the legal experts and other strata of the society.
I will like to first of all examine the opinions already raised by some legal analysts either which are for or against the judgement and the present circumstance at hand. While some opine that it is a pre-election matter and ought to have been raised 14 days after the nomination of the candidates as provided in Sect. 285(9) of the Constitution if the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as failure to bring the matter in record time has caught the matter by limitation of time. They also argued that even if it is true as alleged that Labour Party did not submit it’s Membership Register to INEC that there is no penalty stipulated for such breach of the law. On the other hand, some where of the opinion that the Honourable Court was right to give it’s judgment since is only bothered on interpretation of the sections of the Electoral Act as it relates to Sect. 77(3), that it is within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court to do so.
Sect. 285(9) states as follows: “notwithstanding anything contrary to this constitution, every pre-election matter shall be filed not later than 14 days from the date of the occurrence of the event, decision or action complained of in the suit.”
The question now is that under this contest whether the matter before the Federal High Court Kano State should be brought under the purview of pre-election matter or not.
Sect. 285 (14) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 defines pre-election matter thus:
“Pre-election matter means Any suit by-
“By an Aspirant who complains that any of the provisions of the Electoral Act or any Act of the National Assembly regulating the conduct of Primaries of Political Parties and the provisions of the guidelines of Political Party for conduct of Party primaries has not been complied with by a political party in respect of the selection of Candidates for an election.”
“An Aspirant challenging the actions, decisions or activities of the INEC in respect of his participation in an election or who complains that the provisions regulating elections in Nigeria has not been complied with by the INEC in respect of the selection of Candidates and participation in an election.”
“A political party challenging the actions, decisions or activities of the INEC disqualifying its Candidate from participating in an election or a complaint that the provisions of the electoral Act or any other applicable law has not been complied with by INEC in respect of the nomination of Candidate of political parties for an election time-table for an election, registration of voters and other activities of the Commission in respect of preparation for an election.”
Going by the definition of “pre-election matter” it is very clear that it is only Aspirants and political parties involved can institute a pre-election suit in court. It is also clear that it is only the said suit by the Aspirants and political parties in court that is known as pre-election matter and can be caught up with what the law termed 14 days limitation. The Plaintiff in the matter before the Federal High Court Kano State Division was not an Aspirant to any election nor a Political Party as described in Sect. 285(14) ass result of that, the matter cannot come under the purview of pre-election matter and it thereby take the matter away from 14 days time limitation, this is because the Plaintiff was neither an Aspirant or a Political Party as defined by sect. 285(14) of the Constitution.
In my own view, the issue before the Honourable Justice of the Federal High Court Kano State Division was purely interpretation of the sections of the Electoral Act as it relates to Sect. 77(3), which is clearly within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court and the Plaintiff also has the locus standi to bring the suit with no limitation of time as any body has locus standi to approach the court for the interpretation of any section of the law.
Sec. 77 of the Electoral Act provides thus:
“A political party registered under this Act shall be a body corporate with perpetual succession and a common seal and may sue and be sued in its corporate name.”
“Every registered political party shall maintain a register of its members in both hard and soft copy.”
“Each political party shall make such register available to the Commission not later than 30 days before the date fixed for the party primaries, congresses or convention.”
The use of the word “Shall” in subsect. (3) makes it mandatory for all political parties to submit their Membership Register to INEC 30 days before conduct of its Primaries or Party Conventions and also as a condition precedent for the conduct of such activities. If by the foregoing as alleged that Labour Party did not submit their Membership Register, it all means that the case of the Labour Party and it’s Candidates in the eye of the law is irredeemable and incurably bad. By the provisions of the Electoral Act, the process of conduct of Primaries of a political party is done in stages and all the stages ought to be mandatorily complied with by political parties inorder to select a qualified Candidate for the party in the particular election.
The stages akin to party primaries as provided in the electoral Act starts from:
sect. 77(3) which is submission of Membership Register of the party 30 days before the Primaries.
21 days notice to INEC for the conduct of Primaries or Convention (sect. 82(1)).
INEC monitoring the Primaries or Convention (sect. 84(1)) during the time of conduct.
All the aforementioned stages are meant for political parties to comply with according to the Electoral Act and are condition precedent to the conduct of their primaries.
Based on the alleged breach of sect. 77(3), some legal opinions has posited that such breach cannot amount to the disqualification of the Candidate in the election since no punishment was stipulated for it according to them. But however in opposition to such arguments, the Electoral Act in it’s provisions made it very clear on the penalty or consequences for any breach under such circumstance.
On that note I will draw our attention to sect. 84(13) of the electoral Act, juxtapose it with the provisions of sect. 77(3). The electoral Act stipulates clearly the consequences for the non compliance of the provisions of the Act. For the benefits of the readers,
Sect. 84(13) provides thus:
“Where a political party fails to comply with the provisions of this Act in the conduct of it’s primaries, it’s Candidate for the election shall not be included in the election for the particular position in issue.”
Going by this provision of the electoral Act, the alleged non-submission of Labour Party’s Membership Register before conduct of it’s Primaries if actually proven to be true, amounts to non compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act.
In conclusion, the implication of the judgement of the Federal High Court Kano State Division is more to the mere interpretation that has been given to it based on emotions and sentiments. The purports of the judgement and the provisions of the Electoral Act is going to spring up a political surprise that will shock everybody in the State both the political class and the general masses. The judgement was in order and the Learned jurist did not Err in law in taking its decision.
HON./BARR. KEVIN .C IRUKE (JP)