The general elections have come and gone with so many observations on diverse areas of our electoral jurisprudence. One of the most asked questions, and indeed – settled law, is why a candidate/political party cannot prey on the internal affairs of another. Strictly speaking, the Supreme Court has been firm on this position in its ruling and judgments, however, this has not been the case for the intermediate Court. The sack of many lawmakers across states and party lines by the intermediate Court is not unconnected with issues bordering on the internal affairs of political parties. Happily, the apex Court, while delivering its judgement in the Plateau State gubernatorial election petitions, frowned at the intermediate Court, for meddling in the internal affairs of political parties. This vista, examines the sack of lawmakers in Plateau State, same having caused a judicial uproar as a result of the reactions of the apex Court. The vista also seeks to address the growing concerns on the fate of the sacked lawmakers – majorly on whether there is any remedy, or if the lawmakers be made to lick their wounds forever. The salient concern, on whether or not the Supreme Court should serve as a final Court in election petitions of members of the National Assembly and the State Houses of Assembly, or whether the Court of Appeal can readily review its judgement is also sacrosanct.
Keywords: Sack, Lawmakers, Election Petition, Political Party, Jurisprudence, Nigeria.
As a nation, we practice constitutional democracy, in other words, all affairs of government, and its agent’s acts/omissions, must be in line with laid down rules, and practices of the polity. The 2023 election petitions, enthroned another landmark era worthy of future references in our electoral jurisprudence. The outcomes of the petitions came with the unwavering and deliberate development of our laws. However, spates of lawmakers sacked by the intermediate Court have become a topical issue considering the remarks of the learned Justices of the Supreme Court. While our concern spreads across states where several lawmakers were victims of the decisions of the intermediate court, our major focus is on the Plateau State Elections Appeal Panel, and the same would be discussed as a yardstick for other states.
PRE-ELECTIONS MATTERS: THE LEX LATA
The law has long been settled on the meaning of Pre-election matters. Pre-election matters refer squarely to all acts or events that predate the conduct of an election—for example, issues relating to nomination, sponsorship, congresses, etc. The parameter to determine which cause of action falls under pre-election matters can be carefully gleaned from the provisions of sections 285(14) (a -c), of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as altered, 29(5) and 84(14) of the Electoral Act, 2022.
Without much ado, My Lord, Justice Inyang Okoro, JSC, in SULAIMAN & ORS v. APC & ORS (2022) LPELR-58846(SC), had this to say about pre-election matters:
“Now, the appropriate place to start would be to refer to the meaning of “pre-election matter” as provided for under Section 285(14) (a)-(c) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) which said section became a part of the Constitution sequel to the fourth alteration of 17th June 2018. That section provides as follows:- “14 For the purpose of this section, “pre-election matter” means any suit by – (a) 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 a political party for the conduct of party primaries has not been complied with by a political party in respect of the selection or nomination of candidates for an election; (b) an aspirant challenging the actions, decisions or activities of the Independent National Electoral Commission in respect of his participation in an election or who complains that the provisions of the Electoral Act or any Act of the National Assembly regulating elections in Nigeria has not been complied with by the Independent National Electoral Commission in respect of the selection or nomination of candidates and participation in an election; and (c) a political party challenging the actions, decisions or activities of the Independent National Electoral Commission disqualifying its candidates 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 the Independent National Electoral Commission in respect of the nomination of candidates of political parties for an election, timetable for an election, registration of voters and other activities of the commission in respect of preparation for an election.”
It should be noted that by the provisions of sections 251(1)(r) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as altered, 29(5) and 84(14) of the Electoral Act, 2022, the Court of competent jurisdiction to entertain pre-election matters is the Federal High Court. The laws also made copious provisions for time limits, and appeals. In essence, an Election Petition Tribunal lacks the jurisdiction to preside over pre-election matters.
INTERNAL AFFAIRS OF POLITICAL PARTIES: THE NON – JUSTICIABILITY
As the phrase implies, internal affairs are simply the affairs of a political party, special and customary to it. These are affairs that are peculiar and concern the internal coordination of the party. It calls for zero interference from any meddlesome interloper.
In MONDAY v. PDP & ORS (2022) LPELR-59095(CA), RIDWAN MAIWADA ABDULLAHI, JCA had this to say:
“… the Agi v. P. D. P. (2017) 17 NWLR (Pt. 1595) 386 at 459 thus:- “A political party is like a club; a voluntary association. It has its rules, regulations, guidelines and Constitution. Members join the party of their free will. By joining they have freely given their consent to be bound by the rules, regulations, guidelines and Constitution of the party. These rules of the party must be obeyed by all members of the party, as the party’s decision is final over its own affairs. When it comes to nomination of its candidate for election, the National Executive Committee of the party has the final say and whenever it approves or endorses a candidate to contest on the parties platform, he stands nominated and no other member can oppose that approval or nomination. The party is therefore supreme and has the final say or decision. (P.D.P. v. Sylva (2012) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1316) 85 referred to).”
In SURAJUDEEN v. PDP & ORS (2022) LPELR-59161(CA), the Court noted that the conduct of ward congresses was an internal affair of a political party, and thus, not justiciable, save for non – non-compliance with the Electoral Act, 2022.
In essence, it is safe to conclude that the internal affairs of political parties are not justiciable, the political party is an entity of its own, and its decision are supreme and final. A political party is not treated like every other legal personality. The court limits its intrusion in party affairs, save for non – compliance with extant laws.
THE PLATEAU STATE SAGA
In Plateau State, the Court of Appeal sacked Governor Caleb Mutfwang, 2 Senators, 5 House of Representatives members, and 16 State lawmakers under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The reason for the sack was due to the failure of the party to conduct congresses at the Ward, Local Government, and State levels. The intermediate court held that the candidates could not have validly been nominated and sponsored to contest the elections.
From our discussion above, this is clearly a pre-election matter and internal affairs of the political party. The Court could not have assumed jurisdiction, nor even ground the locus standi to another candidate/political party to sue on the issue. However, fortunately for the Governor whose appeal terminates at the Supreme Court, but unfortunately for the lawmakers whose appeal terminates at the Court of Appeal, the Supreme, while upturning the judgement of the Court of Appeal in favour of the Governor, lamented on the injustice already served on the lawmakers. Notabla, was the lamentations of My Lord, Inyang Okoro, JSC, when he said: “My only worry is that a lot of people have suffered because of these judgements.”
The above statement by His Lordship has raised questions as to the fate of the lawmakers. Do you know their fate? Let’s think…
So many scholars, pundits, analysts, and indeed the public at large, have since raised a plethora of questions in a bid to settle this issue. Some of the thrilling questions are; is there any remedy in law for the lawmakers?, or should the lawmakers be made to lick their wounds till 2027? Does the Court of Appeal have the right to review its judgements, in the light of the fact that the constitutional time frame to decide on appeals has elapsed? Or in the alternative, can the parties seek redress in the Supreme Court?
This is yet, “the judiciary in the eye of the storm”, the judiciary – amid the tempest.” To me, the situation is like being stopped from entering the promised land, even when the gatekeepers knew that your access card was compromised beforehand.
At this juncture, the hands of the Courts are tight, tied to the extent that, any attempt to do otherwise would lead to a constitutional crisis. The 60 days for the Court of Appeal to decide on the matter since elapsed, and the matter cannot go on appeal to the Supreme Court, nothing can readily be done to salvage the fate of the lawmakers. It is in times like this, that the assertive dictum of late Hon. Justice Andrews Atutu Obaseki, JSC (as he then was), in Odi v. Osafile (1985) LLJR-SC, comes to bearing. Hear him; “laws are made for men, and not men for laws.”
If the law is made for men, and not men for laws, the line of provocative jurisprudential thinking at this juncture, should be a forceful remedy for the lawmakers, irrespective of the law as it is.
According to some pundits, there should be an immediate amendment of Sections 233 (1)(e) and 246 (1)(3) of the 1999 Constitution, as altered, to extend the final jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to National and States Houses of Assembly petition. Another view is for the Supreme Court to review the judgement of the Court of Appeal in the face of the glaring injustice. Yet, there is also the view that the Court of Appeal should review its judgement. All this view, with due respect, cannot save this situation.
First, constitutional amendments because of this issue would meet political roadblocks. Second, the Supreme cannot entertain this matter. Third, the Court of Appeal cannot review its judgement at this point.
Amid this jurisprudential cul de sac, and electoral enigma faced in our legal system, which has threatened the integrity of the judiciary, and indeed, our democracy, it is high time we develop some unconventional means of getting things right, if we must move ahead. I believe the Supreme Court is already overburdened to start entertaining lawmakers’ appeals, but in cases like this, is it not expedient to invoke its powers as a court of law and Justice, for Justice? Little wonder, Lord Denning in Packer v Packer (1953) 12 All E.R 127, stated thus, ‘’What is the argument on the other side? Only this, that no case has been found in which it has been done before. That argument does not appeal to me in the least. If we never do anything which has never been done before we shall never get anywhere. The law will standstill, while the rest of the world goes on and that will be bad for both.’’ Lord Atkin in United Australia Ltd v Barclays Bank Ltd (19540 AC 1, 29, was pungent on what the Judex should do. Hear him; “…when these ghosts of the past stand in the path of justice clanking their medieval chains, the proper cause for the judge is to pass through them undeterred.”
FOOD FOR THOUGHT:
“If you are hurt, lick your wounds and get up again. If you’ve given it your absolute best, it’s time to move forward.” Sir Richard Branson.
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