The Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola has advocated for deletion of section 285 (6) of the 1999 Constitution as amended concerning the time limit placed on the hearing of election petitions by Election Tribunals.
Fashola who spoke at the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) conference in Calabar said section 285 has neither improved the electoral process nor advanced the course of Justice.
According to him, that section made it clear that election tribunal shall deliver its judgment in writing within 180 days from the date of filing of the petition, stressing that although the delays in discharging election petitions by the tribunals carried a lot of costs for judicial time, putting a limit on the time of hearing the petitions was not the right remedy.
“My recommendation is simple. Section 285 (6) of the Constitution must be deleted for no other reason than the fact that it has proven to have no utilitarian value in improving the electoral process and the fact that it compromises justice and the right to a fair hearing”, he said.
He explained that instead of putting a time limit on the tribunals and hearing of petitions, the cause or causes of the delays in hearing the petitions and challenges in the way of discharging election petitions on time should be sought and addressed decisively.
“What were the reasons for those inordinate delays? What roles did the parties to the petition play in the delays? What roles did lawyers play deliberately or by lack of professionalism? What roles did the Judges play in the delays? Were the professionals involved in the trial sufficiently prepared by training and experience for the tasks which we assigned to them?”, the governor queried.
Fashola who quoted copiously from written experiences of some eminent jurists on the controversial Section 285 (6) said allowing it to stand would tantamount to encouraging rigging and other electoral malpractices since the perpetrators would just frustrate trial for just 180 days in order to get into office.
“The unspoken statement that is coming out of the experiences of the lawyers who have assisted me about the disposition of parties to an election is this:- “It is better to rig and get into office because I can frustrate trial from being started and concluded in 180 days”.
Recalling his experience on the bench, he said “between 1990 and 2002 when I practiced law in Lagos, I was in court every day or almost, and I do not re-call that up to 5 (five) adjournments were granted at my instance. The reason is simple. I was always prepared to prosecute or defend my clients’ cases. I lived on the practice of the law entirely and no other trade”, the governor said.