Background of the study
The judiciary, among these organs, is an indispensable organ that balances the exercise of powers in the polity of any nation. 2The general responsibility of the court in the adjudication of an election is to hear and determine the winner and, consequently, the loser whenever a petition comes up for trial.
However, in the Fourth Republic, just as in the other civilian interregnums before it, there was hardly any state in Nigeria where one election or the other was not annulled and bye-elections were held. Since the 1999 elections, courts at various levels have throughout the country voided the victories of a couple of governors, scores of senators (including a sitting Senate President) and numerous federal and state legislators, as well as local government chairmen and councilors.
Election disputes are highly sensitive and controversial, so much so that the process of disposing of them seems as if the judiciary itself is on trial. Indeed, according to Okoye (2009), the debate on the role and place of the judiciary in electoral disputes revolves around the question of whether “they should give voice to the choices of the people without bowing and being slavish to the technicalities of the law and the constitution.” It is, on the other hand, whether the judiciary is properly positioned to substitute its own will and decisions for those of the Nigerian people without being accused of judicial tyranny.
Nigeria has a reputation for “muddled elections,” “criminal politics,” and “garrison democracy.”Since the democratic transition in 1999, all the elections held in the country – in 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011 – have been accompanied by reports of widespread electoral fraud. After the 1999 elections, for instance, the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) – a coalition of local civil society groups – reported that ‘the trend of awarding high votes, or votes in excess of the number of accredited voters, which had been observed during the National Assembly elections, assumed much greater proportions during the Presidential elections’ (TMG 1999).
After the 2003 elections, the European Union Election Observation Mission (EUEOM) reported that, in a number of states, the conduct of the elections did not comply with Nigerian law and international standards. Several parties, mostly established ones, were identified as being involved in malpractice’ (EUEOM 2003).The outcome of the 2007 general elections was considered more fraudulent than the previous ones and, indeed, the worst in the contemporary electoral history of Nigeria. These and many instances, both at state and local level, have led to the questioning of the integrity of the judiciary in upholding democratic principles rather than allowing themselves to be used to oppose the voice of the people.
Statement of the problem
The Nigerian judiciary has often come under severe criticism for its handling or mishandling of election petition cases. In particular, judges have been accused of deliberate tardiness leading to unnecessary delays, conspiracy to frustrate litigants, corruption (including allegedly selling judgments to the highest bidder), undue politicization of the cases and a downright travesty of justice, etc.
Prior to this time, electoral fraud was characterized by pre-election rigging, polling-day rigging and post-election rigging methods as forms and stages of electoral fraud in the country, appearing to be outstanding. Other common forms of electoral fraud include multiple and false registration, vote-buying, underage voting, multiple voting, voter intimidation, ballot stealing and snatching, false declaration of winners and others, at different stages of the electoral process before, during and after elections. These popular forms of electoral fraud have been increasing claims in several circles, especially among the political elite and public analysts, that there is indeed a new and sophisticated dimension to electoral fraud in Nigeria. This is the manipulation of the judicial process to produce false winners. These claims are also related to the recent internal wrangling in the hierarchy of the Nigerian judiciary over claims and accusations of fraudulent court rulings in disputed elections.
Hence, a substantial number of Nigerians have questioned the role of the judiciary as a true arbiter in electoral matters. There are many pitfalls and controversies associated with election petitions particularly the role of judges – which, individually and collectively, have made it such an agonizing, frustrating and often fruitless exercise for both petitioners and the democratic enterprise. The election petition, ironically, seeks to open a window of justice for the former while upholding and strengthening the latter.Thus, it is against this backdrop that this study seeks to present an assessment of the present judiciary system of Nigeria in deciding election cases.
Objective of the study
The primary goal of this research is to improve the evaluation of Nigeria’s current judicial system’s decisions.Specifically, the study seeks to:
1. To investigate the nature of election preparation,
2. To investigate the role of the judiciary in dispute resolution in Nigeria’s nascent democracy.
3. To present cases of judiciary adjudication of election cases in the fourth republic.
The research is guided by the following questions.
1. What is the nature of Nigeria’s electoral process?
2. What role does the judiciary play in resolving disputes in Nigeria’s New Nascent Democracy?
3. Are there cases of judiciary adjudication of election cases and mishandling of election cases in Nigeria’s fourth republic?
Significance of the study
Since this study presented an assessment of the present judiciary system of Nigeria in deciding election cases, it is therefore pivotal to note that the findings and theoretical aspects of this work will be relevant to the judiciary arm of the government, political players and the electoral body. For the judiciary, the study will enlighten them on the need to endeavour to insulate themselves and resist all attempts to drag their personnel into the murky waters of partisan politics, but still maintain their independence, honesty and integrity. The study will emphasize the importance of credible elections free of fraud and malpractice for electoral bodies.The study will enlighten politicians and actors about the importance of nurturing, imbibing, and exhibiting the correct democratic values, particularly civility, fair play, and good sportsmanship.The findings from the study will also be significantly useful to students and researchers and other individuals who may have an interest in gathering or conducting further research related to the topic under study.
Scope of the study
The scope of this study borders on an assessment of the present judiciary system of Nigeria in deciding election cases. The research, however, is limited to elections in the Fourth Republic and the Imo State election in 2020.
Limitations of the study
During the course of this research, the following factors are proposed to be a limitation.
Financial constraints: financial constraints tend to impede the researcher’s efficiency in locating relevant materials, literature, or information, as well as in data collection (internet, questionnaire, and interview).
Time constraint: The researcher will simultaneously engage in this study with other academic work. As a result, the amount of time spent on research is reduced.
Research methodology is the specific procedures or techniques used to identify, select, process, and analyze information about a topic. For the purpose of this study, the researchers adopted historical and descriptive methods. Information was sourced from secondary data collated from journals, articles, library materials and internet sources which are related to the study.
Definition of terms
Election: An election is a formal group decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual or multiple individuals to hold public office.
Election petition: election petition refers to the procedure for challenging the result of an already held election
Judiciary: Judiciary is the branch of government whose task is the authoritative adjudication of controversies over the application of laws in specific situations.