Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The president of the Court of Appeal has cancelled the annual vacation for the justices of the court as a result of the large number of election petitions pending before it.
Specifically, a total number of 800 petitions are pending before Court of Appeal as at July this year.
A breakdown shows that the states House of Assembly has the highest number of petitions with a total of 415, followed by the House of Representatives with 214, Senate 105, governorship 65 while the presidential election recorded the lowest number of four petitions.
The cancellation, which is at the directive of the president of the court, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, is to enable the court entertain and determine all appeals arising from the various election petition tribunals already transmitted to the court. The directive was contained in a two-page circular signed and transmitted to all the judges on July 2, whereby Bulkachuwa noted that since the appeals were time-bound and would arise within the period of the court’s vacation between July and October, the need, therefore, arises for them to be heard and determined within the said period.
In the said circular, Bulkachuwa said: “We have to forfeit our annual vacation to enable us entertain and determine all appeals arising from the various election petition tribunals transmitted to the court.”
Meanwhile, a total of 1,769 appeals were determined and 3,517 motions disposed of by the Court of Appeal between January and April, 2019.
This is contained in the summary of cases in the Court of Appeal Divisions prepared by the Head, Legal Services Unit, Barrister Mrs. Adaeze Oby Aziwe, and made available to the media officer of the court. In the document, a total of 2,397 appeals and 5,120 motions were filed during the period under review. Similarly, reports from the office of the Deputy Chief Registrar, Court of Appeal, Election Petition Tribunal, Mrs. Rabi Abdulazeez Yakubu, said that a total of 800 petitions were filed as at June 17, 2019.
According to the facts sheets emanating from the 77 Election Petition Tribunals setup by the President of the Court of Appeal as at April 23, 2019, 65 petitions were either dismissed or struck out while 735 petitions are pending. In order to meet up with these targets, Bulkachuwa directed “Presiding justices of the various divisions to draw up a roaster in consultation with her to allow the justices with medical appointments or other pressing family issues travel for not more than 15 days within the period.”
She added that the roaster that would be drawn should be arranged in such a manner that at any given time there is a three-member panel on ground in every division to hear and determine appeals.
The circular further directed in divisions with three justices, only one justice can travel at a time and the office of the President of the Court of Appeal is to be immediately notified to form a panel in that justice’s absence should the need arise. According to Bulkachuwa, appeals arising from the National and State Assemblies would be heard by a local panel of three members except where it is controversial the president will constitute and send another panel to hear it.
On the governorship appeals, Bulkachuwa disclosed that it would be heard by a five-member panel to be empanelled by his lordship.
Bulkachuwa, therefore, instructed the presiding justices to notify her as soon as appeals from governorship elections were filed to ensure their speedy determination.