Another issue arising from the 2015 Election Petition process, which engendered some legal controversy was the sitting of some Election Petition Tribunals in the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja instead of the States for which they were created as envisaged by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended). Section 285 (2) of the said Constitution provides as follows:

There shall be established in each State of the Federation one or more election tribunals to be known as Governorship and Legislative Houses Election Tribunals which shall, to the exclusion of any court or Tribunal, have original jurisdiction to hear and determine petitions as to whether any person has been validly elected to the office of governor or Deputy Governor or as a member of any legislative house.

The above constitutional provision clearly purports that Governorship and Legislative Houses Election Tribunals shall sit and conduct their proceedings within the States for which they are created. However, given the atmosphere of insecurity that characterized some of the States in the period leading up to the 2015 general elections and the aftermath thereof, it became necessary to locate the Tribunals for such States to Abuja for the safety of the Judges, Lawyers and Litigants who would be involved in petition proceedings before the Tribunals. Some dramatic but regrettable incidents that occurred in Ekiti State in 2014 highlighted the challenge of insecurity to election petition process. On the 22nd of September, 2014 some political thugs invaded High Court No. 6 in Ado-Ekiti Judicial Division where Justice O. I. O. Ogunyemi was presiding. His sitting for the day was tumultuously disrupted and aborted. The Judge was luckily ferried away by some police officers but not before he had been thoroughly harassed and chased around his Courtroom and Chambers. Again on 25th September, 2014 in the same Judicial Division, Justice J. O. Adeyeye of Court 3, who was presiding over a Petition filed by the APC challenging the election of Governor Ayo Fayose, was severely beaten up and his suit torn to shreds by a throng of political hoodlums who invaded his Chambers. These incidents prompted the Chief Judge of the State, Honourable Justice A. S. Daramola, to order immediate closure of all courts in the State until adequate security had been put in place.

These unpleasant precedents obviously informed the need to insulate the 2015 election petition process and participants therein from possible attacks, harassment and intimidation by moving the tribunals for States considered to be volatile or high risk zones to the FCT of Abuja.

The issue of whether an Election Petition Tribunal can competently sit in Abuja arose in the Rivers State election Petition. The counsel for Governor Nyeson Wike, whose election was being challenged, filed a motion challenging the competence of the Tribunal to sit in Abuja instead of Portharcourt, Rivers State where the election took place. The Applicant’s Counsel, Chief Godwin Obla, SAN argued that sitting in Abuja was in breach of Section 285 (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended). He therefore prayed the Tribunal to relocate to Portharcourt. In his Ruling dismissing the Application, Hon. Justice Pindga held that the Tribunal did not violate any provision of the Constitution or the Electoral Act since the sitting in Abuja was for security purposes. The learned justice disagreed with the argument of counsel for the Applicant that proximity and accessibility were the key factors that ought to determine the venue of the Tribunal’s sitting, positing that proximity and accessibility cannot be determined in the absence of security of the Tribunal members and litigants. The Tribunal further opined that the President of the Court of Appeal, who directed the sitting in Abuja, acted within the ambit of the law, which laid emphasis on conducive atmosphere for the Tribunal to hold proceedings.

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