The constitutional provision as to limitation of time within which election petitions and appeal therefrom must be filed and concluded has remained a dramatic change in the way and manner election petitions are conducted in Nigeria. The Constitutional timeline for conclusion of election petition is a double edged sword, as it were. On the one hand it is a salutary reform that cured the mischief of prolonged election petition process that often enabled the beneficiaries of ‘stolen’ electoral mandate to hold political offices for several years before final judgment is secured nullifying their elections and sacking them from the offices they fraudulently secured. On the other hand, the limitation of time prejudiced numerous meritorious election Petitions, which were unfortunately struck out for being choked by the time frame.


Section 285 (5 – 8) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) provides as follows:

  1. An election petition shall be filed within 21 days after the date of declaration of results of the election;[1]
  2. An election Tribunal shall deliver its judgment in writing within 180 days from the date of the filing of the petition;[2]
  3. An appeal from a decision of the election Tribunal or court shall be heard and disposed within 60 days from the date of the delivering of the judgment of the Tribunal;[3]
  4. The Court in all appeals from election Tribunals may adopt the practice of first giving its decision and reserving the reasons thereto for the decision to a later date.[4]


The Supreme Court has leaned towards very strict interpretation of the above constitutional provisions – brooking no discretion whatsoever on the part of the Court to extend any of the time limits under any circumstance. Thus in the case of ANPP v. Goni[5] the Supreme Court, per Rhodes-Vivour, JSC, left no one in doubt about its attitude to the constitutional time line for  election petitions:


The period of 180 days is not limited to trials but also to de novo trials that may be ordered by an appeal court. Once an election petition is not concluded within 180 days from the date the petition was filed by the petitioner, an election Tribunal no longer has jurisdiction to hear the petition and this applies to rehearing. The period of 180 days shall at all times be calculated from the date the petition was filed.[6]


Still in the above case, the Supreme Court, per Onnoghen, JSC further opined and so held that:


Courts do not have the vires to extend the time assigned by the Constitution. The time cannot be extended, or expanded or elongated, or in any way enlarged. The time fixed by the Constitution is like the rock of Gibralter or Mount Zion which cannot be moved. If what is to be done is not done within the time so fixed, it lapses as the court is thereby robbed of the jurisdiction to continue to entertain the matter.[7]


It was the same cerebral Onnoghen, JSC, who in the case of Felix Amadi & Anor. v. INEC & Ors[8] also foreclosed any hope of judicial magnanimity for enlargement of time in election petition appeals. He categorically pronounced that the time limit of 60 days for election petition appeals as provided in Section 285 (7) of the Constitution was sacrosanct. He reasoned that the obvious intendment of the Legislature in making that provision was to limit time and not to extend it. According to the jurist, it would therefore be inappropriate and indeed illegal to interpret the provision to attain the effect of extending the time therein allotted.


It would seem that the Election Petition Tribunals, Petitioners and their lawyers learnt a bitter lesson from the experience of 2011 election petitions whereby many petitions were asphyxiated by the constrictions of constitutional timelines, as it were. Thus, virtually all Petitions brought sequel to the 2015 elections were disposed of on the merit and went through the appeal process within the time limits prescribed by Section 285 of Constitution.


However, the issue reared its frightening ‘rock of Gibralter’ head in the case of Ikpeazu v. Otti & Ors[9] in an offside manner. The Appellant argued in one of his grounds of appeal at the Supreme Court that the judgment of the Court of Appeal that nullified his election as Governor of Abia State was dated 31st December, 2015 but was not certified until 6th January, 2016. He therefore submitted through his counsel that the signing of the enrolled and certification of the judgment on that date lead to the conclusion that the lower court disposed of the appeal on 6th January, 2016 – 4 days outside the 60 days time line mandatorily stipulated by the Constitution.


In upholding the Respondents’ preliminary objection to this ground of appeal and issue raised therefrom, the Supreme Court held that “the fact that the Appellant could not obtain his copy of the judgment until 6th January, 2016 does not mean that other parties did not get their own copies before that date”. The ground of appeal and issue therefrom, the Supreme Court further held, were merely attacks against what the Registry of the lower Court did after the judgment had been delivered. Therefore the ground of appeal was attacking the acts of certification, enrollment order and availability of the judgment to the appellant before 6th January, 2016, and there was nothing to show that the Appellant was complaining about anything done by the Justices of the Court of Appeal after delivery of the Judgment on 31st December, 2015. The Supreme Court therefore upheld the Respondent’s preliminary objection and dismissed the Appellant’s ground of appeal and issue raised therefrom challenging the competence of lower court’s decision on grounds that it was delivered outside the constitutional time limit.




While it may be admitted that the 2015 general elections produced better outputs than previous elections in Nigeria, there remain critical issues that need to be urgently addressed towards strengthening the credibility of the electoral process and the validity of its outcomes. Changes must inevitably be allowed to address not only the rampant challenges and difficulties experienced on election days, but also the drawbacks of the pre and post election stages. The following recommendations are therefore volunteered as possible strategies for promoting the overall integrity of the electoral process in Nigeria.


  1. The following amendments are suggested on the current legal regimes governing the electoral process in Nigeria:
  2. The Electoral Act to be amended to streamline and strictly regulate the process of nomination of candidates during party primaries, including limiting the quantum of nomination fees payable by prospective candidates. This will reduce the spate of pre-election disputes/litigations, and curtail the undue monetization of politics in Nigeria.


  1. The Electoral Act and possibly the Constitution need to be amended to incorporate and recognize the use of the Card Reader during accreditation of voters, and for Card Reader reports to be recognized as part of admissible evidence in proof of electoral malpractices such as over-voting.


  • Amendment to be effected on the extant laws to merge accreditation and voting process on election day. This will expedite the election process and significantly curb the incidence of over-voting and other electoral malpractices.


  1. Section 285 of the 1999 Constitution and Section 134 of the Electoral Act need to be amended to provide exceptions to the election petition timelines, e.g., for days to stop counting where there is a stay of proceedings, and for days to start counting afresh where there is an order for de novo hearing of an election petition.


  1. The Electoral Act, especially section 137, need to be amended to afford locus standi to the Electorate to bring election petitions. However, Tribunals may also be empowered to consider and summarily dismiss in Chambers frivolous petitions and petitions on issues already being canvassed in another petition or which should be more appropriately canvassed by a party to the election.


  1. INEC to ensure that Card Readers deployed for elections are pre-tested, of the highest quality and user friendly. And to train permanent and ad-hoc staff for election day work well ahead of the elections.


  1. The welfare and security of Judges presiding over election petitions to be taken very seriously to avoid the chances of their being compromised or attacked.


  1. Previous judgments of Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court on election matters should be made available to election Tribunals and Court of Appeal members and Justices to make for consistency in judicial pronouncements on electoral disputes.

[1]  Subsection 5

[2]  Subsection 6

[3]  Subsection 7

[4]  Subsection 8

[5]  (2012) 7 NWLR pt. 1298 pg. 147

[6]  At pg. 191

[7]  At pg. 182

[8]  SC. 476/2011

[9]  Supra

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