After extensive legal and administrative brainstorming, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday released the timetable for the conduct of the 2011 general election, fixing the presidential election for January 22 next year.
The National Assembly polls will take place on January 15, while the governorship and House of Assembly elections will hold on January 29.
Any run-off for governorship and presidential election will be held seven days after the announcement of the result of the poll election.
But the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has predicted post-election crisis because of the provisions of the amended Electoral Act which now make the Court of Appeal the court of first instance (original jurisdiction) in election petitions.
NBA said the Court of Appeal would be “overwhelmed” given the number of judges it has and the number of cases it is likely to handle in the 36 states of the federation – in addition to presidential election petitions.
The election timetable, INEC said, is in line with sections 76, 178, 116 and 132 of the 1999 Constitution and section 26 of the Electoral Act, 2010, which define the dates of elections to be set by the commission.
According to the timetable released by the INEC National Commissioner in charge of Information and Publicity Committee, Prince Solomon Adedeji Soyebi, all parties’ primary elections would hold between September 11 and October 30 this year.
The last date for campaigns for the National Assembly is January 14, while the last date for the presidential campaigns is January 21. The last day for the governorship and the state Houses of Assembly is January 28. This, it said, is in line with section 99 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010, which prohibits advertisements or broadcast of campaigns 24 hours prior to the date of election.
INEC also said the publication of the list of nominated candidates for the National Assembly would take place on December 16, while the presidential list is expected to be published on December 23 and governorship and the House of Assembly on December 30.
INEC said the last day for the submission of nomination forms by political parties for the National Assembly is December 4; presidential December 7; governorship and House of Assembly December 10 and 11, while the collection of nomination forms for all categories of elections is between November 22 to 25.
Similarly, the commission said the publication of personal particulars of the candidates (form CF001) substituted candidates for the National Assembly is December 4, 2010; presidential December 11; and governorship and Assembly December 18.
INEC will publish official register of voters for the election on December 16. This, it said, is in line with section 20 of the electoral act, which provides not later than 30 dates before the election date.
The last day for the withdrawal of candidates and substitution of withdrawn candidates by political parties for the National Assembly is November 30; presidential December 7; and governorship and House of Assembly December 14.
The dates for the publication of personal particulars of the candidates in form CF001 are as follows: National Assembly November 22; presidential election is November 29 and governorship and House of Assembly December 6, 2010.
Registration of voters holds from November 1 to 14, 2010, which is in line with section 9 (5) of the electoral act. The display of voter register for claims and objection is slated for November 20 to 25.
Meanwhile, NBA has raised the alarm over what it described as the “inherent danger and risk” contained in the 2010 Electoral Act.
Speaking at the inauguration of three committees – the NBA Constitution Review, Electoral Justice Reform and Data Base and Documentation Committees – President of the association, Chief Joseph Daudu (SAN), said the law would make the determination of election petitions “a very difficult task”.
According to him, crucial preliminaries to elections such as the preparation of a credible voter register, the enactment of an Electoral Act which should correct past mistakes, the conduct of voter and other civic education, the harmonisation of all relevant electoral legislations and the disposition of post election disputes are yet to be put in place.
He said the Electoral Act 2010 would result in many post-election crises.
He said: “Section 133(1) of the Electoral Act 2010 provides that no election and return election under this Act shall be questioned in any manner other than by a petition complaining of an undue election or undue return presented to the competent tribunal or court in accordance with the Constitution or of the Act, and in which the person elected or returned is joined as a party.
"Ordinarily the above Section would not have posed a problem but for Section 133(2) of the Act which defines tribunal or court to mean in the case of the presidential or governorship election, the Court of Appeal and in the case of any other elections under the Act the election Tribunal as established under the Constitution or Act."
According to him, the implication of the foregoing is that it is the Court of Appeal that now has the original jurisdiction in the determination of governorship election disputes.
"If this is correct, it means that the unaccented amended Constitution contains amendments to Section 246(1)(b)(i)(ii) and (iii) Section 285 (2) and the 6th Schedule to the 1999 Constitution to the effect that original jurisdiction in governorship matters shall henceforth be determined by the Court of Appeal,” he added.
In his view, the new Electoral Act would overwhelm the Court of Appeal.He described the inherent risk and danger posed by the new Electoral Act thus: "First by Section 1 of the Court of Appeal Act as amended, the total number of Justices to the Court of Appeal is 70 and if that number 70 is divided by five which means is the standard panel for election cases then you have only 14 panels. Even if the constitution of the panels is reduced to three which is most undesirable one can only get 23.3 panels.
"With 36 states of the federation and usually in the heat of election petitions some states get more than two active and indeed overworked panels. The position as it appears is that there is not even one panel to go round the states.
"Ancillary to this is the fact that by section 134 of the Act every petition is required to be determined by the Tribunal within 180 days from the date of filling of the said petition whilst appellate tribunal has 90 days to determine the appeals to conclusion.
“These provisions ought to alert the alarm bells of any practitioner conversant with the determination of election petitions.
"If the objective of setting time limits is to achieve harmony in governance so that petitions do not continue even after elected officials have been sworn in then even the laudable objective has been defeated because the combined statutory period for the resolution of a petition is now 270 days about nine months which takes it well beyond the May 29th 2011 from the January 8th 2011 when the first election is to take place."
He said the principles of fair hearing would be trampled upon and that justices of the Court of Appeal would be grossly overworked as they have their existing cases to contend with as well as the new constitutional functions thrust on them which include the determination of appeal from the legislative houses at federal and states.
He said the NBA through its Legislative Advocacy Group recommended the setting up of a Constitutional Court with both original and appellate levels but that the National Assembly appeared to have ignored this proposal as with others submitted by the association.
Daudu has consequently constituted an Electoral Justice Reform Committee headed by Chief Mike Ahamba (SAN) with Alex Iziyon (SAN) as Alternate Chairman to examine whether the vesting of the jurisdiction as the final court to entertain governorship petition on the Supreme Court is good or bad.
He said: “Those who support this situation cite the increasing corruption in the Court of Appeal as the reason for the alleged abuse of its finality in such decisions while opponents cite the insufficiency of manpower in the apex court to effectively deal with the situation.”
Nigeria 2011 Elections Timetable
•Sept 11-Oct 30: All primaries
•Jan 15: National Assembly poll
•Jan 22: Presidential poll
•Jan 29: Governorship/ Assembly polls