By Paul Ibe
Published May 5th 2005 in AllAfrica.com
As part of initiatives to decongest the nation's courts and improve the dispensation of justice, the National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) Commit-tee on Judiciary and Legal Reforms has recommended the setting up of Constitutional Court.
If the conference eventually adopts the recommendation of the Prince Bola Ajibola-led committee, then a Constitu-tional Court will be established in the states and a Constitu-tional Court of Appeal in judicial divisions along the lines of existing Court of Appeal.
Also, the committee recommended that aggrieved aspirants in party primaries should be allowed to seek justice in court instead of the current practice where the parties adjudicate. The Supreme Court had ruled that the parties and not courts are empowered to adjudicate such matters.
THISDAY gathered that the Constitutional Court will among other things handle inter state disputes, electoral matters including inter and intra party disputes and general interpretation of the constitution.
The committee, according to a source, established that the court system, as presently constituted is overworked, marked by incompetence and absence of proper tools and conducive environment.
All electoral disputes except those of presidential elections are expected by this arrangement to terminate at the Constitutional Court of Appeal, while petitions involving presidential poll will start at the Constitutional Court of Appeal, as the court of first instance.
The source said that what this means is that the Election Petitions Tribunal and the Court of Appeal will cease to handle various matters of election disputes as is currently the case.
He said that the committee resolved that all election petitions before the Constitutional Court and Constitutional Court of Appeal will be decided ahead of swearing-in, as against the practice where some cases including the petition involving the April 2003 presidential poll is still pending in court.
"We've had instances like in the Anambra debacle where parties went to polls without candidates only to later bicker over who the rightful candidate was," he said. And to strengthen and safeguard the independence of the judiciary, the committee, which wound up its sitting yesterday that this arm of government should derive its funding from a first line charge.
"We recommended this to facilitate the procurement of all necessary tools required for proper and better dispensation of justice and to ensure that the welfare of judicial officers is guaranteed," the source said.
The stillborn 1995 Constitu-tion drafted during the regime of the late General Sani Abacha made provision for a Constitu-tional Court.
Also, the committee in its bid to ensure that aggrieved aspirants in disputes arising from party primaries get justice, recommended that those disputes can now be brought before the proposed Constitutional Court instead of the current practice where the parties are the final arbiters.
The Supreme Court had in a matter brought before it in 2002 ruled that courts have no powers to interfere in the internal affairs of political parties, especially over powers of nomination of candidates for elections.
"Unlike the practice before, intra party disputes can now be brought to the courts and will not end within the parties. The reason being that the committee established that cliques within those parties have ensured that those who are aggrieved do not have a proper channel for addressing their grievances," he said.
"We heard how a Kebbi delegate said he won the primary in his party five times and yet was deprived of the ticket and the Attorney General of Bauchi also shared the experiences of his own environment with us.
"We discovered that if you don't a have a godfather in the party, for example, you may not get favourable hearing in such disputes," he added.
Meanwhile, the Committee on Political Parties and Electoral Process - Models has recommended that any political party that failed to score five percent of total votes cast during general elections will not qualify for government grant.
Similarly, the committee recommended electronic voting and proportional representations by political parties at the National Assembly.
Speaking to newsmen in Abuja yesterday, a member of the committee and Benue State delegate, Wantaregh Paul Unongo, said the committee resolved that any political party that scores less than five percent of the total votes cast in any election will not benefit from the first 30 percent grant to parties on equality basis.
He, however, said that the political parties will enjoy 70 percent of government grants based on the number of seats at the National Assembly. Unongo said that his committee, which is collating its report, has recommended a proportional representation based on the number of votes won by a political party.
He said that the aim of proportional representation based on votes is to reduce the incidence of winner takes all syndrome in the country.
"The idea of proportional representation is to make everybody in the country to feel important, every community in Nigeria, no matter how small must have a say in the running of the affairs of this country. The idea of money, big tribes dominating the affairs of this country would be gone for good, if this report is adopted.
If you have a certain percentage of votes cast by your people, they demand that you represent them and it follows that no matter how small the votes are, you will be heard because of their votes," he said.
Relevant Links West Africa Human Rights Legal and Judicial Affairs Nigeria Sustainable Development On electronic voting, he said that if India with a voting population of more than 400 million could use it, then Nigeria can afford to use it with less financial implication.
He said that his committee unanimously adopted independent candidacy and hoped that the plenary session adopt it as well.