The Supreme Court Tuesday expressed frustration with the provisions of the constitution that makes it mandatory for election tribunals to dispose of petitions within 180 days.
Speaking after throwing out an interlocutory appeal filed by the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) governorship candidate in Ondo State, Chief Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), challenging the striking out of some paragraphs of his petition against the election of Dr. Olusegun Mimiko as the state governor, Justice Mahmoud Mohammed said the apex court had received many complaints against its judgments upholding section 285(5)(b) of the Constitution.
Section 285(5)(b) states: "an election tribunal shall deliver its judgment in writing within 180 days from the date of the filing of the petition."
Justice Mohammed explained that the Supreme Court was helpless and that the only thing that could be done to ensure that litigants' fair hearing was not violated was for the constitution to be amended.
Many aggrieved politicians have lost their petitions on this technical ground alone.
The apex court held that the appeal by Akeredolu was caught by the above provisions and further held that it would amount to embarking on an academic exercise to determine the merits of the appeal when the tribunal had already wound up and delivered its final judgment.
Justice Kumai Akaahs who delivered the lead judgment observed that: "It had been 192 days from the day of filing the petition. The tribunal no longer exists having delivered its final judgment.
"This court can no longer make any order that will be binding on a non-existing tribunal."
The court largely upheld the arguments of Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) who represented Mimiko.
Sensing the disappointment among Akeredolu's legal team, the most senior justice in the panel, Justice Mohammed said: "There are a lot of complaints. There is nothing we can do. Unless the constitution is amended. We have delivered many judgments on these issues.
"Please bear with us. It is not our own making. It is extremely difficult to hear interlocutory appeals because of these provisions.
"We don't have legislative power to amend the provisions of the law."
However, not many lawyers share the position of Justice Mohammed.
Some who spoke with our correspondents said the court had itself to blame for foisting on itself an interpretation that did not accord with a community reading of several provisions of the constitution.
Many of them said the apex court should not have extended the provisions of section 285 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended to interlocutory appeal, which is a right of appeal guaranteed by the constitution.
Delivering judgment in a sister appeal, which also emanated from the Ondo State governorship election tribunal, Justice Mohammed Dattijo said: "Since the tribunal no longer exists, this court has no jurisdiction.
"This court cannot exercise its jurisdiction in vain. To do so is to indulge in academic exercise."
He held that the court had no jurisdiction to entertain the appeal and the cross appeal. It is hereby struck out.
According to him, any order to be made must have been made on or before May 9, 2013 when the tribunal delivered its judgment.
"Any order made after that day when the 180 days had passed is of no consequent," he added.
In her concurrent judgment, Justice Mary Peter-Odili said there was no live appeal.
Akeredolu had appealed to the Supreme Court after the election tribunal had struck out some paragraphs of his petition, which were found to be defective.
His appeal to the Court of Appeal in Akure allowed his appeal in part, a situation that forced him to file a further appeal at the Supreme Court while Mimiko filed a cross-appeal.
But while the appeal was pending, the 180 days within which the tribunal must deliver its judgment had lapsed.