By Sola Omoniyi, Lagos
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Robert Clarke, has blamed the 1999 Constitution for the incessant electoral litigations over the years and said there will be no end to electoral issues until the law is amended.
Clarke, who spoke with Newsmen on Thursday, said the 1999 Constitution gave the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) so much power.
The senior lawyer’s comment followed the Supreme Court judgement that upheld President Bola Tinubu’s election.
“The problem today is that the system we have, except it is rigorously looked into, we will continue for every four years to do the same thing we are doing for the next 20 years. I started with this constitution in 1999; today, in 2023, there has been no difference. Every four years, we do a roundabout in trekking and come to the same point,” Clarke said.
“We have done about six election petitions and the Supreme Court has never set aside any presidential election in Nigeria. Why should they, when the law says whatever the umpire does is by law presumed to be right?
“So, once the umpire which is INEC presents documents to the tribunal and says ‘I have done my job, these are the results, if you are not happy come and challenge me and bring your result’.
“That is what is happening. We have to make sure INEC is not given that advantage to present documents and the court has no option than accept them as correct.
“For us not to come back in four years to come and be talking the same thing that we are doing today, we must amend the 1999 Constitution to remove that section that says to be able to contest an election you must belong to a political party,” the senior lawyer added.
According to him, all the problems today are being caused by the political parties with their numerous litigations from pre-election to the election as well as post-election.
Speaking on the outcome of the appeals by Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) against Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the Supreme Court on Thursday, Clarke blamed lawyers to the litigants, saying that they could have done better if they wanted a different outcome.
The Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Robert Clarke, says the lawyers of Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi did not demonstrate professionalism in challenging President Bola Tinubu’s victory in the 2023 election.
“I am not saying they (Atiku, Obi’s lawyers) fumbled the case; what I am saying is that they have not displayed a good sense of legal practice”.
Clarke said Obi and Atiku’s lawyers had the chance to present their evidence at a lower court but they did not.
“They had the opportunity as a pre-election matter but they never brought it out. They had the opportunity as a matter within a tribunal’s case but they never brought it. They are now coming and bringing matters that should have been argued in the lower tribunal and the Supreme Court will now be reviewing such evidence as an appellate matter and not as an original jurisdictional matter.
“I am not blaming the lawyers; that is the last thing I would do, but I am sorry to say that the lawyers, with due respect to them, should have done a better job in this regard.
“As the Supreme Court said, if you have facts that were available before the trial started and you did not bring them into the trial court…Therefore, if you intend to use any evidence in the Supreme Court, you must have ensured that such evidence must have passed through the original jurisdiction of the lower court,” he said.
The apex court affirmed the September 6, 2023 ruling by the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal that upheld the victory of Tinubu.
Commenting on the ruling of the apex court, Clarke said there was a lack of due diligence in the appeals, pointing out that the legal representation of Atiku and Obi could have been better.
The senior lawyer said he would not even permit a junior member of his chamber to bring such a brief before the Supreme Court.
“Where the law is not allowed to put its heads up in a proceeding, it means that there is another law which prohibits their lawyers to have brought such. They know it, they still decided — either to please their supporters and allow such a matter to come before the Supreme Court,” he said.
“I will not allow any junior in my chambers, even one or two years old to carry such a brief to go and argue in court when I have looked into all the facts and the facts are very clear. There is a limitation of time in election matters. You cannot do certain things.”
A seven-judge panel led by Justice John Iyang Okoro ruled that the opposition appeals over claims of fraud, electoral law violations, and Tinubu’s ineligibility to run for president lacked merit.