What are Pre-election Matters under the Nigerian Constitution?

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Chinecherem Ubaka

Introduction

The 2023 general elections in Nigeria is fast approaching. Logically, the year 2022 will be a year of strategic allignment, planning and meetings. Furthermore, there is a high probability that interested candidates will challenge the results of party primaries as well as question the decisions, acts and omissions of the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). When a person or a political party challenges the results of the party primaries, decisions of the political party or an electoral party in a court of law, before the conduct of an election, then it is a Pre-election matter.

On the 1st day of June, 2018, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR assented to the Fourth Alteration, No. 21 Bill of 2017 thereby causing an amendment to the CFRN.
The long title of this 4th Alteraltion act is “An Act to alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to provide time for the determination of pre-election matters; and for related matters.”
This 4th Alteration Act is substantially an amendment of Section 285 of the CFRN. It substitutes section 285(8) of the CFRN with a new section and then introduces subsections (9), (10), (11), (12), (13) & (14)

Lumenar Legal Advisory; what are Pre-election Matters in Nigeria; Constitutional provisions on Pre-election Matters in Nigeria; 2022, the year of Pre-election Matters; Chinecherem Ubaka
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The Nigerian Constitutional Pitfall you Should Avoid in Pre-election Matters

Section 285(9) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended (CFRN) provides that the time limit for bringing any pre-election matter is fourteen days from the day the cause of action arose.
“Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this constitution, every pre-election matter shall be filed not later than 14 days from the date of the occurrence of the event, decision or action complained of in the suit”.

The effect of the above provision is that where an aggrieved party fails to approach the courts for redress in respect of a Pre-election matter within 14 days after the cause of action arose, then the aggrieved party’s right of action is foreclosed. This is because the matter has become statue-barred.

“The law is crystal clear on the effect of an action caught by the statute of limitation. Any suit or action which is filed after the period allowed by a statue is statue-barred. I need say that such an action is not maintainable and the operation of the limitation law leaves the Claimant with a right of action which is dead in law and accordingly, no Court will have jurisdiction to entertain the action.

SYLVA V. INEC (2015) 16 (Pt. 1486) 576 AT 630

In APC v. UMAR (2019) 8 NWLR (Pt 1678) 564, the Supreme Court held that any exercise prior to elections is caught up by or within the purview of Section 285 (14) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).

It is important to note that in computing the 14 days timeline as provided for in Section 285(9) of the CFRN, it is inclusive of the day on which the cause of action arose. Thus, computation should start from the day the action/omission complained of occurred. See the cases of
WATHARDA V. ULARAMU (2015) 3 NWLR (pt 1446) 253 at 273 to 274 paras. G-B
HASSAN V. ALIYU (2010) 17 NWLR (pt 1223) 547 at 600 paras. A-D
LANLEHIN V. AKANBI (2016) 2 NWLR (pt 1495) 1 at 20 to 21 paras. C-C

Also noteworthy, is the provision of 285 (14) of the CFRN (as altered by the 4th Alteration Act) which defines a pre-election matter. Section 14 of the Constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Fourth Alteration No 21) Act provides thus:

285(14). For the purpose of this section, “pre-election matter” means any suit by-

an aspirant who complains that any of the provisions of the Electoral Act or any Act or An Act of the National Assembly regulating the conduct of primaries of political parties and the provisions of the guidelines of a political party for conduct of party primaries has not been complied with by a political party in respect of the selection or nomination of candidates for an election.

an aspirant challenging the actions or activities of the Independent National Electoral Commission in respect of his participation in an election or who complains that the provisions of the Electoral Act or any Act of the National Assembly regulating Elections in Nigeria has not been complied with by the Independent National Electoral Commission in respect of the selection or nomination of candidates and participation in an election; and

a political party challenging the actions, decisions or activities of the Independent National Electoral Commission disqualifying uts candidate form participating in an election or a complaint that the provisions of the electoral act or any other applicable law has not been complied with by the Independent National Electoral Commission in respect of the nomination of candidates of political parties for an election, timetable for an election registration of voters and other activities of the commission in respect of preparation for an election.”

This means that only persons defined in section 285(14) have the locus standi to institute Pre-election Matters in Court.

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