Section 84 (12): Does a ruling based on technicality make things better?

Judicial interpretation is an essential function of the judiciary. This function has not only the ability to clear ambiguities but to distill the objectives behind any law. However, the courts may be robbed of the power to carry out this function where there are certain deficiencies, and one of such deficiencies could be the court’s lack of jurisdiction.

This, according to BusinessDay findings, has informed the recent ruling by the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja, which has overruled the judgment of a lower court. What has brought about this lack of jurisdiction is the lack of locus standi – the legal standing to bring an action which any litigant must possess.

The Court of Appeal has set aside the judgment of the Federal High Court sitting at Umuahia that Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act 2022 is unconstitutional, null and void.

Legal analysts have, however, expressed concern over the approach of the Court of Appeal in setting aside the judgement. The ruling by the Court of Appeal is based on a technicality, which is that since the plaintiff lacks the legal standing to bring such action, the Federal High Court was robbed of its jurisdiction to decide the matter.

Locus standi or the legal standing to bring an action is the legal right or capacity to institute any action before any court of competent jurisdiction. Where a person lacks the standing to sue, it deprives the court of its power to decide a matter.

Speaking about the implications of the Court of Appeal’s ruling, Paul Ananaba, a senior advocate of Nigeria, said that “Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act 2022 has been restored by the Court of Appeal. The essence of the provisions of the section in the Electoral Act is to serve as checkmate in Nigeria’s electoral activities and Section 84 (12) is good law”.

On his concern that the ruling of the Court of Appeal was based on a technicality, Ananaba was of the view that the Supreme Court, in a recent case, has expanded the horizon of locus standi such that even a non-governmental organisation can have locus standi in some cases.

According to him, there are many grounds upon which such judgment could have been set aside, not necessarily under the principle of locus standi.

Setting aside a judgment based on technicality, especially on the principle of locus standi, does not put the case to rest.

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Although the Court of Appeal has restored Section 84(12) of the Electoral Act, it does not mean that a person who has the legal right to bring such action and who is directly affected by the provisions of the section, such as a political appointee to whom the section speaks directly to, cannot bring an action seeking to void the section.

“I think the issue of locus standi was a distraction. There are enough grounds upon which the Court of Appeal could have voided the Federal High Court’s judgement. The issue of locus standi has become anachronistic and out-dated,” Ananaba said.

He added, “We must interrogate the objective of the section, we must understand what ill the section has come to cure. The decision of the Court of Appeal has restored some degree of confidence. Let us give this section of the Electoral Act a chance.”

Oluwatosin Adisa, a dispute resolution lawyer, has also said that “the court is of the opinion that the plaintiff does not have the legal right to bring such action and this in the first instance, robs the Federal High Court of its power in the matter”.

“We have not seen the full ruling by the court, but some reports have said that it has been said that the court, after saying that the Federal High Court lacked jurisdiction, went further to say that the provision of section 84 (12) is unconstitutional; whether this is true or not I do not know, but if this is true in any way, it means that the court has not only decided based on technicality but actually decided the merit of the case, and the Court of Appeal will be affirming the reasoning of the Federal High Court on the issue, that is if the reports are anything to go by,” he added.

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