By Akintayo Iwilade
It must be adequately realised that Election Petitions are a unique branch of civil disputes that strive to determine whether the sovereign will of the people prevailed or was subverted in an electoral process. Thus, the central focus of an Election Petition is certainly not the criminal conviction of so-called electoral offenders but, the broader determination of whether the declared outcome of an electoral contest was wholly reflective of the majority’s votes or otherwise. An Election Tribunal should therefore only seek to determine the extent to which the popular will is reflected in electoral outcomes and do clear substantial justice thereof.
This is more so when it is instructively realised that an Election Petition proceeding is never equal to a criminal trial. The Petitioner can thus never assume a State Prosecutor’s role nor can any Respondent be deemed an accused person standing criminal trial before the Election Tribunal. As such, the evidential ‘inconvenience and complexities’, required of a criminal trial, ought never to have found accomodation in Election Petition proceedings no matter the nature of the allegations forming the claims.
Going further, one may ask what proving an allegation beyond reasonable doubt entails? First, a crime must be proven to have been committed and secondly, it is very important to establish that the ‘accused’ was directly or constructively culpable in the said crime committed. The proof must also be established in such manner as to point to no other culpable direction but the accused’s. What logically follows, or ought to follow, the outlined proof beyond reasonable doubt preconditions, is a conviction by the State.
Accordingly, where the proof is not to be followed by a conviction by the State, the proof beyond reasonable doubt requirement becomes incongruous, illogical and bereft of any rationally sound or even identifiable jurisprudential roots. This is because civil proceedings (including Election Petitions), are obviously devoid of the fundamental omponents and requirements of a criminal trial; and more so, the eventual outcomes, and procedural niceties of both, are very clearly distinct.
Again, let us suppose that a crime, like murder or any other, was alleged in an Election Petition; and same is proved ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. What will be the result? Can the Election Tribunal order a conviction, sentence or committal to prison in the circumstance? Obviously Not!
Now, even if the Election Tribunal recommends some ‘indicted’ persons for criminal trial, will such recommendation abridge the indicted persons’ right to presumption of innocence (notwithstanding that the Election Tribunal had already deemed them liable), if they eventually face criminal prosecution?