By Henry Ojelu
Human Rights Law Service, HURILAWS, and its partner, OneVoice Coalition, have called on President Muhammadu Buhari to sign into law the 2018 Electoral Act (Amendment Bill), to address some of the challenges identified with the election petitions process.
The human rights advocacy groups also urged the Independent Electoral National Electoral Commission, INEC, to immediately after announcing the result of an election, make available at no cost, certified copies of all relevant election documents to all political parties, to facilitate fair challenges against the election outcome.
Senior Legal/Programmes Officer, HURILAWS, Collins Okeke made the call at a Media Parley and formal presentation of a report entitled, ‘Judicial Application of 2019 Election Petition Laws in Nigeria.’
The media parley, held in Lagos, was jointly organised by HURILAWS in collaboration OneVoice Coalition.
The groups, as part of their recommendations contained in the report, also called on the National Assembly to adopt the recommendations of the Uwais Committee, by placing the burden of proof for election petitions on INEC and the respondent.
According to the groups, since INEC conducted the election and the respondent is the beneficiary, it will be easy for INEC and the respondent, to prove that the election was conducted substantially in accordance with the electoral law.
The groups noted that shifting the burden of proof in election petitions from the petitioner to INEC and respondent, will substantially restore confidence in election tribunals.
“It is on record that, no presidential election has been upturned in Nigeria, on account of the doctrine of substantial compliance. This is due in part, to the onerous burden of the substantial compliance principle.
The 2008 Electoral Reform Committee (otherwise known as the Justice Uwais Committee) tried to relieve this onerous burden placed on the petitioner, by recommending that the burden of proof for election petitions be placed on INEC and the respondent.
The thinking is that, since INEC conducted the election and respondent is the beneficiary, it will be easy for INEC and the respondent to prove that the election was conducted substantially in accordance with the electoral law. Unfortunately, the Uwais recommendation was not incorporated into the Electoral Act of 2010. Shifting the burden of proof in election petitions from the Petitioner to INEC and Respondent will substantially restore confidence in election tribunals,” it stated.
While stating that it supports all just measures proposed to curtail the time spent in endless election petitions, the human rights group advised that these measures must be holistic, and not limited to simply throwing out a petition or nullifying a judgement, acts which simply mete out injustice to the litigant who has done all he or she was required by law to do.
The groups also recommended that, substantial compliance should not be restricted to what transpired on Election day, adding that matters such as voter registration, unlawful campaign outside of the statutory period, campaign funding, accreditation of voters, collation of results form the composite process of an election, any of which could be manipulated to thwart the fairness of an election and change the outcome thereof.