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ONLY POLLING UNIT AGENT CAN GIVE TESTIMONY OF WHAT TRANSPIRED IN THE POLLING UNIT

Dictum

In PDP & ANOR V INEC & ORS (2019) LPELR-48101(CA), this Court Per Agim, JCA (as he then was) held that it is only a Polling Unit agent or a person who was present at a Polling Unit during polls that can give admissible evidence of what transpired during the poll in that unit. See also GOYOL & ANOR V. INEC & ORS (2012) 11 NWLR (PT. 1311) 207, 218 and BUHARI V. INEC & ORS (PT.1120) 246, 424 … Under our law, specifically in Section 43 of the Electoral Act, 2022, Polling Agents are permitted to be appointed by Political Parties for each Polling Unit and collation centre. The wisdom in this is for each of the political parties involved in an election to be represented by its own agents. The duties of an agent are to represent the interest of his/her principal. Having regard to the fact that no mortal man can be in all the places at the same time, the law allows political parties to have their agents at all polling units and collation centres. It is therefore not anticipated by the law for any political party to appoint an octopus agent with his tentacles in all the polling units and collation centres. This is humanly not practicable. When, therefore, evidence is required to prove what happened in any polling unit or a collation centre, it is only the agent who witnessed the anomaly or the malfeasance that can legally and credibly testify. See BUHARI V. OBASANJO (SUPRA); OKE & ANOR V. MIMIKO (SUPRA) AND ANDREW V. PDP (SUPRA).

— H.S. Tsammani, JCA. Atiku v PDP (CA/PEPC/05/2023, 6th of September, 2023)

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HISTORY OF THE EVIDENTIAL BURDEN OF NON-COMPLIANCE IN OUR ELECTORAL LAWS

This ground of non-compliance to the Electoral Act has been in all our Electoral Laws even from when we had parliamentary system of government. The Courts have over the years shed a lot of light on the requirement of the law in proving the allegation of non-compliance. A short chronicle of the decisions of our Courts will throw more light on the evidential burden of proving non-compliance. In BASSEY V. YOUNG (1963) LPELR-15465 (SC), BRETT JSC in the then Federal Supreme Court held as follows: “…Akinfosile v. ljose (1960) 5 F.S.C. 192, where the Court held that a petitioner who alleges in his petition a particular non compliance and avers in his prayer that the non-compliance was substantial must so satisfy the Court. If there should be any inconsistency between the two decisions, it is the decision of this Court that binds us, and it would appear to me that we are bound by the authority of Akinfosile v. ljose to hold that the petitioner must show both that irregularities took place and that they might have affected the result of the election.” In AWOLOWO V. SHAGARI & ORS (1979) LPELR-653 (SC), the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the 1979 election contest held per Obaseki JSC as follows: “Once a petitioner alleges a particular non-compliance and averred in his prayer that it was substantial it is his duty so to satisfy the Court or Tribunal having cognisance of the question. See AKINFOSILE v. IJOSE 5 FSC 92 AT 99 (a case dealing with Regulation 7 of the Elections (House of Representatives) Regulations 1958 which is in pari materia with Section 111 of the Electoral Decree 1977 as ………..to vitiate an election, the non-compliance must be proved to have affected the results of the election. See SORUNKE v. ODEBUNMI (1960) 5 FSC AT PP 177 AND 178, where Ademola, C.J.N, delivering the judgment of the Federal Supreme Court said: “Finally, in considering ….. whether the election was void under the Ballot Act, Lord Coleridge said at page 751 of the judgment: If this proposition be closely examined it will be found to be equivalent to this, that the non-observance of the rules or forms which is to render the election invalid, must be so great as to amount to a conducting of the election in a manner contrary to the principle of an election by ballot, and must be so great as to satisfy the tribunal that it did affect or might have affected the majority of the voters, or in other words, the result of the election. When Lord Coleridge refers to a majority of voters, he cannot mean to say that non-compliance may be overlooked unless it affects over half of the votes cast. He referred to a non compliance, which “affected the majority of voters, or in other words, the result of the election.” It cannot be doubted that here Lord Coleridge means that those electors wishing to vote who formed a majority in favour of a particular candidate must have been prevented from casting a majority of votes in his favour with effect. This does not require that all their votes must have been disallowed; it will be sufficient if enough of their votes are disallowed to give another candidate a majority of valid votes.” See also the cases of BUHARI & ANOR V. OBASANJO & ORS (2005) LPELR-815 (SC) and CPC V. INEC & ORS (2011) LPELR-8257 (SC).

— H.S. Tsammani, JCA. Atiku v PDP (CA/PEPC/05/2023, 6th of September, 2023)

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GROUND; GROUND FOR QUESTIONING AN ELECTION

It is trite law, that a Petitioner is required to question an election on any of the grounds set out in Section 134 (1) of the Electoral Act, 2022. For ease of reference, Section 134(1) of the Electoral Act, 2022 provides as follows: “An election may be questioned on any of the following grounds – a. A person whose election is questioned was at the time of the election not qualified to contest the election; b. The election was invalid by reason of corrupt practices and non-compliance with the provisions of this Act; or c. The Respondent was not duly elected by majority of lawful votes cast at the election. What then is the meaning of the word “ground”? In the case of KALU VS CHUKWUMERIJE (2012) 12 NWLR (PT. 1315) 425 AT 485, the Court of Appeal per Owoade, JCA puts it succinctly, thus: “The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (1971) US reprint (1988) defines the word “Ground” in numerous terms and with an array of examples at pages 1214 to 1225 as follows: “Ground”: (a) The fundamental constituent or the essential part of anything. (b) A fundamental principle, also the elements or rudiments of any study or branch of knowledge. (c) A circumstance on which an opinion, inference, arguments, statement or claim is founded, or which has given rise to an action, procedure or mental feeling, a motive often with additional implication. A valid reason justifying motive or what is alleged as such.” Thus, a ground in the context of an election petition, is the fundamental reason, basis or justification for questioning the election. Before a party can question an election, his petition must fall within the grounds specified by the Electoral Act 2022. See the following cases: OYEGUN VS IGBENEDION & ORS (1992) 2 NWLR (PT. 226) 947; OKONKWO VS INEC & ORS (2003) 3 LRECN 599; ABUBAKAR VS INEC (2020) 12 NWLR (PT. 1737); and MODIBO VS USMAN (2020) 3 NWLR (PT. 1712) 470.

— A. Osadebay, J. APC v INEC & Ors. (EPT/KN/GOV/01/2023, 20th Day of September, 2023)

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PURPORT OF A FREE AND FAIR ELECTION

A free and fair election is one in which all eligible voters who are willing to vote are given every opportunity to cast their votes which must be counted and declared for the candidate of their choice. See the case of JIMOH VS ADEKUNLE (1991) 1 LRECN 123. The essence of democratic elections, it has been held, is that they be free, fair and that in that atmosphere of freedom, fairness and impartiality, citizens will exercise their freedom of choice of who their representatives shall be by casting their votes in favour of those candidates who, in their deliberate judgment, they consider to possess the qualities which mark them out as preferable candidates to those others who are contesting with them. See the case of OJUKWU VS ONWUDIWE & ORS (1984) 1 S 15 AT 91. The above essential tenets of democratic elections are fundamentally negatived by election rigging.

— A. Osadebay, J. APC v INEC & Ors. (EPT/KN/GOV/01/2023, 20th Day of September, 2023)

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WHO ARE NECESSARY RESPONDENTS IN AN ELECTION PETITION

Generally, necessary respondents in an election petition are the persons whose election or return is complained of, and the Electoral body that conducted the election. See Section 133(2) and (3) of the Electoral Act, 2022. Those are what are termed statutory respondents. It should be remembered the Election Petitions are sui generis, and its procedure strictly regulated by statute. Thus, where a person does not fall within the category of statutory respondents, they are not necessary parties in an election petition. See Agbareh v. Mimra (2008) All FWLR (pt.409) 559; APC v. PDP (2015) LPELR – 24587 (SC) and Buhari v. Yusuf (2003) 4 NWLR (pt.841) 446 at 498. Thus, in Waziri v. Gaidam (2016) 11 NWLR (pt. 1523) 230 at 265 paragraphs F-G; the Supreme Court held that: “From the above, I have no difficulty in going along with the submissions of the respective counsel for the respondent that Section 137(2) and (3) of the Electoral Act, 2010 has no room for the joinder of the 5th Respondent who neither won the election nor performed any role as electoral officer or agent of the third Respondent in the election petition challenging the result of such an election and even no relief was claimed against the said 5th respondent and indeed, he had nothing to gain or lose in the petition aforesaid.”

— H.S. Tsammani, JCA. APM v INEC & Ors. (2023) – CA/PEPC/04/2023

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VOTERS REGISTER CANNOT BE REPLACED BY CARD READER TO PROVE OVERVOTING

This court in a number of recent decisions has commended the introduction of the card reader in the 2015 elections by INEC. The court has noted however, that its function is solely to authenticate the owner of a voter’s card and to prevent multi-voting by a voter and cannot replace the voters register or statement of results in appropriate forms. See Shinkafi v. Yari ; Okereke v. Umahi (unreported) SC.1004/ 2015 delivered on 5/2/2016 at pages 31 – 34.

— Kekere-Ekun, JSC. Nyesom v. Peterside (SC.1002/2015 (REASONS), 12 Feb 2016)

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GROUNDS UPON WHICH AN ELECTION CAN BE QUESTIONED

The Electoral Act, 2022 in an explicit manner, has laid out clearly grounds upon which an election can be questioned in Section 134 thereof. Then there is Section 135 of the said Act which looks like a proviso to Section 134. For a proper appreciation of the intendment of the law, Section 134 and 135 of the Electoral Act must be considered together.

— H.S. Tsammani, JCA. Atiku v PDP (CA/PEPC/05/2023, 6th of September, 2023)

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