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PETITIONER HAS BURDEN TO PROVE NON-COMPLIANCE WITH THE ELECTORAL ACT

Dictum

In the instant case, it is fundamental to point out that, from the pleadings, the allegation of non-compliance is generated by the Petitioners. Under Sections 134(1) and 135 of the Electoral Act, the level of proof required for the success of the Petition is doubled. There must be proof of non-compliance and the further proof that the non compliance affected substantially the result of the election. In the face of such an allegation of non-compliance, the court is enjoined by the law not to invalidate an election if it appears that the election was conducted substantially in accordance with the principles of the Electoral Act. All said and done, the Petitioners have the primary burden of proving that there was non-compliance and that the non-compliance affects substantially the result of the election before the burden can shift to the Respondents to establish that there was no substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act in the conduct of the election.

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

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THERE IS A REBUTTABLE PRESUMPTION THAT AN ELECTION RESULT DECLARED BY A RETUNING OFFICER IS CORRECT

Election results are presumed by law to be correct until the contrary is proved. It is however a rebuttable presumption. In other words, there is a rebuttable presumption that the result of any election declared by a returning officer is correct and authentic and the burden is on the person who denies the correctness and authenticity of the return to rebut the presumption. (See Omoboriowo v Ajasin (1984) 1 SCNLR 108; Jalingo v Nyame (1992) 3 NWLR (Part 231) 538; Finebone v Brown (1999) 4 NWLR (Part 600) 613; Hashidu v Goje (2003) 15 NWLR (Part 843) 361 and Buhari v Obasanjo (2005) 13 NWLR (Part 941) 1).

— Niki Tobi, JSC. Buhari v. INEC (2008) – SC 51/2008

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DOUBLE NOMINATION IS A PRE-ELECTION MATTER; THE BASIS OF QUALIFICATION/DISQUALIFICATION

Considering the facts pleaded above, it is clear that, the claim of disqualification or non-qualification of the 3rd Respondent is centred solely on the invalid or double nomination of the 4th Respondent. However, it is the settled law that, the issue of nomination of a candidate at an election is a pre-election matter. Therefore, the issue of qualification or disqualification can only be ventilated on the grounds enumerated in Sections 131 or 137 of the Constitution … It therefore means that, the conditions of qualification or disqualifica are those prescribed under Sections 131 and 137, in case of persons contesting for Presidential Office. That means that, where it is alleged in an election petition, that a person is or was not qualified to contest election to the office of President of Nigeria, as stipulated in Section 134(1)(a) of the Electoral Act, 2022, it is Sections 131 and 137 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that are applicable. See PDP v. INEC (2014) 17 NWLR (pt.1437) 525; Kakih v. PDP (2014) 15 NWLR (pt. 1430) 424-425, Ucha v. Onwe (2011) 4 NWLR (pt. 1237) 386 at 427 and Captain Idris Ichaila Wada & Or v. Yahaya Bello & Ors (2016) LPELR 41263 (CA). Thus, where election has been conducted and result declared, such election cannot be questioned on grounds of qualification save under Sections 131 and 137 of the Constitution, in the case of a Presidential election. This postulation is supported by Section 134(3) of the Electoral Act where it is stipulated that: “With respect to Subsection 1(a), a person is deemed to be qualified for an elective office and his election shall not be questioned on grounds of qualification if, with respect to the particular election in question, he meets the applicable requirements of Sections 65, 106, 131 or 177 of the Constitution and he is not, as may be applicable, in breach of Sections 66, 107, 137 or 182 of the Constitution.” As stated earlier, the applicable provisions are Sections 131 and 137 of the Constitution. It is clear from the plenitude of the pleadings in this petition, that the facts grounding the Petitioner’s claim of disqualification or non-qualification of the 3rd and 4th Respondents is hinged on double and invalid nomination of the 4th Respondent. I had pointed out earlier in the course of this Ruling that, the issue of qualification or disqualification of a candidate at an election is strictly a requirement of the Constitution. It is held by the Supreme Court in Alhassan & Anor v. Ishaku & Ors (2016) LPELR 40083 (SC) That: “…, by virtue of the provisions of Section 138(1)(a) of the Electoral Act, a Tribunal’s power to decide whether a person is qualified to contest an election is restricted to establishing the requirements of Section 177 and 182 of the Constitution against the adverse party. An Election Tribunal has no jurisdiction to inquire into the primaries of a political party.”

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

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IT IS A POLITICAL PARTY OR ITS CANDIDATE WHO CAN CHALLENGE AN ELECTION

In the case of ALL PROGRESSIVE CONGRESS V PEOPLES DEMOCRATIC PARTY 2019 LPELR-49499 CA, in the interpretation of the provision of S137(1) of the Electoral Act 2010, which provision is in pari material with the extant provisions of S133 (1) (a) and (b) the Electoral Act 2022, the Court of Appeal, Per Ali Abubakar Babandi Gummel JCA, took the stance that: ‘….it is clear from this provision, that either the political party, or its candidate for the election, or both of them jointly can present an election petition….this provision recognizes that a political party, can in its name, present an election petition challenging the election for the benefit of the candidate and itself….’ Ditto, in the lead judgment delivered by per Emmanuel Akomaye Agim JCA, the court reiterated and expounded as follows; ‘….therefore such a petition is a representative action by the political party on behalf of its candidate for the election and its members, the political party’s candidate for the election is an unnamed party for his benefit and that of the political party. An unnamed party in a representative action is a party to the action…….”

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WITNESS DEPOSITION NOT FILED BY A WITNESS AS AT THE TIME OF FILING THE PETITION WILL NOT BE COUNTENANCED

Peoples’ Democratic Party v. Chibuzor Okogbuo & Ors (2019) LPELR-48989 (CA) at p.24-25, when it said (per Orji-Abadua, JCA) that: “What is deducible is that Witness Deposition filed by a witness not listed in the Petition cannot be countenanced by the Court or Tribunal after the expiration of the time prescribed for the filing of the Petition. It was stressed by this court therein that to allow a Petitioner to file an additional witness statement at any stage of the Election proceedings would destroy the regulated environment that must exist to ensure that both parties to the petition are expeditiously heard and the Petition determined within 180 days from the date of the Petition. This court observed that such an indulgence would remove the control of the pace of the proceedings from the control of the Constitution, the Electoral Act and the First Schedule to the Electoral Act and leave it at the whim of the parties and open the floodgate for all kinds of abuses of the judicial process.”

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INTERPRETATION OF SECTION 134(2) OF THE CFRN

It is obvious that states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja were lumped together as a group by Subsection (2) (b) above. What differentiates the constituents of the group is their names and nothing more. One of them is called Federal Capital Territory and the rest called states of the Federation. Subsection (2) (b) clearly refers to two thirds of all the constituents of the group enumerated therein as the minimum number from each of which a candidate must have one-quarter of the votes cast therein. There is nothing in Subsection (2)(b) that requires or suggests that it will not apply to the areas listed therein as a group. The argument of Learned SAN that the provision by using the word “and” to conclude the listing of the areas to which it applies has created two groups to which it applies differently is, with due respects, a very imaginative and ingenious proposition that the wordings of that provision cannot by any stretch accommodate or reasonably bear. If S. 134(2) of the 1999 Constitution intended that the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja should be distinct from states of the Federation as a distinct group it would not have listed it together with states of the Federation in (b). Also, if S. 134(2) had intended having one-quarter of the votes cast in the Federal Capital Territory Abuja as a 4 separate requirement additional to the ones enumerated therein, it would have clearly stated so in a separate paragraph numbered (c). It is glaring that S.134(2) prescribed two requirements that must be cumulatively satisfied by a Presidential candidate in an election contested by not less than two candidates, before he or she can be deemed duly elected President. It prescribed the first requirement in (a) and the second one in (b). It did not impose a third requirement and so there is no (c) therein … Such meaning would result a Presidential candidate that has the highest votes cast in the election and not less than one-quarter of the votes cast in not less than two-thirds of 36 states of the Federation or in all the states of the Federation cannot be deemed duly elected as President because he did not have one-quarter of the votes cast in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. This certainly violates the egalitarian principle of equality of persons, votes and the constituent territories of Nigeria, a fundamental principle and purpose of our Constitution. Such a meaning is unconstitutional. I think that his said proposition is the result of reading those provisions in isolated patches instead of reading them as a whole and in relation to other parts of the Constitution. Reading and interpreting the relevant provision as a whole and together with other parts of the Constitution as a whole is an interpretation that best reveals the legislative intention in the relevant provision.

— Agim JSC. Peter Obi & Anor. v. INEC & Ors. (SC/CV/937/2023, Thursday the 26th day of October 2023)

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DESPITE ELECTIONS BEING SUI GENERIS, THEY ARE GOVERNED BY THE EVIDENCE ACT

It is important to note here that although Election petitions are sui generis, they are governed by the Evidence Act. See BUHARI V. OBASANJO (2005) 2 NWLR (PT. 910) 241; APC V PDP & ORS (2015) LPELR-24587(SC). — H.S. Tsammani, JCA. Atiku v PDP (CA/PEPC/05/2023, 6th of September, 2023)

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