By Monday Ubani
EVEN when the full reasons for the decision in Hope Uzodimma V Emeka Ihedioha are yet to be made public many legal analysts have gone to town criticizing the decision reached on that case, and most of the criticisms are directed at the seeming departure from the precedent already established by the same Supreme Court on the probative value to be attached to documentary evidence like EC8 Forms(INEC Result Sheets) when the documentary evidence is tendered by person or persons who were not present when the said documents were made.
The Supreme Court has held and it has become a notorious precedent that where a petitioner needs to establish the regularity or irregularity of election results in the polling units with the documentary evidence which is the result sheets made out after the announcement of the voting, that the proper person to tender the said documentary evidence during trial is the presiding officer or the polling agents of the political parties that participated in the election at that unit level.
It is clearly a burden and a heavy one at that, that it is practically impossible to succeed as a petitioner in electoral matters to upturn at the Election Tribunal the declaration of INEC announcing the Respondent the winner with such onus of burden placed on the Petitioner.
Calling all the presiding officers or poling unit agents within a limited time allowed by the Electoral Act has made virtually all petitioners perennial losers in all Election Petition Cases. From 1999 till date, it is an insignificant few that have succeeded in upturning the declaration of INEC at the election tribunals due to this impossible onus placed on every petitioner. In the recent case of Alhaji Atiku V President Muhammed Buhari and Others, the Supreme Court was reported to have held that for Alhaji Atiku to have succeeded in proving the regularity or irregularity of the results of INEC in contention that he should have produced at least 250,000(Two hundred and fifty thousand) witnesses from the various polling units across the country to convince the court about the regularity or otherwise of the said results.
My personal view on this burden is that no petitioner will ever succeed in upturning any declaration of INEC within the limited time allowed by the Electoral Act with this kind of burden, and the decisions so far from the courts over the gubernatorial and presidential elections have indicated that fact.
HOPE UZODIMMA MAY HAVE CHANGED ALL THAT!
Even though the full reasons is yet to be given and we earnestly wait for it, but from what was reported, the Supreme Court is said to have frowned at the rejection of the result sheets as produced by the police that participated in the election and which tendered their results sheets as given to them by INEC officers.
To the eternal glory of God and to the survival of electoral democracy in Nigeria, the sound of the drum has changed suddenly and the dancers are now required to alter their dancing steps accordingly.
In a decision that appears unprecedented, the Supreme Court of Nigeria held in the recent case of Hope Uzodimma V Emeka Ihedioha that RESULT SHEETS TENDERED BY A SINGLE POLICEMAN OVER SEVERAL POLING UNITS IS ADMISSIBLE AND ENJOYS PROBATIVE VALUE OF THE COURTS. Let someone ALLELEUYAH!
I participated in an Election Petition matter recently with some senior lawyers where INEC certified result sheets (EC8B) which is a summation of all the result sheets of the various polling units gathered from EC8A tendered to the Election Tribunal through Agents of the Petitioner at the Local Government level were regarded as mere “dumping” as the Presiding Officers or agents of the polling units were not called. We felt that this decision by the tribunal following the precedent already established by the Apex Court was harsh and does not accord with logic. For emphasis, these results in EC8B are INEC certified result sheets, meaning that they were computed from EC8A also from INEC. The question should be why do I need to go and produce the agents of the polling units or the Presiding Officer of INEC to tender the EC8A forms individually before the court can accord probative value to the documentary evidence in that election? It is an unnecessary burden that does not accord to law, logic, and Justice. Therefore the recent decision in Hope Uzodimma V Emeka Ihedioha where the Supreme Court accepted the INEC result sheets of the various polling units from a single policeman as reported in the newspapers to me is a healthy legal development that has altered the course of events in our legal jurisprudence over Electoral Matters and will certainly reduce the burden hitherto placed on Petitioners in challenging election result declarations by INEC.
However, the newspaper did not tell us whether the result sheets as tendered by the policeman was signed by the Presiding Officers and the Polling Agents of the various political parties. If they were signed by them, then there is nothing wrong with the said admission. I have participated in an election petition matter where INEC deliberately refused to certify their result sheets as requested by the legal team of the Petitioner. If that is the case, it will be very unjust and unlawful to refuse to accept the result sheets from the security agencies who by law are required to obtain copies of all polling unit results during all national elections.
HOPE UZODIMMA’s case hopefully has altered for good our electoral jurisprudence on admissibility and assignment of probative value to documentary evidence(Result Sheets of INEC) during election petition matters. It is good indeed. A heavy burden has been removed from the shoulders of legal team of various petitioners who under tremendous pressure with limited time at their disposal are required to call several witnesses albeit unnecessary when a single person could have tended all the documents at once, more so when such documents are certified by INEC with presumption of regularity that goes with it. THIS IS A TRIUMPH OF SUBSTANTIAL JUSTICE OVER MERE TECHNICALITY. A day is coming and that day is almost here when the burden of proving SUBSTANTIAL COMPLIANCE IN CONDUCTING ELECTION MATTERS WILL SHIFT TO INEC, THE UMPIRE.
In arriving at this conclusion, I did not look into the other arguments by legal pundits that the decision of the Supreme Court was absurd on the ground that the figures added to the result of Hope Uzodimma were more than the accredited voters in the said 388 poling units. I advise that patients should be exercised over this until the fuller reasons for this decision are made public by the Supreme Court. It shall be well with NIGERIA.
Monday Onyekachi Ubani, is a Lagos based legal practitioner
– Jan. 17, 2020 @ 11:17 GMT |