Electoral Reform: Stakeholders Advocate Inclusion of Voters in Election Petition Suits

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Alex Enumah in Abuja

As activities towards the amendment of the nation’s electoral law continue to gather momentum, stakeholders in the polity have advocated for the need to expand the category of persons who can file an election petition to include the electorate.

According to section 137 of the Electoral Act 2010, those who can bring election petitions before an election petition tribunal include candidates to the election and their political parties.

However, the stakeholders who spoke at a workshop on Election Petitions in Nigeria held in Abuja, argued that section 137 of the Electoral Act 2010 as it is, is too restrictive and to some extent, denies the electorate the opportunity to actually decide who rules them, particularly when the outcome of an election that produced a winner was said to be embedded in fraud.
Executive Director, Human Rights and Empowerment Project Limited, Francis Moneke, in an appraisal of the electoral reform process, stated that the civic right or franchise of a person to vote in an election is indeed ineffective where the individual lacks the legal right to question cases of manifest rape of that right.
“The denial of the electorate the capacity to question or challenge the outcome of an election entails that the law leaves them at the margins of political equation where they are at the mercy of candidates or political parties to an election, who may for some ulterior considerations, abandon or compromise an election petition,” Moneke said.
Arguing further, Moneke said to confer a right to vote without any corresponding legal remedy where that right is thwarted, defeats the age long and cardinal legal principle that says ‘where there is injury, there is remedy’.
Moneke and majority of participants at the workshop dismissed the claim that if the scope of persons allowed to file election petition is expanding beyond candidates and their parties, it would open a floodgate of petitions, which may be too unwieldy to manage and disposed of.
In the alternative, they suggested the involvement of public interest lawyers who can bring about a class action on behalf of electorate to challenge the outcome of an election that is believed to be marred with widespread irregularities.

Also speaking, Legal and Programme Officer, Human Rights Law Service (HURILAWS), Collins Okeke, said it has become necessary to pay attention to the process of managing post-election conflicts “in view of the glaring desperation of politicians across political parties in Nigeria.”
He disclosed that the workshop was designed to appraise the election petitions process in Nigeria and advocate for reforms to improve dispensation of justice.

According to him, some of the areas HURILAWS is advocating for reforms in order to strengthen the Electoral Act include: “Access to vital materials by election petitioners, relevance and admissibility of card reader evidence, time frames for concluding election petitions in view of the provisions of section 285 (6) constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, the twin issue of burden of proof and standard of proof in election petition, Expanding the category of persons who can file election petitions and access fees for tribunal services.”