The Inescapable Conclusions Of The Benin Appeal Court Judgment In The Edo State Governorship Election Petition
By the judgment of the Court of Appeal, sitting in Benin City, in respect of the appeal from the Edo State election petition tribunal judgment that lied with it, the Judiciary has once again demonstrated that it is the custodian of the nation’s nascent democracy and the last bastion of the people’s rights. It demonstrated this in its landmark judgments in the wake of the series of arbitrary administrative decisions by INEC that sought to abridge some of the citizens’ rights to aspire to public political service. In those judgments the Judiciary made it abundantly clear that statutory bodies, including INEC particularly, could exercise their executive functions, only strictly in accordance with the laws of the land.
The Court of Appeal in the Benin jurisdiction, made the following landmark pronouncements:-
1. That INEC is the statutory body charged by law with the responsibility of presenting evidence to election petition tribunals with regard to election results on forms EC8A; EC8B; and EC8C which are polling unit, ward collation, and Local Government Area collation result forms respectively. The implication of this is that any other result has to be corroborated with that of INEC because there is a presumption of regularity and correctness of the results of the statutory electoral agency, until rebutted. The Appeal Court noted that INEC performed this duty at the Edo State election petition tribunal.
2. That INEC, being a critical party in the conduct of the Edo State governorship election, properly and actively participated in the proceedings of the lower tribunal. It was not shut out for any reason. To have done so, would have been fatal to the case of the appellant, in this case Comrade Adams Oshiomole, as happened in the cases of Governor Chime of Enugu State and Clarence Obafemi, the Speaker of Kogi State respectively. The elections of the two gentlemen were cancelled by their respective election petition tribunals as a result of alleged irregularities. However the Court of Appeal sitting in Enugu and Jos respectively, upturned the election cancellations on the grounds that INEC was not allowed to participate in the proceedings at the election tribunals because of the technical reasons that INEC failed to file its tribunal papers by ONE day in the case of Chime in Enugu, and the electoral body also failed by TWO days in that of Obafemi. I cannot but applaud the Court of Appeal for standing up for this legal and constitutional cardinal principle of “audio alteram partem” which means hear the other side.
3. The judgment of the Court of Appeal was also explicit on this issue of fair hearing when it affirmed the tribunal’s position that all the pieces of documentary evidence adduced by the petitioner were presented in the open court and not across the bar and what was more, that the evidence were examined and cross-examined by all parties to the case. Nobody was inveigled, or ambushed with any inadmissible evidence. Still on this fundamental matter of fair hearing, the Court of Appeal said it was satisfied that where the lower tribunal based its judgment on charts or tables it was the petitioner, based on his argued documentary evidence, (by all parties) that submitted them; and not the tribunal descending into the witness box to manufacture charts to help one party or the other. The operational word of the Appeal Court was that all parties examined and cross-examined on the charts or tables. They were not unilaterally adopted and used as bases for judgment.
4. Another area of the judgment I will like to commend and therefore comment upon is in the area of burden of proof. The Court of Appeal noted that Comrade Oshiomole was able to discharge the onus of proving that the governorship election was fraught with irregularities and that he won the majority of the lawful votes cast on Election Day. He was able to do so by proving the criminal activities he alleged on Election Day, beyond reasonable doubt, without shifting the burden to his opponent. After all, he who asserts must prove.
I would have discharged my responsibilities as a public affairs analyst, if societal members will be good enough to distill useful lessons from the extant Appeal Court rulings on election petition matters. I will enjoin the politicians who still have cases pending at the Appeal Courts to read the judgments between the lines and not cry foul when their cases are either upheld or thrown out because a Solomon has come to judgment. They should stop whipping off primordial sentiments and also stop deceiving their followers through claiming phantom victories in advance of final rulings. It is however an uphill task for most politicians to abide with these pieces of advice because they are incurable optimists by nature.