Atiku/Buhari: ‘PEPT inquiry coloured with technical rules’

Judiciary watchdog, Access to Justice, says the judgment of the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal in the case of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar versus President Muhammadu Buhari has exposed the need for the court to have a shift in its approach to election petitions.

The group said it was concerned that the inquiry conducted by the tribunal to arrive at its September 11, 2019 judgment in the Atiku and Buhari’s case “was significantly coloured by the application of technical rules of evidence.”

It expressed regret that the court concentrated on the application of technical rules of evidence rather than interrogate the transparency and integrity of the presidential election.

In a statement by its convener, Mr Joseph Otteh, A2J said by dwelling on technical rules of evidence, the tribunal neglected to hold the Independent National Electoral Commission to account for its actions and inaction in the last general elections.

The group, however, said Nigeria’s electoral jurisprudence, rather than the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal, was to blame for the situation.

It said, “The Nigeria’s electoral jurisprudence places too heavy an emphasis on the adversarial technique and its technicalities even in electoral decision-making.

“This is not a good framework for exercising the court’s role in safeguarding Nigeria’s fragile democracy and needs to change.

“When an electoral court insists on ‘proof beyond reasonable doubt’ – which is a standard applicable to the adjudication of criminal cases – in order to prove that voter figures were tempered with, the court raises the bar for reaching the truth about the integrity of the elections conducted and the fairness of its process and outcome and makes it harder to ascertain whether announced results were derived from actual votes cast in an election.

“In civil cases, the thresholds are not that high, and the courts accept the principle of the ‘preponderance of evidence’. In electoral cases, there is a compelling need for making this burden even lighter, not heavier. The court’s approach, therefore, ultimately inclines towards suppressing the truth and keeping it buried under the rubric of the high thresholds it has set. This makes it harder for electoral courts to play their watchdog roles of restoring and reinforcing the choices made by the electorate. In the end legalism defeats justice, while ‘democracy’ and the electorate are the ultimate losers.”

While clarifying that its concern was not out of partisanship, A2J said the verdict of the PEPT in the Atiku v Buhari case had demonstrated that “our courts’ philosophy of electoral adjudication needs to be reconceptualised and reconstructed to realign it better to the need to both protect Nigeria’s fledgling democracy and the electoral process as well help it hold electoral bodies accountable for delivering free, fair and transparent elections.”