By Yusufu Shehu Usman
What has emerged from the recent trends in the judgments of all the courts and the Tribunals in election petitions is the indispensability of polling agents in proving electoral malpractices of all sorts and every other breaches of the electoral law, procedure and manual for the conduct of the election
This is not surprising because the polling agent is the recognised representative of the party and the candidate at the polling unit
Legally, the agent is the most reliable eye witness to the conduct of the election in the polling unit to which he is accredited and In which he has official functions and duties to perform
Therefore a party who claims that the election was marred by irregularities and non compliance with the Electoral Act or regulations made for the conduct of the elections, must call the polling agent as a witness before the Tribunal to give evidence In support of his allegations.
It is to be further observed and appreciated that many petitioners lost in the Tribunals on the ground that their petitions alleged electoral malpractices like sidelining the card reader, ballot box stuffing, Corruption of electoral officials, snatching of ballot boxes to mention a few but failed in the course of the proceedings, to call their polling agents before the Tribunals to substantiate or establish the allegation by evidence.
The position established by the Tribunals and upheld by the courts of appeal and indeed the supreme Court is unassailable
It is in perfect compliance with the our extant law of evidence which is fully applicable in the trial of election Petitions as it is in other cases before the conventional courts
The fact that election Petitions are sui generis In nature and effect, does not exempt them from being decided on the established Principles of the law of evidence
My only problem with this is not the law of evidence but the Electoral Act, the principal law pursuant to which the elections are conducted
In particular, the time frame foisted on the Petitioner to prepare and present his Petition before the election Tribunals
The Petitioner has only about two weeks or so to prove his petition beford the Tribunal and this is irrespective of the category of election.
It doesn’t matter in the law whether the petitioner’s challenge In the Tribunal is related to the Presidential election, National Assembly or State House of Assembly Election. There is no distinction or difference In the time allotted by the Electoral Act for the petitioner to open and close his case at the Tribunal
We all know that there is in fact different logistic requirements in these categories of elections. The logistic requirements are by no means the same
There many more polling units in the spread of presidential election. The constituency covers the entire nation.
In the case of the National Assembly elections the constituencies to be covered are mich less and lesser still in the House of Assembly elections
It is therefore not just, fair or equitable to provide a uniform time frame for the proof of election Petitions in all cases.
This one jacket fits all time frame works great injustice to petitioners with a wide range of constituencies spanning thousands of polling units, each manned by an agent
It is infeasible and clearly practically impossible to call thousands of polling agents to be examined, cross examined, re examined and possibly recalled in two weeks.
You will need a magician not a lawyer to perform this task and the law is not magic
It must also be further observed that Election Petitions are usually not presented on only one ground and each ground requires quantum of other pieces of evidence apart from the testimony of the polling agents to be proved or established before the Tribunal.
In my humble opinion, the time frame required for the proof of Election Petitions needs to be reviewed to take into cognisance the challenges faced by the petitioner who is clearly the more disadvantaged party affected by the present position of the law.