Human Rights Law Services (HURILAWS) has expressed concern over the high cost of procuring relevant documents needed for election petition tribunals.
The human rights organisation lamented that the cost of filing an election petition and prosecuting same at the tribunal, which attracted fees as assessed by the Registrar and security for N400, 000 could discourage potential petitioners ahead of the 2019 election.
The Senior Counsel, HURILAWS, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) stated this during the public presentation of the “Judicial Application of Election Petition at the 2017 Anambra State Governorship Election Tribunal” in Lagos.
Agbakoba, who was represented by the HURILAWS Senior Legal/ Programmes Officer, Collins Okeke stressed that access to relevant materials or documents by candidates for purposes of election petition has continued to be a challenge with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), levying very exorbitant fees for issuance of certified true copies of the election results and other election documents to candidates.
He said findings from the recent report after observing the election tribunal process of the 2017 Anambra Governorship election revealed that the petitioners at the state election petition tribunal had to pay application fees in the range of N1m to N1.5m to access such documents from INEC.
According to him, such might have contributed in dissuading potential petitioners from challenging the outcome of the November 18, 2017 governorship election, given the large number of candidates (36) that stood for the election, who he said expended so much during their election campaign and are usually in very tight financial circumstances at the stage of election petition.
He pointed out that unless such candidates have huge financial muscles as an incumbent, they would really be discouraged from venturing into the capital-intensive project of election petition, which he said calls for an investigation into justice buying.
“It would be good to interrogate the source of funding of an election petition process by a respondent who is an incumbent and has access to State resources.
“It puts the petitioner at a serious disadvantage where the respondent can draw from State resources to retain the best of legal minds or advocates to defend a Petition whilst the petitioner with his or her very limited personal funds struggles to retain a relatively inexperienced lawyer to prosecute the Petition with the humongous weigh of burden or onus of proof the Petitioner is expected to discharge,” he stated.
He said for there to be a level playing ground for all candidates vying for different government positions in the 2019 election, INEC should immediately after announcing the result of an election, make available at no cost, certified copies of all relevant election documents to all the political parties to facilitate fair challenges against the election outcome.
Source: The Guardian