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CLEEN Foundation Seeks Amendment of Electoral Act to Shift Burden of Proving Winners and Losers on INEC

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The Centre for Law Enforcement Education (CLEEN Foundation) on Wednesday said its experts found consequential biases in how Nigerian judges treated disputes arising from the 2023 general elections.

The frontline public policy think-tank said the mechanisms of adjudicating the country’s election disagreements should be fortified in order to improve confidence in the overall judicial system, which it emphasised as crucial to the nation’s democratic advancement.

While presenting key findings of its observers deployed to monitor the 2023 election petition decisions across the country during a roundtable at Reiz Continental Hotel, Abuja, on Wednesday afternoon, the civic group recommended judiciary independence and deployment of modern technology as viable solutions towards a less controversial arbitration of election disputes.

“Virtual hearing of court sittings should be normalised in Nigeria to ease a lot of human interference in the system while ensuring the absence of glitches,” the foundation’s programme director, Salaudeen Hashim, said at the event. The group cited the Kano election petitions tribunal’s decision to deliver its judgment via the online video conferencing platform Zoom as a critical indication of the endless promise that technology holds for the efficient handling of cases.

Mr Hashim said about 227 judges were assigned to decide petitions surrounding the 2023 general elections, including state and federal legislative and executive offices, and CLEEN deployed 38 monitors across 18 states.

Mr Hashim said bureaucratic hurdles prevented CLEEN’s officials from being able to access documents relating to the elections in most judicial precincts at both state and federal levels. To avoid future impediments, both the judiciary and electoral office INEC should be equipped with better transparency tools.

CLEEN also said section 134 (1) (b) and (c) of the Nigerian electoral law should be amended to shift the burden of proving winners and losers of an election on INEC, saying the body should be made to validate how it arrived at its decisions in court.

Currently, the evidentiary proof weighs virtually exclusively on a candidate challenging the outcome of an election, and the process is often extremely difficult to overcome, especially as INEC has a history of opacity that frustrates a challenger’s ability to gather material for judicial proceedings.

At the presidential election level, the chief justice of Nigeria, who also leads the Supreme Court, is an appointee of the president, subject to Senate confirmation. This process has been criticised as counterproductive to judicial independence.

Consequently, Mr Hashim said the chief justice should be appointed by the National Judicial Council, the body that currently regulates judicial appointments and disciplines. The court has faced criticism for its handling of the dispute over President Bola Tinubu’s election, with critics saying the appointment of current Chief Justice Kayode Ariwoola by the ruling All Progressives Congress made it difficult for judges he appointed to serve on the presidential election petition to act independently.

Wednesday’s evening was also attended by Gad Peter, the executive director at CLEEN, who praised the foundation for its work in promoting public safety and justice through empirical research, legislative advocacy and publications. The group said it regularly partners with government, private businesses and other non-governmental organisations.

Peoples gazette

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