Constitutional amendment is the solution to electoral problems, says Robert Clarke

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Robert Clarke, has attributed the recurring electoral litigation in the country to the flaws in the 1999 Constitution and called for its amendment to address the issue.

Clarke stated his opinion as a guest on the Politics Today show on Channels Television on Thursday.

Clarke said that the 1999 Constitution gave too much power to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which is the umpire of elections in Nigeria. He said that the constitution also made it difficult for aggrieved candidates and parties to challenge the results declared by INEC in court.

He said that the problem of electoral disputes has persisted since 1999 and has not changed despite several attempts to reform the electoral system. He said that every four years, the country goes through the same cycle of election petitions and appeals, which end up at the Supreme Court, which has never nullified any presidential election in Nigeria.

He said that the Supreme Court’s judgement on Thursday, which upheld the victory of President Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2023 presidential election, was not surprising, as it was based on the provisions of the constitution and the electoral laws.

He said that the constitution presumes that whatever INEC does is right and places the burden of proof on the petitioners to bring their own evidence to contradict INEC’s results. He said that this is a daunting task for any petitioner, especially when INEC has access to all the election materials and documents.

He said that INEC also enjoys an advantage over other parties in presenting its documents to the court, which has no option but to accept them as correct. He said that this creates a situation where INEC can manipulate and falsify election results without being challenged effectively.

He said that for Nigeria to avoid repeating this scenario in future elections, there is a need to amend the 1999 Constitution to remove some of its provisions that are detrimental to electoral justice and accountability. He suggested some of the amendments that should be made, such as:

Removing the section that requires candidates to belong to a political party before contesting an election. He said that this will reduce the influence and interference of political parties in elections and allow independent candidates to participate.

Reducing the power of INEC and creating an independent body to oversee its activities and audit its accounts. He said that this will ensure that INEC is transparent and accountable to the public, not to any political interest.

Changing the mode of appointment of INEC officials and members of election tribunals and courts He said that this will ensure that they are not influenced or compromised by any political authority or pressure group.

Introducing electronic voting and transmission of results. He said that this will enhance the credibility and accuracy of election results and reduce human errors and manipulation.

Simplifying the procedure and evidence required for challenging election results in court. He said that this will make it easier and faster for petitioners to seek redress and justice.

Clarke also blamed some lawyers for not doing enough to present strong cases for their clients at the election tribunals and courts. He said that some lawyers are more interested in making money than in pursuing justice. He advised lawyers to be more professional and diligent in handling election matters.

He expressed his disappointment with the state of affairs in Nigeria’s electoral system, saying that it has eroded public confidence in democracy and governance. He urged Nigerians to demand constitutional reforms that will guarantee free, fair, and credible elections in Nigeria.

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