Not long after the commencement of the presidential and National Assembly elections on the 23rd day of February, 2019, results were and are still been posted on diverse media platforms including Facebook and WhatsApp by individuals. Also, some of the reports are carried by newspapers in the country. No doubt newspapers are very important to the citizens because they rely on them to follow the happenings in the country and of course it is most probable that the newspapers obtain the results directly at the various polling units and collation centres.
But there are fundamental questions that are begging for answers, viz: are the results carried by these newspapers of any value in the eyes of the law? Does the law regard contents of newspapers as truth? In other words, if for instance Punch newspaper witnesses the collation of result at a polling unit and publishes same for the masses but INEC thereafter releases a result different from the one in the newspaper, can an aggrieved person rely on the contents of the newspaper to prove that the result released by INEC is inaccurate?
We have galaxy of decided cases on the evidential value of newspaper reports. One of the oldest cases on the point is RNHW v. SAMA (1991) 12 NWLR (Pt.171) 64 @ 77 where it was held that "A newspaper report is not generally admissible as evidence of the facts recorded in it." The decision was restated in Lawal v.Gov., Kwara State (2006) ALL FWLR (Pt. 321) 1294 at 1308 (CA) and AGBAI & ANOR. V. INEC & ORS. (2008) LPELR-3647(CA)
The position was also confirmed by the Supreme Court in Ojukwu v. Yar'Adua (2009) ALL FWLR (Pt. 482) 1065. There the petitioner/appellant, Ojukwu, sought to rely on newspaper reports of alleged electoral malpractices in some parts of the country to prove his election petition. That attempt failed with this retort by Tobi, JSC in his lead judgment at p.1118 paragraph G:
"What is the evidential value of a newspaper report? I do not see any and there is none in law."
The case of MRS. SUSAN OLAPEJU SINMISOLA OLLY V. HON. OLUKOLU GANIYU TUNJI & ORS (2012) LPELR-7911(CA) is also a legal battle that followed the conduct of primary elections at Lagos by the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). In order to prove her case as the winner of the primary election, the Plaintiff tendered two newspapers (Vanguard and the Nation) where it was published that she won the primary elections. Per Ogunwumiju J.C.A., held thus:
"There is no doubt in my mind that this court cannot rely on newspaper publications etc. which the 1st respondent relied on among other evidence. It is a non-issue to consider photocopies of newspaper publications as having any probative value since they have no such value. Newspaper publications are only proof that the publication was made and not proof of the truth of the contents of the said publication." (Underlined for emphasis)
In ABEGUNDE v. THE ONDO STATE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY & ORS (2014) LPELR-23683(CA), the Plaintiff was a Honourable member of the House of Representative elected on the platform of the Labour Party but defected to ACN on the ground of division in the party. He relied on newspaper publications to prove that there were internal crisis in his previous party. The court held as follows;
“Let me add that this position of the law that a newspaper report is hearsay and so irrelevant and inadmissible in proof of its contents is universal. See for instance pages 50 and 1356 of Volume 1 of Sakar's Law of Evidence in India, Pakistan etc. where the learned author also has this to say, first at p.50: "A newspaper report has no evidentiary value as it is inadmissible in evidence. G. K. Bajpayee v. State of Utah Pradesh, AIR 2005 ALL 65 (71); 2005 CrI LJ 1985: 2005 (1) ALL WC 379." And at p.1356: "Newspaper report is inadmissible.... The newspaper report cannot be the basis of filing petition, the statement of fact contained in newspaper is merely hearsay and inadmissible in evidence.
See also BAJOWA v. FRN & ORS (2016) LPELR-40229(CA) and the most recent case of LAWRENCE v. OLUGBEMI & ORS (2018) LPELR-45966(CA) where court rejected news paper report as evidence that the Plaintiff was the duly elected flag bearer of All Progressive Congress (APC).
The above authorities are substantially ad idem that contents of newspaper reports are nothing but evidences that they were published but not evidences that the contents are true. They are deemed to be hearsay. So for the statement contained in a newspaper to have any credibility, the maker of the statement subject of the report in the Newspaper must be called to testify. Thus, when tendered and admitted, it will be evidence that the publication was made and therefore not proof of the truth of the statements contained therein.
By and large, is only a result released by INEC that is authentic and reliable.
There is also an implication of peddling false results in the media which people appear to have ignored. Sharing fake election results is a criminal offence with an attendant consequence. For the avoidance of doubt, section 123(4) of the Electoral Act provides thus:
“Any person who announces or publishes an election result knowing same to be false or which is at variance with the signed certificate of return commits and offence and on conviction shall be liable to 36 months imprisonment.”
By way of concluding remark, the aim of this article is not to discourage anyone from sharing election results. Rather it is meant to suggest that the results shared in the media should be taken with a pinch of salt and people should verify the results before sharing as default in doing that may land one in jail.
O. G. Chukkol