A Federal High Court sitting in Osogbo, the Osun State capital, has dismissed an application filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), seeking a mandatory order of reversal of the 2011 National and State House of Assembly elections conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Osun state.
Justice Babs Kuewumi while delivering his ruling said the court had no jurisdiction to hear or rule on the suit, stating that only an election petition tribunal had the authority to hear any matter relating to elections.
Justice Kuewumi said although the second defendant, the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Osun State, Ambassador Rufus Akeju, as at the time of the said election in question, did not obey the court order which restrained him from conducting the elections, the court had no jurisdiction to hear the suit.
While the INEC counsel declined to speak to the press, counsel to the PDP, Mr Kehinde Adesiyan, described the the ruling as erudite but maintained that the judgement would be appealed.
He stressed that since the case falls under pre-election matter, it doesn’t require an election tribunal to hear it.
The Peoples Democratic Party is seeking among other things the reversal of the elections as well as the withdrawal of certificates of return to the winners of the 2011 elections conducted which saw the opposition party, the All Progressives Congress clearing all the seats to the National and State House of Assembly.
Stakeholders in the Nigerian political landscape have continued to express varying views on the ongoing process of amending the Nigerian Electoral Act with the recent passage of some provisions by the Nigerian Senate.
The July 6 edition of Politics Today on Channels Television focused on the new provisions of the amendment of the Electoral Act with guests from the legal and political sphere engaging in the conversation.
A legal practitioner, Wahab Shittu, believes that the only way to sanitize the electoral process was to review the laws and he lauded the Senate for making some of their decisions, which he said were steps in the right direction. Although, one of the amendments regarding the penalty for election result falsification, he said was too light.
A 12 month imprisonment with an option of a 500,000 Naira fine, he stated, was not deterrent enough as he argued that there should have been no option of a fine for such magnitude of crime which he said should have attracted a life jail.
A politician, Ken Okolugbo, also part of the conversation, noted that the Nigerian Senate has done very well with its approval of electronic voting. Although he admitted that the practise might not start immediately, he believed that it was a good foundation for a stronger electoral system.
He, however, differed with Mr Shittu as regards the penalty for election result falsification. The Political Scientist noted that Nigeria’s democracy was relatively young and as such would need to grow gradually.
He explained that the 12 months imprisonment was a good way to put all stakeholders in check, starting with the Youth Corpers who are usually deployed as electoral officers during elections. He believed that the fear of being jailed for 12 months was enough to stop them from engaging in sharp practices.
Burden of Proof At Election Tribunal
With the new amendments, the burden of proving irregularities during an election has been lifted off INEC.
Barrister Shittu believes that nothing has changed as the burden has always remained with the petitioner. He noted that it would have been better to have the Burden of Proof vested on the electoral commission because having conducted the election; they should be saddled with the responsibility of proofing that it was credible.
He also emphasized the need for an Election Offence Commission. He said that its non-inclusion in the Senates amendments was unfortunate.
Ken Okolugbo, who had been a victim of delay in electoral justice, agreed that INEC should have a major part of the job of proving the credibility of their elections. He cited his experience in court in the process of proving the irregularities of an election but ended up having his evidences nullified despite providing proofs sourced from the internet and seen to have been valid.
Shittu also disagreed on the power given to INEC to disqualify candidates. He argued that disqualification of candidates should be based only on them having flouted certain provisions of the constitution. He believes that too much power was being given to INEC to interfere in the internal democracy of political parties.
Okolugbo, however, expressed happiness at the provision. He believes the new development means that individuals can no longer be disqualified based on mere disagreements except a court says the person was not qualified.
Another new development was that the Senate also disagreed with INEC’s plan to conduct elections in one day and Barrister Shittu agreed with the Senate’s refusal to approve this in the amendment. He referred to their decision as being realistic as they knew the challenges associated with elections in Nigeria.
Okolugbo also aligned with the view of the Senate that the INEC does not have the capacity to conduct the presidential and governorship elections in one day.
Both guests however disagreed on the decision of the Senate not to legalise political debates. While Barrister Shittu opined that democracy was about the people and they should be given the opportunity to know the programmes of candidates in any election, Okolugbo believes that although the idea was good for democracy and so could be practised, it does not have to be included in the Electoral Act.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, believes that the Ekiti State election has indeed created a framework for more successes at future elections in Nigeria.
INEC Director of Voter Education and Publicity, Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, was on Politics Today on Sunday and he said that the commission would be going into the Osun State governorship election with lessons learnt in Ekiti and with a mission to improve on them.
He said that having studied the way the Ekiti election went; they have been able to identify all the things that went right and would be focusing on making them better in Osun State.
He itemised the logistics of the election as one of the areas in which the commission achieved success with 97% of the polling units opening before 8AM due to the timely deployment of personnel and materials; a feat he said they would be aiming to achieve at 100% in Osun State.
He explained that they would use the same modalities as used in Ekiti to ensure that deployment of personnel and materials commence as early as 4am on election day, as well as ensuring the deployment of sufficient security personnel.
He also noted that a lot of voter education went into the Ekiti election and the commission would be hoping to do more of this in Osun State.
Fears about the delay in the distribution of Permanent Voters Card as raised by the All Progressives Congress, APC, also came to the fore as the party has insinuated that this might be a deliberate act to disenfranchise voters.
Osaze-Uzzi said that the complaint was strange to him as goings-on in Osun did not reveal the existence of any delays. He said that it was not too late to pick up the cards and all electorates should endeavour to go ahead and collect their cards on time as they would not be able to vote without it.
He added, “More than 62% of the people have taken advantage to pick up their cards and we hope that before the elections, come August 9, 100% everybody who is registered and eligible and has his card would go there and pick it up.”
Osaze-Uzzi also shed light on the issue of Ambassador Rufus Akeju’s exit from his position as the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Osun State ahead of the governorship election. He noted that Akeju was not removed as widely reported but agreed to step aside by mutual consent with the commission in order to maintain the integrity of the commission and not to play into the hands of politicians against the backdrop of intense partisan acrimony over his person.
A new Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr Agbaje, has since taken over in Osun State. Until his posting, he was the Kogi State REC.
The Independent National Electoral Commission in Osun State on Friday commenced the distribution of the Permanent Voters Card (PVC) to the people across all the 30 local governments including the Ife Area Office, in the state.
Governor Rauf Aregbesola received his permanent voters card alongside his wife Mrs Sherifat Aregbesola from the Osun INEC REC, Ambassador Rufus Akeju at ward 8 unit 01, Ifofin, Ilesa where he had earlier registered.
While addressing the people, the Governor tasked Nigerians to see the electoral process as a means of guaranteeing their rights to choose their leaders.
Governor Aregbesola also advised that the PVC, when acquired by all citizens, must be kept and guarded jealously for the Osun governorship election and subsequent elections.
The INEC team also presented to the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade Olubuse II his Permanent Voters Card in his palace in Ile-Ife.