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2019 Polls: INEC Drags 1,119 To Court Over Electoral Offences

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In line with its vow to bring electoral offenders to justice, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is set to arraign 1,119 persons who ran foul of the law during the 2019 general elections in court.

INEC announced yesterday that its lawyers and the police have completed the processes for the immediate trial of the suspects.

The commission said that the suspects would be prosecuted for violating the provisions of the Electoral Act which guided the conduct of the 2019 polls on February 23 and March 9 as well as the subsequent reruns.

According to INEC, all the case files have been put together by the police prosecutors and the commission’s team of lawyers for the immediate prosecution of the offenders in court.

The Nigeria Police Force (NPF) corroborated this yesterday when it hinted that 1,119 persons were arrested for various offences during the 2019 polls.

A breakdown of the figure showed that 323 persons were arrested nationwide for various electoral crimes during the February 23 presidential and National Assembly elections while 796 suspects were nabbed during the March 9 governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections across the country.

INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, stated this yesterday when a delegation of stakeholders from Bayelsa State led by the deputy governor, Rear Admiral John Gboribiogha Jonah (rtd), visited him at the commission’s headquarters in Abuja.

The team came to seek for the postponement of the November 2, 2019 gubernatorial election in the state,

Yakubu, who told his guests that the commission would always ensure free, fair and transparent electoral process, declared that all those who violated the Electoral Act during the 2019 general elections would be prosecuted without further delay.

He said: “For those arrested as a result of the 2019 general elections, the commission will start prosecution immediately as the cases filed by the police have been harmonised by the commission.”

On the request of the stakeholders for the postponement of the forthcoming governorship election because every November 2 is used for thanksgiving by the state, Yakubu said that INEC would take a decision on the matter on Friday.

“I want to assure you that we will ensure a free and fair election. We will ensure that the process is transparent,” Yakubu said of the gubernatorial elections holding in Bayelsa and Kogi States the same day.

He, therefore, urged the people of Bayelsa to conduct a free and fair primary election, stressing that INEC was still battling with pre-election cases arising from the 2019 general elections.

The INEC boss, who explained that the meeting was at the request of the Bayelsa State stakeholders, said that the electoral body maintains an open door policy, adding that all Nigerians can approach the commission on any matter they feel important to them.

Yakubu said: “The commission fixed Saturday, November 2, 2019 for Bayelsa and Kogi States’ gubernatorial elections but we received a letter from Bayelsa State that the date falls on a day it set aside for thanksgiving which was adopted by the state House of Assembly.

“The speaker and other stakeholders made similar appeals. We have listened to you. At the next meeting, the commission will examine your request and the decision will be released on Friday.

“A few weeks ago on April 9 2019, we released the timetable and schedule of activities for the Bayelsa and Kogi governorship elections. The commission fixed Saturday, November 2, 2019 for the elections in the two states. Shortly after the release of the timetable, we received a letter from the Bayelsa State government drawing the commission’s attention that the 2nd of November each year has been designated as Thanksgiving Day in Bayelsa State and declared work-free by an Act of the State Assembly. The state government has appealed to the commission to reconsider the date for this reason.

“The speaker of the State Assembly, religious leaders and other stakeholders made a similar appeal to the commission. Today, all the stakeholders are here to further reiterate their appeal. We have listened to you. At the next meeting of the commission, your appeal will be examined and the commission’s decision will be announced by Friday this week.

“May I seize this opportunity to appeal to all stakeholders in Bayelsa and Kogi States to ensure that the forthcoming governorship elections are devoid of hate speech, intimidation of voters and INEC officials, vote-buying, violence including bombing and arson that led to the destruction of election materials and INEC facilities in the last governorship elections in the two states and other sundry violations of the law. I urge you to appeal to your supporters to ensure that the creeks and waterways, the hills and forests, urban and rural areas, the polling units and collation centres are free of thugs who unleash mayhem that turn a simple democratic process into needless bloodletting.

“I want to assure you that on our part, the commission is committed to a free, fair and credible process. We will deploy early, adhere to our guidelines and regulations and ensure a transparent and prompt collation and declaration of results. Arising from the arrests made by the security agencies in the 2019 general elections, the commission will soon commence the prosecution of offenders whose case files have been prepared by the Nigeria Police.

“May I also appeal to all political parties to ensure the conduct of transparent, credible and rancour-free primaries for the nomination of candidates. From the 2019 general elections, we have seen how acrimonious party primaries have been, resulting in numerous litigations and making our preparations for elections difficult. We are still grappling with issues arising from the conduct of party primaries. Pre-election litigations through the regular courts (the High Courts, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court) have resulted in a number of judgements in favour of the petitioners.

“So far, primary elections conducted by political parties in 22 constituencies across the federation have been upturned by the regular courts of law on account of improper party primaries. In all cases, we have obeyed the orders of the courts and issued certificates of return to candidates declared winners by the courts. More of such judgments have been received and are currently under consideration by the commission,” Yakubu said.

Earlier, the leader of the delegation and the deputy governor of the state (John Jonah) said that the 2nd November of every year is for thanksgiving in the state, adding that during the period, a renowned Christian leader always visits the state on the invitation of the state government.

Jonah said: “We know that INEC has the duty and responsibility to fix the date but we need to plead with the commission because the celebration does not only takes place in Yenagoa, but the entire state.

“It is on this note that the governor selected these stakeholders including traditional rulers, clergymen, Bayelsa State elders, who took part in the creation of the state, and other concerned citizens to meet INEC on the matter,” he said.

Jonah further said that because of the fixed date for the celebration, the Christian community approached the governor to plead for a change of the date because the 2nd November, if allowed for gubernatorial the election in the state, would affect voter turnout as required by INEC.

“Any other day can be fixed for the election but it should not clash with the day of the thanksgiving. That will be good for us,” Jonah said.

On the arrest of suspected offenders, Force public relations officer, Frank Mba, who spoke at the Defence Headquarters in Abuja, said the 796 suspects added to the 323 persons nabbed during the February 23 presidential and National Assembly elections brought the number of offenders in custody to 1,119.

He said, “It is true that a number of suspects were arrested during the March 9 governorship and state house of assembly elections.

“Just like in the first election which was the presidential and National Assembly elections, we arrested a substantial number of violators of the electoral law in the last governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections.

“Specifically in our custody, we have a total of 796 suspects arrested during the governorship elections. That is to say if you add that to the initial 323 persons arrested during the presidential and National Assembly elections, you will see that 1,119 suspects have so far been arrested,” he said.

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