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OPINION

Obi/Oju Federal Constituency: Why INEC Should Abide By Judgment

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At this critical time in our nation’s democratic dispensation, it is pivotal that the agencies and statutory organs charged with the conduct of elections as well as the adjudication of the electoral process are not only above board but must be seen as such in the conduct of their official operations and activities.

 

More importantly, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) must adhere strictly to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, the Electoral Act as amended as well as various judgments and rulings of the courts of law no matter how unpalatable or inconvenient they may be to any of the parties concerned.

 

A crucial case in point is the recent decision of a Federal High Court in Abuja presided over by learned Justice I. O. Ekwo which delivered a clear and unambiguous judgment dismissing the suit filed by Mr. David Agada of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) seeking an order of mandatory injunction directing INEC to issue him with a certificate of return as the winner of the Obi/Oju federal constituency (National Assembly elections held on the 23rd of February, 2019. The Federal High Court ruled that Mr. Agada’s suit filed against INEC was an abuse of court process being that similar suits between him and two other contestants, Hon. Samson Okwu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Hon. Nick Eworo of the All Progressive Congress (APC) have already been instituted at the Benue State National Assembly and State House of Assembly Election Petition Tribunal sitting at Makurdi. Justice Ekwo also ruled that the court had no jurisdiction to entertain the suit as it was a post-election matter which appropriately should be handled by the Election Tribunal.

This landmark judgment has been hailed by public affairs analysts, social affairs commentators, human and political rights activists as well as civil society groups and the general public who have called on the chairman of the INEC, Prof. Mahmud Yakubu as well as his management team to take note of the judgment in order that the Commission would not be teleguided, rail roaded or pressurized by any person, group or authority to take precipitate action that would be in contempt of court, due process, equity and the rule of law.

Indeed the National Assembly elections for Oju/Obi Federal Constituency of Benue State has been mired in controversy immediately after the conclusion of the elections when the Returning Officer, Prof. Iheukwumere of the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi attempted to declare the partial results of Oju Local Government without including Obi Local Government election results. ‘According to the INEC collated results for both Oju and Obi L.G.As, Hon. Samson Okwu polled a total of 14,300 votes to defeat his closest rival, Mr. Agada Ogewu David of APGA who polled 13,558 votes while the APC candidate Mr. Eworo Nick scored 10,395 votes. In the prevailing circumstances, Hon. Samson Okwu is the clear and unambiguous winner, under the simple majority formula for elections with multiple candidates. The Returning Officer’s attempt to unilaterally declare Mr. David Agada winner relying only on the Oju L.G.A results without including the Obi L.G.A results were adjudged a violation of the Electoral Act leading to the institution of suits challenging his decision at the Election Tribunal. If the Returning Officer had awaited the submission of the Obi L.G.A results, Hon. Samson Okwu should have been declared the clear and unambiguous winner without any resort to litigation, endless legal wrangling, and wastage of litigant’s precious time and resources.

Without awaiting the ruling of the Election Tribunal, Mr. David Agada sought redress and the issuance of a Certificate of Return to him at the Federal High Court, Abuja; however the lucid statement of Justice Ekwo may indeed serve as food for thought for the Plaintiff (Mr. Agada), the INEC top hierarchy and ardent students of our nation’s jurisprudence: ‘Once an election has been conducted, jurisdiction in any matter arising therefore moves to the election tribunal to which the 1999 Constitution denotes exclusive jurisdiction. I therefore agree with the defendants (INEC) that the proper venue for the ventilation of the grievances of the plaintiffs per their claims and reliefs is the Election Tribunal and not this court and on this ground I decline jurisdiction’

The erudite judge further dismissed the suit as an abuse of court process being that Mr. David Agada admitted that there were two suits pending against him in the Election Petition Tribunal; therefore for him to institute a similar suit in another court is a clear abuse of court process.

While the entirety of the civil populace are in succinct agreement with the germane ruling of Justice Ekwo of the Federal High Court, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission is called upon to heed this landmark judgment and to note that by this ruling only the National Assembly Election Tribunal sitting in Makurdi or a court superior jurisdiction can make an order either in concurrence or at variance with the Federal High Court decision.

 

Indeed, the judiciary remains the last bastion of the common man and Nigerians have cogent reasons to entertain absolute confidence in the conduct of the judicial process as well as in the decisions of our lords temporal. To God be the Glory

BEKO, a human rights lawyer sent in this peace from Abuja.

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