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Appeal Court slams INEC over partisanship in election pettitions

Appeal Court slams INEC over partisanship in election pettitions

Nigeria’s Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja on Friday has accused the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of being partisan in some of the elections it conducted.

The appellate court said it was embarrassing that the Commission could appear before it to act in favour of a party in an election dispute, by disowning documents that it not only issued, but also duly certified.

It decried that the electoral body has continued to “dance naked in the market,” even though it was meant to assume a neutral stand in election litigations.

“The INEC as an institution should be reminded of its role in an election; to be an unbiased umpire between parties.

“It should stop behaving irresponsibly, having in mind that its duty to conduct election has a direct bearing on peace and well-being of the country.

“The role of INEC in election dispute should be limited to the tendering of all the documents used in an election and explaining what they were used for and how they were obtained.

“INEC should stop dancing naked in the market, pretending that no one is seeing its nakedness and its dancing steps,” the court stated while delivering judgement in a Bauchi State House of Assembly election appeal.

The lead judgement of a three-member panel of the court was delivered by Justice K. I. Amadi.

The panel, in its unanimous decision, nullified the election of the Speaker of the Bauchi State House of Assembly, Abubakar Suleiman, who was earlier declared the winner of Ningi Central Constituency in the state by INEC.

The court held that evidence before it established that the election was inconclusive.

Aside from voiding the Certificate of Return that was issued to Suleiman who contested on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, the appellate court directed INEC to conduct a supplementary poll in 10 polling units in the state, within 90 days.

The court further awarded a cost of N500, 000 against INEC.

The judgement followed an appeal that was brought before the court by the candidate of the All Progressives Congress in the election, Khalid Abdulmalik-Ningi.

INEC had declared that Suleiman of the PDP polled a total of 16, 866 votes to defeat his closest rival, Abdulmalik-Ningi of the APC, who scored 15, 065 votes in the election that held on March 18.

However, dissatisfied with the outcome of the election, the APC candidate lodged a petition before the State Assembly Election Petition Tribunal.

The petitioner, among other things, alleged that results of the election were cancelled due to over-voting or corrupt practices.

Even though INEC which was a Respondent in the matter, denied the claim that there was over-voting, it failed to produce any witness before the tribunal which eventually dismissed the petition.

While faulting the decision of tribunal, the appellate court noted that the Appellant brought nine witnesses that testified in respect of the various polling units and also tendered certified copies of INEC documents to support his case.

It held that going by Section 137 of the Electoral Act 2022, the certified INEC documents were enough to sustain the allegation that the election was not conducted in compliance with provisions of the law.

The court wondered why INEC denied that results of the election were cancelled in some polling units, when its officials established the same fact in Forms EC 40G that they signed and submitted to it.

It held that the tribunal was statutorily empowered to accord probative value to the INEC documents which it said disclosed all information required to prove the alleged non compliance.

 

 

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