The Labour Party (LP) has accused the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of frustrating its petition against the outcome of the 2023 presidential election by not allowing it to inspect election materials as ordered by the Appeal Court.
LP also raised the alarm that INEC had started reconfiguring the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) without the presence of the representatives of political parties.
This is as the legal team of the presidential candidate of the LP, Mr. Peter Obi has vowed to take legal action against the commission over its “deliberate” refusal to allow its client to inspect presidential election materials in line with the orders of the Court of Appeal.
At a press conference in Lagos yesterday, the party’s spokesman, Dr. Yunusa Tanko, accused INEC of disobeying the order of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, which directed it to grant the party and its presidential candidate, Obi, access to true certified copies of materials used in the conduct of the presidential poll.
Tanko said the order of the presidential election petition tribunal was duly served on INEC on March 3, even though the commission was also present and represented at the tribunal when the order was made.
He added that the party also sent a letter to the commission on March 6, reminding the electoral umpire that it was yet to obey the order.
Tanko threatened that LP might ask its supporters to stage protests nationwide at the offices of the commission over its refusal to obey the court order.
“It should be noted that in a democracy like ours, the rule of law must triumph not only in our legal system but also in our body polity. Parties to litigation, like in the instant case, must accept and obey every order of the court in good faith, and no party should be seen to employ self-help to disparage or disrespect an order of the court, which, if not checked and curtailed, could undermine our democracy, the rule of law and constitutionalism.
“The action of INEC under reference also constitutes, for all intent and purposes, an act of judicial insubordination and willful refusal to comply with the order of the court,” he said.
He noted that while INEC has refused the party access to the election materials, the commission had also started reconfiguring the BVAS machines without the parties’ representatives in the case in attendance to confirm the data being backed up.
“We, therefore, call on the general public to note the level of lawlessness and brazen disobedience to a lawful order of a court by an important statutory agency such as INEC, which is a well-calculated attempt to undermine and frustrate the presentation of the petition by the Labour Party and its presidential candidate, Obi before the tribunal in good time.
“We, therefore, want to state that we will not fail to call our supporters to march to INEC offices nationwide in a non-violent protest, which is allowed by law. This is to curtail the flagrant disobedience to court orders by INEC,” he added.
Tanko, who maintained that Obi won the presidential election from the results submitted by its party agents from the polling units, urged Nigerians to vote for the candidates of the party in the rescheduled March 18 governorship and state assembly elections.
Meanwhile, Obi’s legal team has vowed to take legal action against the INEC for the commission’s “deliberate” refusal to allow its client to inspect the presidential election materials in line with the orders of the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal had issued an order allowing Obi, the LP, and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to inspect materials used for the February 25 presidential election, which INEC declared was won by Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
INEC, on March 6, filed a motion on notice, praying the court to vary the orders to enable the commission to reconfigure accreditation machines used for the election to enable their use for the forthcoming governorship and state assembly elections.
The appellate court, at its discretion, allowed INEC to reconfigure the BVAS but insisted that its earlier order granting Obi access to election materials still exists.
INEC, in reaction to the ruling, stated, “We wish to reiterate that the commission is not against litigants inspecting election materials. Consequently, it will continue to grant all litigants access to the materials they require to pursue their cases in court.”
But a member of Obi’s legal team, Alex Ejesieme (SAN), told THE WHISTLER that the electoral umpire had not granted them access to election materials.
“Well, we have written to them (INEC); we have done everything possible, and they have refused to allow us to inspect. So, we will review our positions this weekend, and by Monday, we will know the next thing to do,” the lawyer said.
He accused INEC of deliberately trying to delay Obi’s legal team from instituting a petition against the presidential election as prescribed by the Electoral Act, adding that the electoral umpire knows that accessing the election materials will expose alleged ballot rigging in the election.
“Yes. You know, what they are doing is deliberate. Ordinarily, the proper thing for us to do is to commence committal proceedings against the INEC chairman and the officers involved but remember, by the Electoral Act 2022, we are supposed to file a petition.
“So, what they are trying to do is to divert attention,” Ejesieme said, adding, “we will take steps to mount pressure on them to allow us to have copies of the electoral materials in line with the order of the court of Appeal.”
While the collation of presidential results was ongoing on February 26, the LP, PDP, and the Action Democratic Congress (ADC) agents had boycotted the exercise and called for the cancellation of the election.
International observers from the European Union also accused INEC of a “lack of transparency” due to its failure to immediately transmit results electronically from polling units to its public result viewing portal.
Regarding access to election documents, Section 74 of the Electoral Act 2022, reads as follows, “74 (1) The Resident Electoral Commissioner in a state where an election is conducted shall, within 14 days after an application is made to him by any of the parties to an election petition, cause a true certified copy (CTC) of such document to be issued to the said party.
“(2) Any Resident Electoral Commissioner who willfully fails to comply with the provisions in subsection (1) commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a maximum fine of N2,000,000 or imprisonment for a term of 12 months or both.”
However, with the revelation by Tanko that the order of the presidential election petition tribunal was served on INEC on March 3, while the party also sent a letter to the commission on March 6, the 14 days deadline allowed by the law for INEC to produce the CTC of the election documents has not expired.
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