You Can’t Dis­qual­ify Can­di­dates, Court Tells INEC

Up­holds SDP’s Akpoti’s can­di­da­ture in Kogi

THISDAY - - FRONT PAGE - Alex Enumah

Justice Fo­lashade Ogun­biy­iGiwa of the Fed­eral High Court, Abuja, yesterday held that the In­de­pen­dent Na­tional Elec­toral Com­mis­sion (INEC) was wrong to have ex­cluded the can­di­date of the So­cial Demo­cratic Party (SDP) in the Novem­ber 16 gov­er­nor­ship elec­tion in Kogi State.

Gov­er­nor­ship can­di­date of the SDP, Natasha Akpoti, his Deputy, Adams Khalid and their party, SDP had dragged the elec­toral body be­fore the Abuja Di­vi­sion of the Fed­eral High Court to chal­lenge their ex­clu­sion from the Novem­ber 16 gov­er­nor­ship elec­tion in Kogi State.

The com­mis­sion had in a let­ter through its chair­man,

Professor Mah­moud Yakubu, writ­ten the SDP to in­form the party that it has no law­ful can­di­date in the forth­com­ing gov­er­nor­ship poll in Kogi State.

In the let­ter, the elec­toral um­pire claimed that its de­ci­sion to ex­clude the SDP from the Kogi gov­er­nor­ship poll was hinged on the non­qual­i­fi­ca­tion of its ear­lier deputy gover­nor-nom­i­nee, Mo­hammed Yakubu, who was said to be un­der 35 years.

The com­mis­sion also de­clined to ac­cept Yakubu's sub­sti­tu­tion by the SDP on the grounds that Yakubu's nom­i­na­tion was in­valid.

De­liv­er­ing judg­ment in the suit, Justice Ogun­ban­joGiwa, held that INEC had no power to dis­qual­ify any can­di­date for an elec­tion as it is the ex­clu­sive re­serve of a com­pe­tent court of law.

Ac­cord­ing to the judge, the pro­vi­sions of sec­tions 31(1) and 83 of the Elec­toral Act, which holds that INEC can­not dis­qual­ify or re­ject can­di­date nom­i­nated by a po­lit­i­cal party for an elec­tion as well as refuse to af­fix the logo of a party con­test­ing elec­tion, was aimed at en­sur­ing that it does not lie within the ex­ec­u­tive realms of INEC to de­ter­mine who par­tic­i­pates in an elec­tion, adding that the in­ten­tion of the law is to make INEC a truly un­bi­ased um­pire.

The judge held that Sec­tion 31 (1) of the Elec­toral Act specif­i­cally stated that INEC shall not for any rea­son what­so­ever dis­qual­ify any can­di­date spon­sored by a po­lit­i­cal party for an elec­tion.

She fur­ther held that Para­graph 15 of the Third Sched­ule of the 1999 Con­sti­tu­tion, which de­fines the pow­ers of the com­mis­sion, did not in­clude de­ter­min­ing the va­lid­ity or qual­i­fi­ca­tion of can­di­date sub­mit­ted to it by a po­lit­i­cal party even if the can­di­date is not qual­i­fied.

The judge said at best the com­mis­sion be­ing a le­gal en­tity could have ap­proached a court of law to dis­qual­ify such can­di­date deemed not qual­i­fied to con­test an elec­tion.

"The de­fen­dant can­not ar­ro­gate to him­self the pow­ers of the court or con­sti­tute him­self as a quasi- court to dis­qual­ify can­di­date."

Justice Ogun­banjo-Giwa, while not­ing that the grounds on which a can­di­date can be sub­sti­tuted in an elec­tion is ei­ther as a re­sult of death or vol­un­tary with­drawal, held that the de­fen­dant did not show any­thing be­fore the court to the ex­tent that Yakubu's with­drawal was not made vol­un­tar­ily.

She also held that both the nom­i­na­tion and sub­sti­tu­tion of can­di­date by the SDP in the Kogi gov­er­nor­ship elec­tion slated for Novem­ber 16 were done within the time frame as re­quired by INEC guide­lines for the elec­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to her, the SDP sub­mit­ted its list of nom­i­nated can­di­dates on Septem­ber 6, three days to the Septem­ber 9 dead­lines for sub­mis­sion and made its sub­sti­tu­tion on Septem­ber 20, three days to the dead­line for sub­sti­tu­tion.

While align­ing with the po­si­tion of the plain­tiffs that INEC had no power to dis­qual­ify them for the elec­tion or even re­ject the sub­sti­tu­tion, Justice Ogun­banjo-Giwa said: "It is wor­ri­some that INEC took all these de­ci­sions on its own.

"All the cases cited by the de­fen­dants were de­ci­sion of court not the ad­min­is­tra­tive de­ci­sion of INEC.”

The judge ac­cord­ingly granted re­liefs 1-7 of the plain­tiffs and or­dered INEC to in­clude the names of the gov­er­nor­ship and deputy gov­er­nor­ship can­di­date of the SDP as well as the party's logo on the bal­lot in the Novem­ber 16 gov­er­nor­ship poll in Kogi State.

The plain­tiffs had ap­proached the court to chal­lenge their ex­clu­sion from the 2019 Kogi State gov­er­nor­ship elec­tion by the In­de­pen­dent Na­tional Elec­toral Com­mis­sion (INEC).

The com­mis­sion had re­fused to ac­cept the can­di­da­ture of Khalid in re­place­ment of the ear­lier nom­i­nated deputy gover­nor, Mo­hammed Yakubu, on the grounds that Yakubu was not qual­i­fied in the first place to be fielded as a deputy gov­er­nor­ship can­di­date in the elec­tion on ac­count of his age.

But the plain­tiffs in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/ CS/1129/201and filed on Oc­to­ber 3 by their lawyer, Mr. Ola Ola­nipekun (SAN), prayed the court to de­clare that INEC's dec­la­ra­tion vide a let­ter with ref­er­ence num­ber:

LEG/PP/23/T/107 that the nom­i­na­tion of Mo­hammed Yakubu as the Deputy Gover­nor of the SDP in the Novem­ber 16 gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tion is in­valid on the grounds of qual­i­fi­ca­tion is ul­tra vires the statu­tory pow­ers of INEC and it is there­fore null and void.

The plain­tiffs in ad­di­tion prayed the court to de­clare that the re­fusal of INEC to rec­og­nize Yakubu as sub­sti­tuted deputy gov­er­nor­ship can­di­date of the SDP in the Novem­ber 16 gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tion in Kogi State is un­law­ful and un­con­sti­tu­tional ab ini­tio.

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