By Vivian Okejeme Abuja
A group, under the auspices of Lawyers Against Impunity (LAI) has berated the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC ) Prof Yakubu Mahmood over alleged consistent refusal to honour a court order.
The group expresses concern over credibility of the 2019 general election which Yakubu is to be piloted.
The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, has on three occasions summoned the INEC boss to appear before it, and express reason he should not be committed to prison, for disobeying the order of court made on December 5, 2014.
The court, had in the ruling, restrained the INEC Chairman, from accepting or receiving or according recognition to any list of nominated candidates for elective posts for the Senate, House of Representatives and House of Assembly of Anambra state in the 2015 general elections except those that emanated from the plaintiffs, Ejike Oguebego and Chuks Okoye, which order was affirmed by the Supreme Court on January 29, 2016.
Reacting to unfolding events surrounding the disobedience of the court order, the group expressed dismay that a man expected by Nigerians to conduct a credible, free and fair election in 2019, is the same man exhibiting an act that questions his integrity and respect for rule of law.
The Coordinator of the group, Ekanem Udom, addressing newsmen on Sunday, wondered why the urgency in hurriedly setting up a panel to sit on an appeal by Mahmood challenging the ruling of Justice Pam, wherein he summoned the INEC boss to appear in court.
“By disobeying a valid court order made on July5, the INEC Chairman, Prof Yakubu Mahmood is not a proper and fit person to preside over the 2019 general elections.
“His refusal to appear in court to show cause why he should not be committed to prison over contempt is an affront on the country’s judiciary.
“This act, by a man, Nigerians believe in to conduct a general election has cast aspersions on his integrity and respecter of law and order” Udom stated.
He reasoned that if Prof Mahmood had the guts to disobey a court summon, to the extent that the court granted a warrant of arrest against him, it then means that he sees himself as being above the law.
“Impliedly, the INEC Chairman can do whatever he likes in 2019 general elections and damn the consequences, since he knows how to manipulate his way out of the dangers inherent in not obeying a valid court order,” he said.
Though the group noted that the INEC Chairman has an inalienable right of appeal, however, it expressed worry over the haste in setting up a panel by the President, Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, to hear the appeals lodged by Prof Mahmood challenging the process that led to the summon and striking out of his motion on notice by Justice Pam without hearing him.
“In as much as we are not challenging Prof Mahmood’s right of appeal, however, it is worrisome, the haste in setting up a panel from Justices that are supposedly on vacation to hear the INEC Chairman’s appeals.
“What is the rationale and urgency in fixing August 13, for sitting of the panel when the Federal High Court had already fixed August 14, for the Inspector General of Police, to arrest and bring Prof Mahmood to court, the group queried.
“Going by history of this matter, we view the appeal as a delay tactics aimed at thwarting the bench warrant issued against the INEC boss.
Justice John Tsoho of Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, had on July 4, 2016, given an order summoning the INEC boss in a contempt proceeding, which emanated from a suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/854/2014 filed by Ejike Oguebego and Chuks Okoye, Chairman and Legal Adviser of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Anambra state respectively against Peoples Democratic Party, INEC and Chukwudi Okasia.
The contempt proceeding is seeking to enforce the December 5, 2014 judgement of the Federal High Court, delivered by Late Justice Evoh Chukwu , which was settled in favour of the Oguebego faction of the PDP, on January 16, 2016 by the Supreme Court.
After hearing the contempt proceedings, Justice Tsoho ordered that “the 1st and 3rd defendants in the substantive suit have no business whatsoever in the contempt.
“That the learned counsel for the 1st and 3rd defendants have no right of audience in the proceedings, and that the two alleged contemnors shaIl personally appear in court on the next date of hearing, on pain of arrest in default.
After adjourning to 7th July, 2016 for hearing, the ruling was appealed.
Rather than obey Justice Tsoho’s order, Okasia headed to the Court of Appeal to challenge the order of July 4, 2016.