By Lateef Ibrahim and Vivian Okejeme
Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Prof Mahmood Yakubu on Tuesday lamented that the plethora of court cases and conflicting judgements delivered on the eve of elections in Nigeria are stressful to the Commission and costly to the nation.
Yakubu, nonetheless, assured the people of Bayelsa and Kogi States that INEC, learning from experience, has taken steps to ensure that the elections on Saturday in the two States are not affected by any eleventh hour judgement.
This is as a Federal High Court Abuja, yesterday, disqualified the All Progressives Congress deputy governorship candidate in Bayelsa State, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, from participating in the November 16 governorship election.
The INEC Chairman gave the assurance yesterday in Lokoja, the Capital of Kogi State, during a meeting with stakeholders in the State in preparation for the Saturday’s governorship election in the State.
In the words of Prof. Yakubu, “I would like to assure the people of Kogi State that our preparations will not be affected by the judgement delivered five days ago in which a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja ordered the Commission to include a political party on the ballot. “Although the judgement is at variance with the decision of another Federal High Court in Abuja delivered ten days earlier which affirmed the propriety of the Commission’s action in a similar case by another political party, INEC has a consistent record of obeying court orders.
“However, we will consider legitimate steps to address the conflicting judgements by courts of coordinate jurisdiction in the interest of our electoral jurisprudence.
“Furthermore, with four days to the Governorship elections, two more cases challenging the decision of the Commission on the validity of candidates’ nominations have been reserved for judgement in Bayelsa and Kogi States.
“In addition, there are twelve (12) cases of intra-party disputes filed by aspirants from different political parties challenging the conduct of their own primaries and nomination of candidates, some of which have been reserved for judgement in the next few days.
“I must admit that the plethora of court cases and conflicting judgements delivered on the eve of elections in Nigeria are stressful to the Commission and costly to the nation.
“However, I wish to reassure the people of Bayelsa and Kogi States that learning from experience, the Commission has taken steps to ensure that the elections on Saturday in the two States are not affected by any eleventh hour judgement”, he assured.
A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, it will be recalled, had few days ago ordered INEC to include the candidate of the Social Democratic Party, Barrister Natasha Akpoti on the ballot.
The INEC Chairman however reiterated that Smart Card Readers (SCRs) have been configured, stressing that it is mandatory to use the SCRs for voter accreditation and authentication in line with the Commission’s regulations and guidelines for the conduct of elections.
Continuing, he said, “Let me also reiterate that voter inducement in all forms, including vote-buying at polling units is a violation of the law.
“The ban on the use of mobile phones and other photographic devices in the voting cubicles is still in force and will be strictly enforced and monitored.
“Recent reports of attacks on facilities and campaign materials in some parts of Kogi State reinforce rather than assuage our concern about violence during the election.
“I urge all stakeholders to continue to maintain peaceful conduct during the electioneering campaign.
“Political parties and candidates have the right under the law to freely canvass the support of the electorate. After all, the choice ultimately belongs to the people of Kogi State.
“No voter should be compelled or induced. Similarly, no candidate should be encumbered in canvassing the support of the electorate.
“Let me also add that it is our collective responsibility to safeguard the process and to protect all election duty staff including the Youth Corps members who serve at the polling units which is the basic level of the voting process.
“It is also our responsibility to extend the same protection and allow freedom of movement and unimpeded access to polling and collation areas for accredited observers and the media during the election.
“At the same time, I would like to appeal to accredited observers to be neutral and the media to accurately, dispassionately and professionally report the election”, he said.
Justice Inyang Ekwo had in his ruling on Tuesday held that Senator Degi-Eremienyo, entered false information in his CF0001 form submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commissioner (INEC) to contest the election.
The court, in a judgment, said it found no nexus in the name on his school leaving certificate, first degree (BA), Master’s and the affidavits he sworn to the correct his name.
He held that all his documents bore different names. He therefore disqualified him on the ground that he provided false information to the electoral umpire to stand for the election.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had sued the Bayelsa APC governorship candidate, David Lyon, Degi-Eremienyo and INEC, seeking the disqualification of Degi-Eremienyo.
PDP argued that Mr Degi-Eremienyo’s name was written as Degi Biobara in his primary school certificate, while his documents from his secondary education bore Adegi Biobarakumo, as his name.
Also, while that of his university education had Degi Biobarakuma as his name, the result from his MBA certificate had Degi Biobarakuma Wangaha as the name of the same person.
Justice Ekwo held that the affidavits sworn to support the changes in the names were insufficient to validate the changes.
Consequently, the court, held that Degi-Eremienyo did not fulfill the requirements for participation in the November 16 elections and thus disqualified him.