Allow Neutral Workers To Conduct Bayelsa Rerun, Lawyers Tells INEC | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Allow Neutral Workers To Conduct Bayelsa Rerun, Lawyers Tells INEC

Posted: Jan 4, 2016 at 11:08 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Lawyers have said the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will fail neutrality test if it allows those who conducted the December 5 “inconclusive” election in Bayelsa State to handle the rerun on January 9.

The lawyers, who conducted legal clinic on Bayelsa election with civil society groups, said their findings revealed that the current composition of INEC in Bayelsa State would not guarantee a free and fair rerun.

The report of the clinic was signed by the General Counsel, Legal Clinic for Development and Democracy (LCDD), B. B. Bamigboye.

The lawyers urged INEC to redeploy the state’s Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Mr. Baritor Kpagir, as well as other principal officers since they were no longer neutral, as required by the Electoral Act.

Bamigboye noted that the two leading candidates – Chief Timipre Sylva of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Governor Seriake Dickson of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – publicly disputed the results in local government areas they allegedly lost.

He said despite the dispute, INEC declared winners in seven of the eight local government areas but aligned with the PDP to cancel the results in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, citing violence.

He said while the APC and a group of observers opposed the reason for cancelling the election, the PDP continued to defend the INEC officials responsible for the cancellation.

Bamigboye recalled that the REC allegedly issued a statement, claiming he was offered money to rig the election and that his life was under threat.

The lawyer said though the party that offered the REC money had been a subject of speculation, INEC leadership had not upheld the neutrality contained in its enabling statute, following the plethora of petitions, allegations and counter-allegations involving its officials.

He said the statute required INEC to redeploy politically exposed officials and detail new personnel to conduct the supplementary elections in Southern Ijaw and other areas of the state.

Bamigboye said: “Whilst Electoral Act does not confer locus standi on voters in an election tribunal, the right to vote and be voted for is now under threat due to INEC’s inability to demonstrate commitment to neutrality.

“When we juxtapose the foregoing facts with Section 28 of the Electoral Act 2010, we must of necessity demand a reasonable degree of legal rectitude from INEC.”

Quoting Section 18.28 of the Electoral Act, he said: “(1) All staff appointed by the Commission taking part in the conduct of an election shall affirm or swear before the High Court an Oath of neutrality as in the Second Schedule to this Act.

“(2) All Electoral Officers, Presiding Officers, Returning Officers and all staff appointed by the Commission taking part in the conduct of an election shall affirm or swear an oath of loyalty and neutrality indicating that they would not accept bribe or gratification from any person, and shall perform their functions and duties impartially and in the interest of the Federal Republic of Nigeria without fear or favour.”

The lawyer noted that based on admittance of the REC, the neutrality of INEC in Bayelsa State was legally questionable.

He said: “Can it be said that in the exercise of its discretion, INEC officials complied with Section 28 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as Amended)? Are we supposed to embark upon a voyage of discovery in order to ascertain the culprits cited by the REC from the outcome of the results so far and that of January 9, 2016?

“Does the controversy surrounding allegation of the REC amount to INEC’s descent into the arena of dispute? What is the rule when an arbiter, such as INEC, is publicly challenged on its acts or omissions occasioning its decent to the arena of dispute?

“If the complainants accuse one another as culprits, are we not bound by the rule of law to give fair hearing to the complainants through neutral parties? Are there no neutral persons in INEC whose decisions will not be fettered by the current encumbrances of bias, prejudice, mistrust and ill-will?

“Is INEC itself conscious of the principles upon which its functions are weighed  whether in the court of public opinion or in courts of justice?

“Where instruments of human rights and democracy which flow from international comity are violated, are citizens entitled to redress through the respective agencies of government?

“We have a pending case in this area at the Federal High Court, Abuja (Bamigboye Vs INEC, PDP and APC…).”

He added: “The foregoing questions point to one fundamental principle, to wit: neutrality. It is settled law that: where the same reasons exist, the same laws prevail, and of things similar, the judgment is similar. (Ubi eadem ratio, ibi eadem lex; et de similibus idem est judicium).