The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has dragged the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to court over the commission’s “failure to put Ekiti vote buyers on trial and do something about the allegations of vote buying by both the All Progressives Congress, APC, and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, during recent governorship election in Ekiti State.”
In the suit number FHC/L/CS/1418/18 filed on Friday, August 31, at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos, SERAP is seeking “an order for leave to apply for judicial review and to seek an order of mandamus compelling INEC and its Chairman Professor Mahmood Yakubu to instruct security agencies to forward to them reports of their investigations into allegations of vote buying during the governorship election in Ekiti State and to collaborate with the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to commence prosecution of indicted persons.”
The suit followed the electoral commission’s response to the SERAP last week saying that while it had powers to prosecute alleged vote buyers, it lacked the powers to arrest and investigate suspects. In the letter signed by Okechukwu Ndeche, its acting secretary, the INEC said while the commission’s legal officers or any legal practitioner appointed by it “can prosecute alleged vote buying, other agencies must first arrest and investigate suspects before the commission can act on the matter.”
The organisation is also seeking an order compelling INEC and its chairman to “prosecute anyone suspected to be involved and/or complicit in the alleged vote buying during the elections in Ekiti State, Anambra State, Edo State and Ondo State.”
The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by Timothy Adewale, its counsel, read in part: “To date, INEC and its Chairman have failed, neglected and/or refused to comply with the request by SERAP to prosecute alleged vote buyers. INEC has no reason whatsoever not to comply with SERAP’s request, as the commission has constitutional and statutory responsibilities to prosecute bribery and undue influence in the context of elections and other electoral offences, as well as conduct and ensure a free and fair election.
“By virtue of Section 153(1)(f) and paragraphs 14 and 15 of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) and Section 150 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), INEC and its Chairman are under a binding legal obligation to prosecute indicted persons who are alleged to have participated or been involved in vote buying during elections and other electoral offences to guarantee that the free participation of the people is ensured, as intended by Section 14 (2)(C) of the Constitution.
“INEC is failing in its duties to set machinery of justice in motion to see to the prosecution of those suspected to have violated electoral and anti-corruption laws. We seek an order of mandamus to compel the commission and its Chairman them to perform such duties in the public interest and in the overall interest of transparency and accountability of the entire electoral process.
“Mandamus is simply an order to compel the performance of a public duty in which the person applying for the mandamus has sufficient legal interest. SERAP by its mandates has sufficient legal interest as to the way and manner laws are being obeyed and statutory duties effectively performed in Nigeria. It is the right of any citizen or interested group to see that the law is enforced where there is an infraction of that right or a threat of its being violated in matters affecting the public law and the society will be adversely affected by doing nothing.
“Obedience to the rule of law by all citizens but more particularly those who publicly took oath of office to protect and preserve the constitution is a desideratum to good governance and respect for the rule of law. In a democratic society, this is meant to be a norm; it is an apostasy for government to ignore the provisions of the law and the necessary rules made to regulate matters.”
The INEC’s letter dated August 20, 2018 read in part: “We refer to your letter dated 17th July 2018 wherein you requested that the Commission investigate and prosecute alleged vote buying in the recently concluded governorship election in Ekiti State. The Commission wishes to inform you of the constraints posed by extant statutory provisions against your well-intended request.”
“You may also wish to note that it is not part of the constitutional duties of the Commission to arrest and investigate suspects found to have contravened provisions of the Electoral Act or any other Law for the time being in force. Section 150(2) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) only confers powers on Legal Officers of the Commission or any other Legal Practitioner appointed by it to undertake prosecution of offences disclosed under Act.”
The SERAP had earlier warned INEC to “take steps within 14 days of the receipt and/or publication of the letter, failing which SERAP will institute legal proceedings to compel you and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to discharge your constitutional and statutory responsibilities in the public interest.”
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.