By Olakunle Olafioye
The independent National Electoral Commission has denied media report suggesting that the commission halted the process of recall of the Senator Representing Kogi West Senatorial District, Senator Dino Melaye because the Commission was being blackmailed into abandoning the process as a result of the Senate decision to probe the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TEFUND), where the present chairman of INEC previously served as Executive Secretary.
This is contained in release signed by National Commissioner and Acting Chairman of the commission, Prof. Okechukwu Ibeanu.
Describing the statement as incorrect and mischievous, the statement reads, “It is public knowledge that some registered voters from the Kogi West Senatorial District approached the Commission on 21st June and submitted a petition to initiate the process of recalling the Senator representing their district.
“The Commission formally acknowledged the receipt of the petition and also notified the Senator about the development in writing. And in exercise of the powers conferred on it by Sections 69 and 110 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and Section 116 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), the Commission on 3rd July 2017 formally announced the timetable and schedule of activities for the recall of the Senator. The first activity in the schedule, slated for 10th July, was the release of detailed Guidelines for the recall, starting with the pasting of the Notice of Verification at the Kogi West Constituency (INEC Office in Lokoja).
“However, on the same 10th July 2017, the Commission received an Order given by the Federal High Court, Abuja and dated 6th July 2017, directing the “parties to maintain the status quo till the determination of the plaintiff’s motion on notice,” in respect of the suit filed by the concerned Senator, seeking orders of injunction against the Commission to stop it from acting on the petition by the registered voters of Kogi West Senatorial district. The Judge, in granting the relief sought by the Senator, also fixed 29th September 2017 as the date to hear the Motion on Notice. By this date, the 90-day timeframe established by the Constitution for the entire recall process to be completed would have lapsed.
“Deeply concerned by this situation, the Commission at its weekly regular meeting held on 13th July 2017, considered the court order and its implication for the Commission’s ability to carry out its constitutional function regarding the petition to recall the Senator. After weighing all the options, the Commission decided that as a responsible organization and in line with its longstanding tradition, it should not be seen as be disobeying a court order, however inappropriate it may consider the order.
“However, in this particular case, the Commission also decided to take immediate steps to vacate the court order and for the matter to be heard and determined expeditiously. This is because the court adjourned hearing of the Motion on Notice to 29th September 2017. It should be noted that Section 69 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) sets a limit of 90 days from the date of the presentation of the petition (21st June, 2017) for the exercise to be completed.
“The Commission also decided to draw the attention of the Chief Justice of Nigeria to the order, in view of its effect on the performance of the its constitutional duty to conduct the referendum for the recall in Kogi West Senatorial district. Besides, the Commission considered it important to draw the Chief Justice’s attention to the matter for immediate judicial intervention, because if similar cases arise in the future, the Commission’s work may be imperiled as any individual can rush to court to stop what is clearly a constitutional process.
“Therefore, the insinuation that the Commission’s decision to obey the court order was somehow related to the Senate’s intention to probe the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) is not only false and misleading, but also a deliberate attempt to portray the Commission in a bad light and cast aspersions on it.
In fact, contrary to the impression given by these reports, the INEC Chairman was not even at the meeting where the Commission took the decision to obey the court order. He is currently leading a team of the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC) on an official fact-finding mission to some West African countries, in his capacity as the body’s President.