Stephen Ukandu, Umuahia
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has been ordered to electronically transmit Saturday’s governorship and house of assembly election results in accordance with its regulations and guidelines.
Justice Obiora Egwuatu, of a Federal High Court Abuja, in a judgment, also ordered the use of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) to upload a scanned copy of the EC8A to INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV) immediately after the completion of all the polling units voting and results’ procedures in Akwa Ibom.
Recall that there were complaints that INEC failed to upload polling unit results in February 25 presidential and national assembly elections in many parts of the country.
The court further ordered INEC to conspicuously paste the publication of its result posters EC60(E) at polling units after completing the EC8A result sheets in the state.
INEC was also ordered to enforce the observance and compliance of Section 27(1) of the Electoral Act, 2022 in the distribution of electoral materials during the conduct of the polls in the state by engaging the services of independent, competent, and reliable logistic companies who are non-partisans or known supporters of any political for the distribution of electoral materials and personnel.
Egwuatu held that since the electoral umpire averred in its filed affidavit that it was aware of its responsibilities under the law and had not failed to carry them out, granting the prayers sought by the applicants would not do any harm to the commission but instead, energise its performance.
The court orders followed a suit filed by the Labour Party (LP) and its governorship candidate in Akwa Ibom, Uduakobong Udoh, including 13 state House of Assembly candidates for the March 18 elections.
The applicants, in the originating summons marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/334/2023 dated and filed on March 15 by their lawyer, Moses Usoh-Abia, had sued INEC as sole defendant.
The applicants, who sought seven reliefs, prayed the court for an order of mandamus compelling INEC and all its agents to comply with and enforce the provision of Clause 37 of the Regulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of the Saturday’s governorship and house of assembly elections in Akwa Ibom.
They also prayed the court to mandate the presiding officers of all polling units to conspicuously paste the publication of result posters EC460(E) at the polling units after completing the EC8A result sheets.
They sought an order of mandamus compelling the commission to mandate the presiding officers of all polling units in the state to electronically transmit or transfer the result of the polling units, direct to the collation system and use the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) to upload a scanned copy of the EC8A to INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV) immediately after the completion of all the polling units voting and results procedures.
They said this was in compliance with the provision of Clause 38 of the guidelines for the conduct of the polls.
The applicants equally prayed for an order directing INEC to enforce the observance and compliance of Section 27(1) of the Electoral Act, 2022 in the distribution of electoral materials during the conduct of the polls by engaging the services of independent, competent, and reliable logistic companies who are non-partisans or known supporters of any political for the distribution of electoral materials and personnel, among other reliefs.
Justice Egwuatu had, on Wednesday, granted leave to the applicants to proceed with a judicial review, filed requisite motion and put INEC on notice, following an ex-parte motion moved by Usoh-Abia.
Upon resumed hearing on the matter on Friday, Usoh-Abia informed that he had complied with the earlier court order and that their motion was served on INEC same Wednesday.
The lawyer said despite the service of their process, the commission was not represented in court.
The judge, however, said that he noticed INEC’s counter affidavit and a preliminary objection to their originating summons in the court file.
He said the application was filed on Thursday.
Responding, Usoh-Abia said though they were yet to be served by the commission, he was ready to proceed with the matter due to the urgency of the case.
He said the motion, dated March 15, had 26-paragrph affidavit with nine exhibits.
The lawyer urged the court to direct the electoral umpire to comply with its regulations and guidelines of Clauses 37 and 38 on the conduct of the elections.
He said the order was necessary because the commission, in the Feb. 25 Presidential and National Assembly polls, failed to transmit results of the elections in the state and across the country.
He argued that INEC created the regulations and guidelines pursuant to Section 148 and 60(5) of the Electoral Act, 2022 to guide the conduct of elections and collating of election result among others.
Usoh-Abia said INEC’s refusal to comply with the law had resulted in serious prejudice; and had foisted uncertainty and frustration on his clients at their various polling units and wards.
The lawyer said if the order was not granted, the same scenario would repeat itself in the Saturday’s poll.
But INEC, in its preliminary objection, said the suit was incompetent and the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain it.
The commission argued that the applicants had not established a justifiable action against it.
It also said that the applicants acted in contravention of the practice direction by commencing the suit via originating summons.
Delivering judgment, Justice Egwuatu said he was satisfied that the applicants had complied with the practice direction rules in the filing of their application.
He also said that he was satisfied that a cause of action had been established against INEC in the paragraphs of the applicants’ process.
The judge, therefore, ordered INEC to direct all its presiding officers to comply with Clauses 37 and 38 of its regulations and guidelines for the conduct of tomorrow’s election in Akwa Ibom.
He held that the commission had the legal duty to act in accordance with the law.