Is INEC’s Certificate of Return for Sale? By Mathew Aigbovo

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With the recent issuance of a certificate of return to billionaire politician, Prince Ned Nwoko of Delta North Senatorial District by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), despite a pending appeal before the Court of Appeal in Abuja, and having been served a stay of execution on the judgement of the Federal High Court, Abuja, it is clear that the electoral body has been unduly influenced by the billionaire politician who prides himself in using his money to achieve whatever he wants.

Recall that the April 3, 2019 horrendous Federal High Court judgement by Justice Ahmed Abubakar against Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, who billionaire Prince Ned Nwoko contested against in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) senatorial primary election for Delta North senatorial district, directed the PDP to publish the name of Ned Nwoko as the candidate for the election; an order already overtaken by events. Sincec there was no consequential order to INEC to issue a certificate of return to Ned Nwoko, the question begging for an answer is: on what legal foundation did INEC erect its decision on? Having been served all appeal processes, one wonders where INEC derived its powers to issue certificate of return to Ned Nwoko.

To set the records straight, this is a pre-election matter. The PDP primary election for Delta north senatorial ticket was held on October 2, 2018 in Asaba, Delta State. In that particular election which was adjudged to be transparent by INEC and the party, Prince Ned Nwoko secured 452 votes while Senator Peter Nwaoboshi polled 506 votes. In that election, INEC gave their seal of approval just as the PDP. In an event the billionaire Prince was dissatisfied with the outcome of the primary election; he is expected by law to file his case within 14 days to a court of competent jurisdiction, but that was not done. Instead Ned Nwoko went forum shopping by approaching an FCT High Court in Kubwa, a court that lacked territorial jurisdiction over the matter. The law makes it clear that you cannot take a pre-election matter from one state to another state’s court. It is worthy to note that even at the FCT high court, Nwoko also filled his case out of time. He filled on the 19th of October 2019; three days out of time. The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria allows the challenge of all primary elections to be brought before any court of competent jurisdiction within 14 days after the conduct of the election.

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On December 10, 2018, the date fixed for judgement by the FCT high court, Prince Ned Nwoko, having realized that he erred on the issue of jurisdiction, filled through his lawyers for withdrawal and discontinuation of the case. The case was eventually struck out in open court by the trial judge, meaning the case never existed judicially. However, on December 11, 2018, Ned Nwoko quickly filled the case again at the Federal High Court in Abuja which was 56 days out of time.

Instructive to note is the fact that the case also came by way of originating summons which implies that everything in connection to the case must be done via sworn affidavits. This also meant that the trial judge did not have the right to ask any of the parties to evidence any material since the case came by way of originating summon.

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An errant Justice Ahmed Abubakar who presided over the case at the Federal High Court made strange pronouncements. For the avoidance of doubt, this is a case that was earlier discontinued for lack of jurisdiction but Justice Abubakar insisted that since there was an initial filing of the case before an FCT high court, (a state high court), even though the case was discontinued and struck out for lack of jurisdiction, the court which dismissed the case had jurisdiction to try the matter, and as such he would borrow the filing time in the dismissed case. In so doing, he turned a High court into an Appellate court.

During the trial, Justice Abubakar had asked the PDP to present the ballot papers used in the primary election, which the party declined because the party is only allowed to keep primary election materials for only 14 days, and if no suit emanates within the 14 days, the party has no business keeping the ballot papers. The party made it clear that it is not as if it does not
have the ballot papers but that the nature of the case did not allow them to drop anything for scrutiny.

Ned Nwoko went as far as presenting ballot papers in court which were not given to him by the PDP. The party objected the admissibility of the ballot papers since they were not given to Prince Nwoko by the party. This is the party that conducted the election coming out to tell Prince Ned the ballot papers did not come from them. This leaves one to wonder the basis upon which Justice Abubakar went ahead to admit it as evidence and eventually ruled that Ned won the case. Only a blind man will not see that the only thing that could have made the judge to give such a horrendous judgement is the fact that the extra-ordinary happened. Prince Ned Nwoko, notorious for bragging of his capacity to buy his way, succeeded in creating the eight wonder of the world by securing himself a judgement that lacked judicial ethos.

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On the other hand, why should INEC, after been duly served a notice of appeal; stay of execution, and record of proceeding duly transmitted to the appeal court, went ahead to issue Ned Nwoko a certificate of return when the judgement did not direct them to do so? The question on the minds of many is what could have happened? With a man who brags openly and claimed that even the appeal court is wrapped under his armpit, and that the case before the appeal is a foregone and concluded matter, could it be that justice in present Nigeria is for the highest bidder? Is it an indication that without money to bribe your way through, one cannot get justice? Although INEC has chosen this inglorious part even when the matter is pending at the court of Appeal, all hope for justice is not lost since Nigerians have implicit hope that the revered Justices of the Appeal court shall rise to the occasion and redirect the wheel of justice to restore sanity and orderliness to the sacred temple of justice. Let justice be done, and seen to be done.

Mathew Aigbovo,
A Public Affairs Analyst writes from Abuja

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