Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has dismissed the insinuation that it has halted the process of recall of the Senator Representing Kogi West Senatorial District, Dino Melaye.
The commission described as false report that its chairman Prof. Mahmood Yakubu has halted the process of recall of Melaye due to the Senate decision to probe the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TEFUND).
It said contrary to such insinuations that the Commission has abandoned the recall process, it is taken immediate steps to vacate the court order and for the matter to be heard and determined expeditiously.
In a statement issued yesterday by the National Commissioner & Acting Chairman, Prof. Okechukwu Ibeanu, the Commission said it decided that as a responsible organisation and in line with its longstanding tradition to obey the court order so as not to be seen as disobeying a valid judicial order.
“The attention of the Commission has been drawn to some media reports suggesting that the Commission has halted the process of recall of the Senator Representing Kogi West Senatorial District, Senator Melaye.
“Some of the reports even claim that 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,” it said.
“The Commission wishes to state unequivocally and categorically that these reports are totally incorrect and mischievous.
INEC said it is public knowledge that some registered voters from the Kogi West Senatorial District approached the Commission on June 21 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, INEC said on the same 10th July 2017, it received an order given by the Federal High Court, Abuja and dated 6th July 2017, directing the â€œparties to maintain the status quo till the determination of the plaintiffâ€™s motion on notice,â€ 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 Commissionâ€™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.
The court had adjourned hearing of the motion on notice for the injunction to 29th September 2017.
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.
But the Commission said it has 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 Justiceâ€™s attention to the matter for immediate judicial intervention, because if similar cases arise in the future, the Commissionâ€™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 Commissionâ€™s decision to obey the court order was somehow related to the Senateâ€™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 bodyâ€™s President.
“Surely, the decision of the Commission to obey the court order, pursue its timeous vacation and lay a complaint about the nature of the Federal High Court order to the Chief Justice of the Federation cannot, in any way, mean a secession of the process of recall of the Senator, which has already commenced.
“The Commission wishes to assure all Nigerians that it will continue to diligently carry out its constitutional functions with candor and without fear, favour, affection or ill will,” it added.