INEC Can’t Disqualify Candidates, Says Court

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  • Upholds SDP’s Akpoti’s candidature in Kogi

Alex Enumah in Abuja

Justice Folashade Ogunbiyi-Giwa of the Federal High Court, Abuja, yesterday held that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was wrong to have excluded the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the November 16 governorship election in Kogi State.

Governorship candidate of the SDP, Natasha Akpoti, his Deputy, Adams Khalid and their party, SDP had dragged the electoral body before the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court to challenge their exclusion from the November 16 governorship election in Kogi State.

The commission had in a letter through its chairman, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu, written the SDP to inform the party that it has no lawful candidate in the forthcoming governorship poll in Kogi State.

In the letter, the electoral umpire claimed that its decision to exclude the SDP from the Kogi governorship poll was hinged on the non- qualification of its earlier deputy governor-nominee, Mohammed Yakubu, who was said to be under 35 years.
The commission also declined to accept Yakubu’s substitution by the SDP on the grounds that Yakubu’s nomination was invalid.

Delivering judgment in the suit, Justice Ogunbanjo-Giwa, held that INEC had no power to disqualify any candidate for an election as it is the exclusive reserve of a competent court of law.

According to the judge, the provisions of sections 31(1) and 83 of the Electoral Act, which holds that INEC cannot disqualify or reject candidate nominated by a political party for an election as well as refuse to affix the logo of a party contesting election, was aimed at ensuring that it does not lie within the executive realms of INEC to determine who participates in an election, adding that the intention of the law is to make INEC a truly unbiased umpire.

The judge held that Section 31 (1) of the Electoral Act specifically stated that INEC shall not for any reason whatsoever disqualify any candidate sponsored by a political party for an election.

She further held that Paragraph 15 of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, which defines the powers of the commission, did not include determining the validity or qualification of candidate submitted to it by a political party even if the candidate is not qualified.

The judge said at best the commission being a legal entity could have approached a court of law to disqualify such candidate deemed not qualified to contest an election.

“The defendant cannot arrogate to himself the powers of the court or constitute himself as a quasi- court to disqualify candidate.”

Justice Ogunbanjo-Giwa, while noting that the grounds on which a candidate can be substituted in an election is either as a result of death or voluntary withdrawal, held that the defendant did not show anything before the court to the extent that Yakubu’s withdrawal was not made voluntarily.

She also held that both the nomination and substitution of candidate by the SDP in the Kogi governorship election slated for November 16 were done within the time frame as required by INEC guidelines for the election.

According to her, the SDP submitted its list of nominated candidates on September 6, three days to the September 9 deadlines for submission and made its substitution on September 20, three days to the deadline for substitution.

While aligning with the position of the plaintiffs that INEC had no power to disqualify them for the election or even reject the substitution, Justice Ogunbanjo-Giwa said: “It is worrisome that INEC took all these decisions on its own.

“All the cases cited by the defendants were decision of court not the administrative decision of INEC.”

The judge accordingly granted reliefs 1-7 of the plaintiffs and ordered INEC to include the names of the governorship and deputy governorship candidate of the SDP as well as the party’s logo on the ballot in the November 16 governorship poll in Kogi State.

The plaintiffs had approached the court to challenge their exclusion from the 2019 Kogi State governorship election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

The commission had refused to accept the candidature of Khalid in replacement of the earlier nominated deputy governor, Mohammed Yakubu, on the grounds that Yakubu was not qualified in the first place to be fielded as a deputy governorship candidate in the election on account of his age.

But the plaintiffs in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1129/201and filed on October 3 by their lawyer, Mr. Ola Olanipekun (SAN), prayed the court to declare that INEC’s declaration vide a letter with reference number: LEG/PP/23/T/107 that the nomination of Mohammed Yakubu as the Deputy Governor of the SDP in the November 16 gubernatorial election is invalid on the grounds of qualification is ultra vires the statutory powers of INEC and it is therefore null and void.

The plaintiffs in addition prayed the court to declare that the refusal of INEC to recognize Yakubu as substituted deputy governorship candidate of the SDP in the November 16 gubernatorial election in Kogi State is unlawful and unconstitutional ab initio.