The Independent National Electoral Commission on Monday ordered the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Adamawa State, Hudu Yunusa-Ari, to stay away from the commission’s state office.
INEC’s action was premised on Yunusa-Ari’s declaration of the All Progressives Congress governorship candidate, Aisha Dahiru, popularly known as Binani as the governor-elect in Saturday’s supplementary election.
The commission also barred the REC from coming to the office in a letter signed by the Secretary to the Commission, Rose Oriaran-Anthony.
The REC’s action continued to attract criticism on Monday as the Peoples Democratic Party governors called for his prosecution.
But Binani at Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday filed a suit seeking an order to prevent INEC and its agents from taking any further steps towards the declaration of the winner of the election pending the determination of her court case
Yunusa-Ari had announced Binani as the winner of the supplementary polls while the collation of the results was underway, causing confusion in the state and drawing consternation across the country.
Before the declaration, Binani was trailing behind Governor Ahmadu Fintiri of the PDP, who had established a margin of lead of 31,249 votes.
Fintiri had scored 421, 524 votes ahead of Binani who got 390, 275 votes.
However, Fintiri could not be declared the winner of the March 18 governorship election by the state returning officer, Professor Mohammed Mele, of the Department of English and Linguistics, University of Maiduguri, Borni State, because the margin of lead did not exceed the number of cancelled votes in 69 polling units.
Yunusa-Ari’s action was condemned by opposition parties and ex-INEC national commissioners as strange and with some Nigerians saying the incident reflected the anomaly that characterised the general elections.
But the INEC nullified the pronouncement and also summoned the REC who usurped the duties of the returning officer and other officials to Abuja.
However, the embattled REC and his colleagues could not appear before a committee of the commission in Abuja on Monday due to the ongoing strike by aviation workers which grounded airport operations nationwide.
The PUNCH gathered that all the INEC national commissioners who would constitute the committee members were also affected by the aviation strike as they could not get return flights to Abuja.
It was learnt that the senior INEC officials, who had participated in the rerun polls in different states, were returning by road and expected at the INEC headquarters, Abuja, on Tuesday (today).
But Oriaran-Anthony in her letter to Yunusa-Ari dated April 17, 2023, explained that the administrative secretary of the commission in Adamawa State had been directed to take charge of the INEC office in the state.
The letter read, “I hereby convey the commission’s decision that you (Barrister Hudu Yunusa-Ari), Resident Electoral Commissioner, Adamawa State should stay away from the commission’s office in Adamawa State immediately until further notice. The administrative secretary has been directed to take full charge of INEC, Adamawa State with immediate effect.”
In the meantime, Fintiri’s supporters on Monday took to the streets demanding the collation of the supplementary election results and conclusion of the process without further delay.
The protesters who turned out in their thousands were led by prominent PDP stakeholders.
They marched from the party’s office located at the police roundabout to the INEC headquarters.
The demonstrators were restrained from destroying the billboards bearing the images of Binani and the President-elect, Bola Tinubu by the Deputy Director-General of the PDP Presidential and Governorship Campaign Council, Felix Tangwami.
He called for decorum, noting that the protest would continue until the electoral commission yielded to their demand by concluding the collation process and announcing Fintiri as the winner.
“Be peaceful and civil; we would lay siege to the INEC office until the commission listens to us, resume collation and make a return because Adamawa people are not happy because what has happened is treasonable and illegal. We take our call to the street to demand that justice be done with our protest for as long as it takes. Please exercise restraint and decorum,” Tangwami told the party’s loyalists.
Speaking to one of our correspondents on Monday, the National Commissioner and Chairman of the Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, said the meeting with the summoned REC and other officials might be held on Tuesday, adding that the national commissioners were on their way back to Abuja.
Okoye confirmed that the Adamawa returning officer had arrived in Abuja, adding that he was not sure if Yunusa-Ari was also in the city.
He stated, “No national commissioner in Abuja except the chairman (Mahmood Yakubu). We were all deployed for supplementary elections. The national commissioners are on their way back to Abuja. If there will be any meeting, it will be tomorrow (Tuesday) because the national commissioners have to return to Abuja before a meeting can take place. I am sure that the Returning Officer for the Adamawa governorship election is already in Abuja.”
Explaining the steps that would be taken by INEC to resolve the Adamawa debacle, Okoye disclosed that the commission would meet to take a decision on the resumption of the results’ collation.
He stated, “At the end of the meeting, far-reaching decisions will be taken. The commission will also offer a full and unambiguous explanation of the actions it has taken and measures put in place to safeguard electoral integrity. The commission is conscious of its responsibilities to the Nigerian people and its decision on the suspension and resumption of collation (of results) will be guided by the Constitution, the Electoral Act and its Regulations and Guidelines.’’
Against the backdrop of the Adamawa incident, governors elected on the platform of the PDP have called for an overhaul of the appointment process of resident electoral commissioners.
In a statement signed by the Director-General of the PDP Governors Forum, Cyril Maduabum, the governors called on the returning officer, Mele, to immediately conclude the process and declare the result.
The statement read in part, “There should be a deliberate process of revisiting the appointments of national and resident electoral commissioners to weed out corrupt and extremely partisan officials. It is the partisan method of appointment of these officials that led to the national disgrace in Adamawa State.
“The attempted electoral heist and brigandage perpetrated by the Adamawa State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Barrister Hudu Yunusa, is perhaps the lowest point of the 2023 general elections.
“We commend the immediate steps taken by the INEC as an institution to recover its battered image by nullifying the attempted coup and suspending the REC.
“The appropriate returning officer, Mohammed Mele, should immediately conclude the collation and declare the result. One of the most important lessons of this election season is that the integrity of INEC personnel is crucial to free, fair, and credible elections as well as deployment of technology.”
The forum demanded appropriate sanctions, including the swift prosecution of all those involved, especially Yunusa-Ari, to serve as an example to others.
PDP demands sanction
“Appropriate sanctions, including prosecution of all those involved, especially the former Resident Electoral Commissioner, Barrister Hudu Yunusa, should be swiftly commenced to serve as an example to others.
“We enjoin all Nigerians to be on alert as we brace up to emerging threats to our democracy and the struggle for good governance in Nigeria,’’ the governors said.
Commenting on the incident in Adamawa, the Special Assistant on Public Communication to the PDP presidential candidate in the 2023 election, Mr Phrank Shaibu,in a statement on Monday said that the indefinite suspension slammed on Yunusa-Ari by INEC without arrest and prosecution was not good enough given the enormity of his action.
The statement read, “Despite having over one month to prepare for this supplementary poll, INEC retained this compromised REC who went ahead to undermine the election once more.”
Meanwhile, the Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde, paid a solidarity visit to his Adamawa State counterpart in Yola on Monday.
Makinde said the illegal declaration of the APC candidate as the winner of the election was unimaginable and a shame on the REC.
He commended INEC for a job well done in Oyo State and expressed confidence that the electoral umpire would prove its neutrality in the Adamawa process as the whole world was watching.
The governor also urged the people of Adamawa State to remain calm, assuring them that the current situation would be resolved amicably.
Binani seeks review
In a related development, Binani he has filed a motion ex parte before the Federal High Court in Abuja seeking the leave of the court for a judicial review of the administrative decision of the INEC in respect of her declaration as winner of the governorship elections held on March 18 and the supplementary elections of April 15th.
Binani is also seeking an order of prohibition and certiorari preventing INEC and its agents from taking any further steps towards the declaration of the winner of the elections pending the determination of her application for judicial review.
The application was brought pursuant to Order 34 rules 1a, order 3(1) & 3(2) a, b, c, Order 6 of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure Rules) 2019 and Section 251 (1)q & r of the 1999 Constitution, as well as section 149 & 152 of the Electoral Act 2022.
In the grounds under which the application is brought, the governorship candidate stated that after the collation of results, INEC declared her as the winner of the elections but the PDP and its candidate Governor Fintiri who was sued as the 2nd & 3rd respondents resorted to fighting and causing a public disturbance which led to the beating and manhandling of an INEC official.
This crisis, noted, led INEC to cancel the initial declaration which whe said it had no power to do as only the election petition tribunal is vested with such powers.
By cancelling her declaration, Senator Binani contends that INEC usurped the powers of the election petition tribunal which is the only court vested with powers on declaration on the conduct of an election.
Binani through her lawyers led by Hussaini Zakariyau, SAN, argued that “a judicial review exists to enable the superior court to checkmate the actions and decisions of inferior courts as well as the legislative and administrative arm of government including agencies and public officers.”
The applicant further submitted that the INEC being an agency of the government can have its actions, records, and decisions checked by the court and only a court can nullify the actions of an INEC official and not the INEC itself.