INEC, IG hammer REC, CP as court halts Binani

There was a flurry of actions yesterday to put the nation’s electoral process back on track after Sunday’s setback in Adamawa State.

Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) put up its Adamawa Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) Hudu Yunusa-Ari for the police to prosecute for his illegal action.

Inspector-General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba, recalled Adamawa State Election Commissioner Mohammed Barde, replacing him with Gombe State Commissioner of Police Etim Equa.

All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship candidate Senator Aishatu Dahiru-Ahmed Binani failed to get the court to stop INEC from proceeding with the collation and announcement of the result.

Results were fully collated and Adamawa State Governor Ahmadu Fintiri was declared governor-elect.

Yunusa-Ari on Sunday announced Senator Binani winner of the governorship election while collation was still ongoing.

INEC invalidated the announcement and suspended Yunusa-Ari indefinitely because the REC usurped the responsibility of the Returning Officer (RO).

The commission reported the REC to the appointing authority, the Presidency, through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha.

Only President Muhammadu Buhari can recommend any erring REC to the National Assembly for removal from office.

INEC said in a statement: “At its meeting today (yesterday), the Commission discussed matters arising from the Adamawa governorship election and decided to write to the Inspector-General of Police for the immediate investigation and possible prosecution of the REC, Barr. Hudu Yunusa Ari.”

The commission said it would “request the SGF to draw the attention of the appointing authority to the unwholesome behaviour of the REC for further action”.

After days of drama and intrigues, INEC declared Fintiri of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) the winner.

He scored 430,861 votes to defeat Binani, who got 398,738.

The Federal High Court in Abuja halted her bid to obtain a judicial endorsement of her controversial declaration as the winner.

Justice Inyang Ekwo ordered her lawyer, Mohammed Sheriff, to address the court on whether it has the jurisdiction to hear the motion.

INEC suspended the collation of results after Saturday’s supplementary election.

Binani, in the motion numbered FHC/ABJ/CS/510/2023 filed on April 17, is seeking to restrain INEC and its agents from taking any further steps on the declaration of the winner of the governorship election held in Adamawa on March 18 and the supplementary election held on April 15 pending the determination of her application for judicial review.

She and the APC are listed as applicants, while INEC, the PDP and Fintiri are the respondents.

Sheriff informed the court about the ex-parte motion and sought the court’s permission to move it.

He said although he was ready to hear the motion, it was important that the applicants’ lawyer first address the court on the issue of jurisdiction.

He then ordered Sheriff to file a written address which the court intends to hear along with the motion on April 26.

A lawyer, Afeez Matanmi, had announced an appearance for Fintiri and said they got wind of the case through social media and decided to enter an appearance for their client.

When asked by the judge if he was served any processes in respect of the suit, Matanmi said no, but that he has filed a counter motion.

Justice Ekwo declined to entertain any submissions by Matanmi because the motion was filed ex-parte.

Dahiru-Ahmed hinged her application for judicial review on the ground that after the collation of results, INEC declared her as the winner, but the PDP and its candidate (Fintiri) resorted to fighting and causing a public disturbance which led to the alleged beating and manhandling of an INEC staff.

She stated that the crisis led INEC to cancel the initial declaration, which it had no power to do, arguing that it is only the election petition tribunal that is vested with such powers.

Dahiru-Ahmed argued that by cancelling her declaration as the winner, INEC usurped the powers of the election petition tribunal, which is the only court vested with the powers to make declarations on electoral disputes

She stated 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.

Binani added that INEC, being an agency of the government, can have its actions, records, and decisions scrutinized by the court, adding that only a court possesses the power to nullify the actions of an INEC official but not INEC itself.

More condemnation trailed the REC’s actions.

The PDP said Yunusa-Ari’s action was “reckless”.

Acting National Chairman, Umar Damagum, said: “The action of the Adamawa State REC is a reckless, inexcusable and unpardonable assault on our democracy, the Constitution, the Electoral Act, 2022, INEC Guidelines and the manifest will of the people of Adamawa State, which they expressed in voting en masse for the PDP.

“This action by Mallam Hudu Yunusa Ari amounts to a ’civilian coup’ to take control and install an illegal government in Adamawa State contrary to the provision of Section 1 Sub-section 2 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic Nigeria 1999 (as amended).

“For clarity, Section 1 Sub-section 2 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides that: The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall not be governed, nor shall any person or group of persons take control of the government of Nigeria or any part thereof, except in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution”.

The PDP said the conduct of the Adamawa REC was a subversion of democracy which must not be allowed to go unpunished.

“We restate our demand that INEC should without further delay hand over Yunusa-Ari to the police for investigation and prosecution,” the party said.

Atedo Peterside, president of the Anap Foundation, speaking on Arise TV, said the action of the REC was a representation of “impunity” by the INEC leadership

He said: “If you have gone to the INEC IREV to see what happened in the presidential election in some states, there was impunity there.

“And there is impunity here. We have to get serious in this country about whether to tackle all issues of impunity or just tackle them in Adamawa state. What is the difference?’

An election monitoring group, Yiaga Africa, in a statement by the Chair, Watching The Vote Working Group Dr Hussain Abdu, and its Executive Director Samson Itodo, urged President Buhari and the Senate to initiate removal proceedings against the REC.

It said doing so would be in defence of the Constitution, the independence of INEC, and the overall integrity of the electoral process.

Yiaga Africa condemned the illegal declaration of Binani as governor-elect mid-way into the exercise.

It said: “Yiaga Africa unequivocally condemns the irresponsible conduct of the REC, Hudu Yunusa-Ari, who, in utter disregard for the Constitution…made an illegal declaration when only the results of 10 out of 21 LGAs had been collated.

“Apart from this, the REC lacks the power to make a declaration as this is an exclusive power of the Returning Officer appointed by INEC.

“The fact that the REC committed this dastardly act in the company of security operatives is unfortunate and unacceptable.

“Consequently, the conduct of the REC, which is criminal and unbecoming of an electoral officer, is inimical to democratic norms and ethos.

“The action of the REC portends danger for democracy in Nigeria as it signals that the Constitution and other laws can be subverted, thereby opening a floodgate of lawlessness and anarchy in the face of such crass disregard for the rule of law.

“This gross misconduct is an ominous sign of democratic backsliding and INEC capture, which was highlighted in Election Manipulation Risk Index (EMRI) published before the 2023 general elections.’

The Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC) called for the sack and prosecution of Yunusa-Ari and other accomplices over what it described as an illegal, unconstitutional and unwarranted declaration.

Its National Chairman, Yabagi Yusuf Sani, an engineer, said: “It (declaration while collation of results was in progress) is outrageous and a mockery of the nation’s emerging democracy which has caused undue tension in the polity.

“IPAC demands the immediate sack and prosecution of the REC and his accomplices in this deliberate assault on our hard-earned democracy to serve as a deterrent to others who would contemplate such heinous crime against the fatherland.”

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