INEC And The Dilemma Of Contradicting Verdicts

INEC And The Dilemma Of Contradicting Verdicts

There seems to be respite coming the way of Zamfara State governor, Abdulaziz Yari, following a verdict of a High Court in the state which upheld the APC primary elections held in the state, but a new judicial tune in the mix in which a Federal High Court in Abuja okayed INEC’s power to reject candidates presented by the APC makes it hazy to completely interpret that it is so, JONATHAN NDA-ISAIAH writes.

Last week, there were conflicting signals from the impasse in primaries conducted by the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Zamafara State. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had insisted that the party in Zamfara has no candidates at all levels for the 2019 general elections. INEC premised its decision on the notion that the APC didn’t meet the deadline for the submission of names of candidates. But the APC insisted that it conducted primaries and the list was submitted to the electoral body before the deadline. The state governor, Abdulaziz Yari, approached the court to justify his claims.

It is instructive to note that since 1999, Zamfara State had been an ANPP state, one of the legacy parties that make up the APC today. INEC’s insistence that the party does not have candidates for the election was seen as blow to a state considered as a traditional stronghold of the APC. In all these, the governor had insisted that instead of defecting to another party to realise his senatorial ambition, he will exhaust all legal means.

Last week, the governor got a breather when a High Court sitting in Gusau upheld the primary election conducted by the state chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC). On October 11, 2018, the state chapter of the APC filed a suit before the court praying it to compel the APC national headquarters and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to accept the primary election it conducted on October 7, 2018. The national headquarters of the APC had earlier declared that there were no primary elections by the party in the state.

Delivering the judgement, Justice Bello Shinkafi said his judgment was based on the evidences tendered before the court by various witnesses who were cross examined. According to the judge, the APC Zamfara, State chapter, was qualified to field candidates to contest for the governorship, National Assembly and the State House of Assembly elections. The judge also ordered INEC and APC national headquarters to recognise the primary elections held by the party in the state.

Reacting to the judgement, Zamfara State governor, Abdulaziz Yari said the judgement was a victory for democracy and a counter to one of the rulings in the case instituted against the conduct of primaries by the state branch of the APC.

Speaking to State House correspondents in Abuja, the governor thanked God for what he said was a prayer answered in their quest for justice. He said, “You remember sometimes in October we began the struggle with INEC over whether there were primaries or not in Zamfara State.

“Even though we believed that we had undergone all the processes, today God did it once again for us by giving us victory. The court accepted that Zamfara APC conducted its primaries. So, we are happy with the outcome and we thank the department of justice and the judges who stood their ground to ensure that justice is granted.”

The governor said the judgement wouldn’t have at a better time considering the fact that many other cases have remained in court even as the elections approach.

Affirming that there were two positions enunciated by the Zamfara court judgement, Yari said, “It is not too late. Some of us that were given opportunity or encouraged by the president to go and seek for justice, some of them are still in court. This victory for today is not late. I can tell you in the entire Nigeria, Zamfara is one of the states that APC is sure of 90 per cent victory.

“But let me also thank INEC because there are two conflicting statements: one, national and the other, state. The state INEC went round and conducted and supervised the primaries as allowed by law. Unfortunately, the INEC at the national headquarter of APC did not wait to receive the report of the Zamfara State INEC represented by the resident electoral commissioner (REC), and they went ahead to give the pronouncement.”

But just as that victory was being celebrated, a Federal High Court in Abuja also held in it judgement that the INEC acted within its powers by refusing to accept the list of candidates for the next general elections from a faction of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Zamfara State. Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, in the judgement on Friday, said it was not the fault of INEC that the APC failed to conduct a valid primary within the period scheduled by the electoral body.

The judge held that INEC’s action was intended to curb impunity among political parties and politicians and ensure that rule of law is adhered to. The judgment was delivered based on a suit filed in the name of APC by some individuals who said they emerged from a consensus arrangement adopted by the party in Zamfara State.

Also, chairman of the Senate committee on Petroleum (Downstream), Senator Kabiru Marafa (APC, Zamfara Central), hailed the judgment of a Federal High Court in Abuja which upheld INEC’s rejection of Zamfara APC candidates. He vowed to challenge the judgment of a Zamfara State High Court affirming that primaries were conducted by the Yari-led APC faction in the state. In a swift reaction to the court judgment delivered by Justice Ojukwu, Marafa said the judicial pronouncement has ended the political dynasty that brought Yari as governor of Zamfara State.

But pundits are of the view that in the dispensation of justice, the courts should not sacrifice substantial justice on the altar of technicalities. The thinking is that stopping an entire state from fielding candidates for elective positions on grounds of mere technicalities like deadline and time frame amounts to denying the people of the state their right to vote. Severally, the Supreme Court has insisted that the only way to sustain public confidence in the judiciary is for judges to be proactive by not allowing technicalities to stand in the way of substantive justice.

For political analysts, the judgement of the state High Court in Zamfara is what is expected of the judiciary in sustaining the country’s democratic process. They argue that the law abhors technicalities that impede the cause of justice. According to them, the court’s primary duty is to render or dispense justice and not to treat litigations as if they are a game of technicalities. Lawsuits unlike duels are not to be won by a rapier’s thrust. Technicality, when it deserts its proper office as an aid to justice and becomes its great hindrance and chief enemy, deserves scant consideration from courts. Every party litigant must be afforded the amplest opportunity for the proper and just determination of his cause (in this case, the right of the Zamfara people to vote) free from the unacceptable plea of technicalities. This, they argue, is what the High Court in Zamfara has done.

The analysts contend strongly that on the judgement of the Federal High Court Abuja, it is a far better and more prudent course of action for the judiciary to excuse a technical lapse and afford the Zamfara APC a review of the case on appeal to attain the ends of justice rather than dispose of the case on technicality and cause a grave injustice to the people of the state by disenfranchising them, giving a false impression of speedy disposal of the case, while actually resulting in a miscarriage of justice. As it stands, it remains to be seen which court judgment INEC will accept as time is fast running out on both parties in the matter.