Outlawed Court Orders: Army, INEC and Judiciary Must Not Scuttle May 29 Handover and Set Nigeria Ablaze – SBCHROs

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ONITSHA (Press Release) – The controversies that trailed the 2019 General Elections in Nigeria have further identified and exposed the trio of Nigerian Army, Nigeria’s INEC and Nigerian Judiciary as the three musketeers of poll rigging in Nigeria. The three are so identified and named within the context of vicarious responsibility or liability owing to unchecked chaotic and dictatorial conducts of their assigned and top personnel. This is the joint position of the Southeast Based Coalition of Human Rights & Democracy Organisations, a coalition of over 23 rights and democracy groups based in Southeast Nigeria.

Despite the clear provisions of extant laws of Nigeria including several decided authorities restraining or banning the Federal, State and FCT High Courts from interfering with or stopping the Independent National Electoral Commission from conducting or organising and concluding elections in Nigeria or any part thereof, outlawed court orders from such courts are now being issued against the Commission from right, left and center; to the extent that issuance of such vexatious and chaotic orders has openly received the support of the Presidency of Nigeria especially in the Bauchi State Governorship Poll as well as covert approval of INEC, which has suspiciously and illegally chosen to “obey” them even when the Electoral Act of 2010 as amended in 2015 clearly says otherwise.

Plots, therefore, are ongoing and thickening at the instance of the trio, overtly and covertly backed by the current APC led Federal Government of Nigeria to scuttle Nigeria’s democracy particularly the May 29 Handover and plunge the country, in part or in whole, into chaos and bloodletting for purpose of imposing emergency rule in the affected States or in the entire country.

 As careful observers of the massively rigged or manipulated 2019 General Polls, this Coalition makes bold to say that the plots are not only intensified and sustained but also going round in circle among the three musketeers. This is more so when the three legendary musketeers and their replicate in Nigeria are historically bound by the motto of all for one and one for all or partners in crime. In the instant case, the relay match was started by INEC after which the Nigerian Army joined with the Nigerian Judiciary as the newest relay baton holder. The Nigerian Judiciary now goes about, issuing frivolous, vexatious, chaotic and infamous orders with reckless abandon, stopping INEC from performing its constitutional and statutory responsibilities of organising, conducting and concluding elections as well as rightly or wrongly declaring final results and their winners.

 Despite what the bitter side of history taught the likes of Justice Rose Ikpeme and Egbo Egbo in early 2000s, some serving Judges in the country’s Judiciary are still bent on toeing such infamous path. The worse is that the three musketeers are no longer respecters of the laws of the land including the Constitution, Electoral Act, INEC Act and Guidelines as well as the Armed Forces Act and apex or appellate decided cases. They now operate above the laws of Nigeria even when the laws are written in black and white or clearly pronounced in judicial decisions.

 For instance, in the case of first musketeer (army), there are clearly spelt out roles of the Armed Forces including their deployment in democratic dispensation particularly during specific or general elections. There are also several appellate and apex courts’ decisions on same, banning soldiers from being found at or near the polling units and collation centers or intimidating and preventing voters from accessing their polling centers.

In reality, these are not only observed in gross breach but also as was the case in the just held widely rigged polls; soldiers are now snatchers of ballot boxes, writers and manipulators of results and arresters of voters accessing their polling centers. This is despite the fact that judicial decisions of the Federal/State/FCT High Courts, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court are enforceable and binding on all Nigerians including all authorities and persons holding judicial, executive (armed forces/army) and legislative offices; all in accordance with Sections 287 (1)-Supreme Court, 287 (2)-Appeal Court and 287(3)-High Courts.

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In the case of second musketeer (INEC), the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act of 2010, as amended and the INEC Act of 2004 and its Guidelines, all provide for independence, impartiality, neutrality and competence of the Commission and clearly spell out processes of conducting elections into the 1,695 elective offices in Nigeria other than 12,788 Local Government elective offices; but in reality as shown in the just held controversial polls of 2019, these laws and processes are not only observed in gross breach but also the Commission’s personnel are so dependent on central Executive Branch of the Nigerian Government that the Commission’s conducts and pronouncements are always the Hand of Esau but the Voice of Jacob. Contradictions and self indictments also eclipsed the Commission’s conducts and pronouncements during the said credibility challenged polls.

 And in the case of third musketeer (Judiciary), some unclean members of its Bench have chosen to take the country back to infamy or dark era of judicial militancy and dictatorship. These judges such as Justices Abdulaziz Waziri of the Adamawa State High Court and Inyang Ekwo of the Abuja Federal High Court, by their latest conducts, have moved from being the law-lords to lords of chaos and anarchy. The two Judges have within five days (March 14-19) granted infamous, vexatious and chaotic ex parte orders stopping INEC from conducting supplementary governorship polls or collating and concluding the outstanding results of others and declaration of their winners; contrary to Sections 87(10) and 133 of the Electoral Act of 2010 as amended in 2015.

 We also strongly suspect that the Judges may not have acted alone. There is likely a conspiracy between them, the APC led Federal Government and INEC. As reported by some respected media outfits, Justice Abdulaziz Waziri had on 14th March 2019 granted a frivolous order ex parte at the Yola High Court, restraining INEC “whether by themselves, their agents, servants, representatives, nominees or any other person from proceeding with the supplementary election with respect to Adamawa State Governorship pending the hearing and determination of Motion on notice”.

In the case of Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, he had on 19th March 2019 granted two ex parte orders against continuation of collation and declaration of final results and their winners in the Bauchi and Rivers State Governorship Polls pending the determination of suits filed before him. The Judge had in the case of Rivers State Governorship Poll on 19th March 2019 ordered INEC to “maintain status quo ante till Friday (22-03-2019) when it would hear and determine the merit of the substantive suit that was filed before it”.  The Judge also on the same day issued another ex parte order or interim injunction “restraining INEC from resuming, concluding and announcing the governorship election results in Bauchi State pending the determination of all issues raised by the plaintiffs in their originating summons”.

But in a suspicious move yesterday, 20th March 2019, the Judge reversed himself and reportedly vacated the interim order in the case of Rivers State Governorship Poll and refused to vacate that placed on Bauchi State Governorship Poll. Critics say the vacation of interim order on the Rivers State Governorship Poll was not ordinary. The Governor of Rivers State has raised alarm, saying plots from the Federal Government using the Nigeria Police Force are thickening for purpose of doctoring the original results of the suspended Governorship Poll. He specifically accused the Nigeria Police Force of targeting and inviting collation officers and poll agents to appear before the Force over spurious criminal offences.

Suspicions are also rife that INEC may have been forced or intimidated into abandoning the original results of the Poll and adopting fake results compiled by the agents and officials of the central ruling Party. This is more when the Candidate of AAC in the State has asked the same Federal High Court to “declare him winner based on available results collated” even when it is clear to them that the Court lacks such jurisdiction. Critics say these may have influenced Judge’s sudden change of heart in relaxing his earlier interim pronouncement on account of “orders from above”  

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 There are also reports of flooding of various High Courts in Nigeria including State and Federal High Courts by agents of chaos for purposes of seeking and obtaining interim orders or ex parte orders. The orders reportedly being sought are said to range from restraining orders stopping the conclusion of outstanding Governorship and State Assembly Polls to those meant to restrain INEC RECs from issuing Certificates of Return to the declared winners of Governorship, Senatorial, House of Reps and State Assembly Polls across the country.  

The main opposition Party has also threatened to obtain its own ex parte order stopping President Muhammadu Buhari from being inaugurated and sworn in for his second term. One of such failed attempts at securing the restraining or interim orders (ex parte) was sought in the Owerri Division of the Federal High Court on 19th March, where a senior lawyer, reportedly briefed by the AA and its governorship candidate, filed an application seeking for an injunction restraining the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Imo State from issuing Certificate of Return to the Governor-elect of the State, Mr. Emeka Ihedioha. It took the courtroom murmurings and discretion of the Presiding Judge for the injunction not to be granted as prayed.

Totality of these is a clear indication of how bad Nigerian democracy and rule of law have gone or damage done to same. It is alarming and shocking that the country’s three most important institutions: Army, INEC and Judiciary have joined forces and become partners in crime by engaging in conducts capable of scuttling the country’s hard won democracy and plunging the entire country or part of it into chaos and bloodletting. By refusing to be guided by the laws of the country and acting in accordance with democratic principles, it is most likely correct and safe to say that these three musketeers are plotting to set the country ablaze, unless they are called to order.

Had the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, now mocked by critics as “Inconclusive National Electoral Commission” operated credibly, independently and impartially before and during the conduct of the 2019 General Polls, Nigeria and Nigerians would have moved to the next stage in honor and happiness. Despite the commendable effort of the Buhari Administration by ensuring provision of adequate funds for the polls, the Commission allowed itself to be manipulated and remote-controlled, to the extent that it could not successfully and credibly organize a simple general poll. The failure of the Commission stems from its bent on going against the true electoral wishes of the Nigerian People and appeasement of the central ruling Government and its Party.

It not only took the Commission almost one week to declare the final results of the Presidential Poll, but also three whole weeks to fully organize and conclude the country’s governorship and State Assembly polls. It is likely the Commission will not have completed all outstanding governorship polls with final result declaration and announcement of their declared winners on or before 9th April 2019. If the Guinness Book of Records is to exist in Nigeria, then the present INEC would have entered it and emerged as the Electoral Commission that conducted the longest elections with largest number of “inconclusive polls” in the history of Nigeria.  

Of the ill-conduct of the three musketeers highlighted above, those of the Nigerian Judiciary are the most troubling and worrisome. The country’s Judiciary is steadily dashing the last hope of the Nigerian People. Despite the fact that the extant laws of the country including apex and appellate courts’ decided cases oust the jurisdictions of the State, Federal or FCT High Courts in issuing restraining orders and assuming jurisdictions stopping INEC from “organizing or conducting polls; collating and announcing poll results and declaring winners of such polls”, some unclean elements in the Bench are bent on undermining such clear cut provisions.

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The Nigerian Electoral Laws and guidelines are clearly written in black and white with jurisdictional restrictions clearly imposed on ordinary Courts (Federal, State or FCT High Courts) except in matters of “pre-election circumstances”. The powers to handle “post election matters” are clearly vested in Presidential/National Assembly Election Petition Tribunals or Governorship/State Assembly Election Petition Tribunals. These are in accordance with Section 233 (Supreme Court for presidential and governorship final tribunals), Section 285 (for National and State Assembly/Governorship Tribunals) and Section 246 (for Appeal Court/final court for National/State Assembly election matters).

Also by Sections 133 and 87(10) of the Electoral Act of 2010, as amended in 2015, the High Courts of State or those of Federal or FCT; except Election Tribunals are barred from interfering with the powers or duties of INEC or questioning the Commission over its powers to conduct or organize and conclude any election in Nigeria as well as announcement of its results and declaration of winners, whether rightly or wrongly conducted and concluded; and issuance of Certificates of Return to declared winners. Aggrieved parties are provided enough opportunities or avenues to take recourse to election tribunals for judicial redress.  

From the above, therefore, the conducts of the duo of Justices Abdulaziz Waziri and Inyang Ekwo and others like them are nothing short of clear plots to scuttle democracy and plunge the country into chaos and bloodletting particularly on or before 29th May 2019 handover. Nigerians will not be surprised if they wake up anytime soonest to hear or read in the media of granting of more frivolous court injunctions stopping any of the outstanding polls or issuance of Certificates of Return to some declared winners or swearing in of some declared winners.

INEC’s decision to selectively obey court orders associated with the matters under complaint is also totally suspicious, conspiratorial and condemnable. If such frivolous court orders and their suits in respect of Adamawa and Bauchi State Governorship Polls or any other that may still come are not vacated or ended or allowed to linger in courts until few days to the 29th May Handover without their polls concluded and winners declared, then the Commission and the Judiciary would have ended up planting anarchy targeted at setting the affected States or the entire country ablaze.   

We therefore demand immediate investigation and dismissal by the National Judicial Council of the duo of Justices Abdulaziz Waziri and Inyang Ekwo and other serving Judges that may interfere or issue restraining orders in connection with collation and conclusion of the said supplementary polls or issuance of Certificates of Return or swearing in of any or those declared by INEC as “winners of the 2019 General Polls in Nigeria” including President Muhammadu Buhari.

Jointly Signed

For: SBCHROs

•Emeka Umeagbalasi

•Aloysius Emeka Attah

•Jerry Chukwuokoro

•Prof Justice Chidi-08039100804

•Chidinma Udegbunam Evan, Esq.

Groups In The Coalition:

1.       Int’l Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law (Onitsha), 2. CLO, Southeast Zone (Enugu), 3. CLO, Anambra State Branch (Onitsha), 4. Forum for Promotion of National Ethos & Values (Enugu), 5. Igbo Ekunie Initiative (United Kingdom), 6. Int’l Solidarity for Peace & Human Rights Initiative (Enugu), 7. Foundation for Environmental Rights, 8. Advocacy & Dev (Aba), 9. Society for Economic Rights & Social Justice (Aba), 10. Human Rights Organization of Nigeria (Onitsha), 11. Center for Human Rights & Peace Advocacy (Onitsha), 12. Southeast Good Governance Forum (Awka), 13. Society Watch & Advocacy Project (of Intersociety) (Onitsha), 14. Initiative for Ideal Dev & Emancipatory Leadership in Nigeria (Aba), 15. Igbo National Council (Owerri), 16. Anambra Human Rights Forum (Awka), 17. Voice of the Voiceless Int’l (Awka), 18. Easy Life Initiative for Rural Youths (Aba), 19. Community Empowerment Network (Aba), 20. Southeast Movement against Transactional Politics & Profligacy (Awka), 21. Prof Justice Chidi (Southeast Academia), 22. Neighborhood Environmental Watch Foundation (Abakiliki),23. Citizens for Righteousness & Social Justice (Owerri).

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