A Federal High Court in Abuja has directed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to send the results of the gubernatorial and House of Assembly elections held on Saturday in conformity with its norms and guidelines.
In a ruling issued on Friday, Judge Obiora Egwuatu mandated the use of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System to send a scanned copy of form EC8A to the INEC Result Viewing Portal immediately following the conclusion of voting in every polling unit in Akwa Ibom.
After finishing the EC8A result sheets across the state, the judge further ordered the commission to prominently post publishing of its results posters EC60(E) at polling places.
In addition, he ordered INEC to ensure the observance and compliance of Section 27(1) of the Electoral Act, 2022 in the distribution of electoral materials and personnel during the conduct of elections in the state by engaging the services of independent, competent, and dependable logistic companies that are not partisan or known supporters of any political party for the distribution of electoral materials and personnel.
Egwuatu determined that accepting the petitioners’ pleas would not hinder the electoral commission’s performance, as the commission had stated in its affidavit that it was aware of its legal obligations and had not failed to fulfil them.
Following a lawsuit brought by the Labour Party and its governorship candidate in Akwa Ibom, Uduakobong Udoh, as well as 13 state House of Assembly candidates for the 18 March elections, he rendered the verdict.
According to the News Agency of Nigeria, the applicants sued INEC as the single defendant in the summons marked FHC/ABJ/CS/334/2023, dated March 15 and submitted by their attorney Moses Usoh-Abia.
The petitioners, who sought seven reliefs, asked the court for an order of mandamus forcing INEC and all its agents to comply with and implement Clause 37 of the Rules and Guidelines for the Conduct of Saturday’s Elections in Akwa Ibom.
They also petitioned the court to require the presiding officers of all polling units to prominently post the publication of result posters EC460(E) at the polling units after the EC8A result sheets have been filled up.
They sought an order of mandamus compelling the commission to require the presiding officers of all polling units in the state to electronically transmit or transfer the result of the polling units, direct to the collation system, and use the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System to upload a scanned copy of the EC8A to INEC Result Viewing Portal immediately following the completion of all polling unit voting and result procedures.
They stated that this was in accordance with Clause 38 of the guidelines for the conduct of the elections.
The applicants sought, among other reliefs, an order directing INEC to ensure the observance and compliance of Section 27(1) of the Electoral Act, 2022 in the distribution of electoral materials during the conduct of the polls by employing the services of independent, competent, and dependable logistic companies that are neither partisans nor known supporters of any political party for the distribution of electoral materials and personnel.
Justice Egwuatu reportedly granted the applicants permission to proceed with a judicial review, filed the necessary motion, and served INEC with notice on Wednesday, in response to an ex-parte motion submitted by Usah-Abia.
On the resumption of the hearing on Friday, Usoh-Abia reported that he had complied with the prior court order and that INEC had been served with their motion the previous Wednesday.
The attorney stated that despite the service of the commission’s process, it was not represented in court.
However, the judge stated that he observed INEC’s response affidavit and a preliminary objection to their summons in the court file.
Usoh-Abia said that despite not having been served by the commission, he was prepared to move on with the case due to its urgency.
He stated that the 15-March motion had a 26-paragraph affidavit with nine documents.
The attorney sought the court to order the election official to comply with Clauses 37 and 38 of its norms and guidelines governing the conduct of elections.
He stated that the order was required because the commission failed to send election results in the state and throughout the country for the February 25 Presidential and National Assembly elections.
He claimed that INEC created the regulations and guidelines in accordance with Sections 148 and 60(5) of the Electoral Act, 2022, in order to regulate the conduct of elections and the collation of election results, among other things.
Usoh-Abia asserted that INEC’s unwillingness to comply with the law had resulted in grave discrimination and imposed uncertainty and irritation on his clients at their various voting units and wards.
The solicitor stated that if the order was not granted, the identical scenario would occur in Saturday’s election.
In its preliminary objection, INEC argued that the suit lacked merit and that the court lacked the authority to hear it.
The commission argued that the applicants had failed to demonstrate a valid claim against it.
It further stated that the applicants violated the practise directive by initiating the lawsuit with an initial summons.
In his ruling, Judge Egwuatu stated that he was satisfied that the applicants had filed their application in accordance with the practise direction regulations.
In addition, he stated that he was convinced that a cause of action had been created against INEC in the applicant’s proceedings.
Thus, the judge directed INEC to direct all of its presiding officers to comply with Clauses 37 and 38 of its regulations and guidelines for tomorrow’s election in Akwa Ibom.
He believed that the commission was required by law to comply with the law.
But, the judge refused to award other reliefs.