INEC seeks to vacate court order on recall process
Vacation judge to hear application
Legal battle begins over ‘status quo’ pronouncement
It is not yet uhuru for embattled Senator representing Kogi West Senatorial District at the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly, Senator Dino Melaye.
This is because the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, is set to make a pronouncement on the petition written by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), against the order of Justice John Tsoho of the Federal High Court Abuja stopping the constituents recall processes of Maleye .
A source close to the Supreme Court also confided in The Daily Times that immediately the CJN received the petition on Friday, he set in motion processes to take necessary action, saying that the CJN may act on the petition this week.
The source said, ” The issues raised in the petition are weighty and the CJN is poised to take action because of the urgency of the issues raised and the time frame.
” Don’t forget that this is a constitutional matter and the CJN, you will recall, has warned judges to be firm and deliver verdicts in equitable manner on the grounds that heaven will not fall if their judgments are based on the constitution and the law.”
But The Daily Times learnt last night that INEc had not only petitioned the CJN over a breach of its Constitutional function and administrative process but had applied to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court to administratively transfer Melaye’s suit to the vacation judge for expeditious hearing.
It was further gathered that INEC might have filed an application on Friday, seeking to vacate the restraining order and the pronouncement of maintaining the status quo granted by Justice John Tsoho which has been given several interpretations as it suit the parties.
Incidentally, no journalist was present in the court when the restraining order was made as the lawyer to Melaye, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), came by way of ex-parte application while INEC could not be heard because of the nature of Melaye’s application.
The Daily Times also sighted the controversial order last night and observed that the judge indeed gave the restraining order against INEC and its agents from taking any action on the recall process. He also directed the parties to maintain the status quo, pending the determination of the suit and adjourned the matter till September 29.
But a fierce legal battle is bound to begin this week as the parties would not yield ground on the issues involved as the issues at stake are constitutional, urgent and the need to prevent recurrence of ambushing the regulatory body from performing its statutory functions.
INEC’s contention is that Justice Tsoho, having restrained it and further added that parties should maintain the status quo and adjourned the matter to September 29, 2017 inadvertently rendered its recall process worthless in view of time frame (90 days).
The electoral agency is said to be worried that the electoral wish of some of the constituents of Kogi West Senatorial District who want their representative recalled or otherwise is suppressed for ever by the status quo order as the recall process including an election (referendum) is time -bound.
There is also palpable fear that by the next adjourned date- September 29, the time allowed for the recall process to take place might have elapsed having kickstarted it earlier on June 23, 2017.
The development indicates that neither the commission nor the Kogi West Senatorial constituents can do anything about their wish as the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Electoral Act cannot be extended to accommodate their wish.
The INEC National Commissioner, Prof. Okechukwu Ibeanu, who explained this in a statement at the weekend, added that the commission drew the CJN’s attention to the restraining order, saying that there is the need to prevent a dangerous precedent that could stop the electoral body from carrying out its functions in future.
Ibeanu said that if the order of the Federal High Court is allowed, it could put the commission in a dangerous position to pursue a similar process in future as any lawmaker could also approach the court with a restraint order with a view to frustrating the process.
Ibeanu said the commission halted the recall process in compliance with the court order and a mark of respect but it is deeply concerned about the order, because its implications for the commission’s powers to carry out its constitutional functions regarding the recall process is gagged.
INEC is also troubled by the fact that its power of recall under section 69 of 1999 Constitution (as amended) has been breached.
The section provides thus: A member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives recalled as such a member if (a)”there is presented to the Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission a petition in that behalf signed by more than half of the persons registered to vote in that member’s constituency their loss of confidence in that member ; and which signatures are duly verified by the Independent Electoral Commission ”
(b) “The petition is therefore,in a referendum conduct Independent National Electoral Commission within ninety date of receipt of the petition, approved by a simple majority of the persons registered to vote in that member’s constituency .”