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Breaking: Court stops INEC from ending voter registration

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The Federal High Court in Abuja has stopped the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from ending voter registration on 30 June 2022.

Honourable Justice Mobolaji Olajuwon (Court 10) today granted an order of interim injunction following the hearing of an argument on motion exparte by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).

SERAP and 185 concerned Nigerians had early this month filed the lawsuit against INEC asking the court to “declare unconstitutional, illegal, and incompatible with international standards the failure of the electoral body to extend the deadline for voter registration to allow eligible Nigerians to exercise their rights.”

In the suit, SERAP had asked the court for “an order restraining INEC, its agents, privies, assigns, or any other person(s) claiming through it from discontinuing the continuous voters’ registration exercise from the 30th June 2022 or any other date pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.”

The suit is adjourned to 29th June, 2022 for the hearing of the Motion on Notice for interlocutory injunction.

The suit followed the decision by INEC to extend the deadline for the conduct of primaries by political parties by six days, from June 3 to June 9. But the commission failed to also extend the online pre-registration which ended May 30 2022 and the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) ending 30 June 2022.

In the suit number FHC/L/CS/1034/2022 filed at the Federal High Court, Lagos, and transferred to Abuja, SERAP is asking the court to determine “whether the failure of INEC to extend the deadline for voter registration is not a violation of Nigerian Constitution, 1999 [as amended], the Electoral Act, and international standards.”

SERAP is asking the court for “a declaration that the failure of INEC to extend the deadline for voter registration is a violation of eligible Nigerians’ rights to participate freely in their own government, equality and equal protection.”

SERAP is also asking the court for “an order of mandamus to direct and compel INEC to extend voter registration by a minimum of three months and take effective measures to ensure that eligible Nigerians are able to register to exercise their right to vote in the 2023 general elections.”

The suit, read in part: “Enforcing unrealistic voter registration deadline while extending the deadline for party primaries would deny and abridge the constitutional and international human rights of eligible voters.”

“INEC mandates ought to be exercised in a fair, just and non-discriminatory manner. The extension of voter registration would ensure that Nigerian voters are treated equally and fairly. The future of Nigeria’s democracy depends on it.”

“Voters are also critical stakeholders in the electoral process. Treating all eligible Nigerian voters fairly would advance the people’s right to vote and to participate in their own government.”

“INEC must not only be independent and impartial in the exercise of its constitutional and statutory responsibilities, but must also be seen to be independent and impartial.”

“Extending the voter registration exercise would also bolster voter confidence in the electoral process.”

“One of the people’s most sacred rights is the right to vote. The commission has a constitutional and statutory responsibility to ensure the effective exercise of the right of all eligible voters to participate in their own government.”

“Extending the deadline for party primaries without providing adequate time and opportunity for eligible voters to register and participate in the 2023 general elections would amount to an unfair and discriminatory treatment of Nigerian voters, and violate other human rights.”

“Extending the voter registration deadline would provide more time for eligible voters, including young people, the elderly, people living with disability, as well as those resident in states facing security challenges and living in IDP camps to participate in the 2023 elections.”

“Extending the deadline for voter registration would be entirely consistent with constitutional and international standards, and the Electoral Act. Any such extension would also not impact negatively on INEC’s election calendar and activities.”

“The public perception of the independence and impartiality of INEC is essential for building public confidence in the electoral process, and ensuring the credibility and legitimacy of the 2023 elections.”

“Where Nigerians have doubts about the independence and impartiality of INEC, they are more likely to have less confidence in the electoral process thereby undermining democracy.”

“Extending the deadline for voter registration would also be justified, given reports of challenges in the voter registration exercise, especially for young people, the elderly, persons living with disabilities, and those resident in states facing security challenges and living in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps.”

“The will of the people is expressed through democratic elections. This requires that people should be afforded adequate time and opportunity to register to vote. Extending the voter registration deadline is crucial for promoting the independence and impartiality of INEC and building public confidence in the electoral process.”

“The Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended) provides in Section 14(1)(c) that, ‘the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.’”

“Section 9(6) of the Electoral Act 2022 provides that ‘the registration of voters, updating and revision of the Register of Voters under this section shall not stop not later than 90 days before any election covered by this Act.’”

“Similarly, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance guarantee the right to political participation.”

“These human rights treaties also require states parties including Nigeria to ensure the independence and impartiality of national electoral bodies responsible for the management of elections, as well as to promote the establishment of the necessary conditions to foster citizen participation.”

“The right of people to participate in their government is a fundamental feature of any democratic society, and any undue restriction of the right would strike at the heart of representative government.”

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JUST IN: FG engages lawyers for Ekweremadu

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Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, has disclosed that the Nigerian High Commission in the United Kingdom has engaged the services of lawyers to defend the senator representing Enugu West Senatorial District, Ike Ekweremadu, and his wife, Beatrice.

Lawan made this known on Wednesday while giving details about the outcome of a closed session held by the upper chamber before the start of plenary proceedings.

The closed-door session which started at about 10:57 a.m ended at 11:49 a.m.

The PUNCH reports Ekweremadu, alongside his wife, was arrested by the UK Metropolitan Police last Tuesday for conspiracy to harvest the organs of a minor.

 

Ekweremadu and his wife allegedly facilitated David’s entry into the UK to transplant his kidney into their daughter, Sonia, who is suffering from kidney failure.

The couple was arraigned at the Uxbridge Magistrate Court in London on charges of conspiracy and organ harvest on Thursday.

But speaking on Wednesday, Lawan said a delegation from its Committee on Foreign Affairs would depart Nigeria for London on July 1, 2022, to pay a visit to the embattled couple presently in detention over an allegation of organ harvesting.

This was contained in a statement by the Special Assistant (Press) to Lawan, Dr. Ezrel Tabiowo, titled, ‘Senate delegation to visit Ekweremadu, wife in London’.

According to Lawan, the decision to wade into Ekweremadu’s arrest and detention was against the backdrop of a briefing received by the Nigerian High Commissioner to London.

He further disclosed that the Senate would engage the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Nigerian High Commission in London on the recent arrest of Senator Ike Ekweremadu by the London Metropolitan Police in the United Kingdom.

He said, “I had a personal engagement with our Nigerian High Commissioner to Britain, Alhaji Isola Sarafa, who has done so well to establish contact with our colleague, who has been able to get his team to be in the court at Uxbridge where Ekweremadu was taken to.

“The high Commission has also been able to provide some consular services that include the engagement of some lawyers who will defend our colleague.

“We commend them for giving attention to the issue at stake. Equally, the Nigeria Foreign Affairs Minister has been engaged here, so that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs takes steps to provide diplomatic support for our colleague.

“Because this issue is already in court, we have limited opportunity to discuss beyond what we have done so far.

“But I want to ensure the family of our colleague, Senator Ike Ekweremadu and Nigerians, that the Senate will continue to engage with our ministry of foreign affairs as well as our high commission in London.

“The High Commission has done so much but we still expect that it will continue to provide any other further consular services.

“We have also mandated our committee on foreign affairs to engage with the British high commission here in Nigeria, to find more details on this case, as as far as the high commission is involved.

“There will be a delegation to London to see Senator Ike Ekweremadu and his wife. A delegation from the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Senate will leave in the next two days to London for that purpose.

“I want to urge all federal government institutions that can do anything to ensure that justice prevails in this case, that they do so.”

PUNCH

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Native doctor’s attire: Court declines hearing lawyer’s case

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Justice Tijani Ringim of a Federal High Court in Lagos on Monday refused to hear two cases of a human right lawyer, Malcolm Omihrhobo, who adorned himself in a lawyer’s gown with ‘native doctor’ attire to court.

The lawyer also appeared bare footed with cowries tied on his two legs. His wig had two long feathers, with cowries in his two hands and tied a red wrapper, while he wore his lawyer’s gown on it.

The human right lawyer, who appeared before Justice Ringim, was greeted with resistance by some lawyers who disagreed with his appearance before the court in such dressing; arguing that he could not be heard as he was not properly dressed as a lawyer before the court.

Omihrhobo, who had on Thursday caused a stir at the Supreme Court in Abuja for appearing in court the same way, said it would be a violation of his right if he was not heard; noting that the rules could not be above the nation’s constitution.

 

He said, “My Lord, the rules cannot supersede the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

Upon his argument, Justice Ringim, however directed Omihirhobo to address the court on why he should be heard the way he was dressed on the next adjourned date in a suit delineated to FHC/L/CS/929/2022; (Chief Malcolm Omihrhobo) sued the Federal Government of Nigeria and others.

The same happened in his second suit marked FHC/L/CS/1392/2021 against the Nigeria Army and two others before the same court.

The court ordered that the address must not be more than five pages with the authorities, and must be filed before the adjourned date.

When his case was called, he announced his appearance as the applicant and some lawyers, Abdullah Dania, Mohammed Adamu and one Festus Afeyodion, told court that he should not be heard as he was not properly robbed.

Dania said, “I am a lawyer, my Lord can imagine the way my learned friend appears before the court as a professional. The rules that govern us as a lawyer do not allow improper dressing.”

Adamu told the court that he would like to furnish the court with his written submission in line with the direction of the court.

The judge said, “You cannot address the court like this as a professional. I will adjourn your matter and you come and address the court if the rules allow you to appear in court like this.”

Consequently, the judge adjourned to October 10, 2022.

 

PUNCH

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Supreme Court crisis: NBA wants ex-CJN probed, Ariwoola sworn in, workers demand autonomy

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A few hours after resigning from office, Senior Advocates of Nigeria, lawyers, civil right groups and some branches of the Nigerian Bar Association on Monday called for the probe of the erstwhile Chief Justice of Nigeria, Ibrahim Muhammad.

They unanimously said that the allegations against the former CJN should not be swept under the carpet.

Muhammad’s resignation was made public on Monday morning. According to reports, he tendered his resignation on the grounds of ill-health, barely a week after 14 Supreme Court Justices, in a joint petition, levelled grave allegations of maladministration and financial impropriety against the Bauchi State-born jurist.

The news of his resignation caught the nation unawares on Monday morning as his media aide, Ahuraka Isah, who initially denied it, subsequently confirmed the development.

 

The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), swore in the next most senior justice, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, as the acting CJN at the Council Chambers of the State House, Abuja.

The President, who noted that he received the resignation letter of the outgoing CJN with mixed feelings, conferred upon Muhammed the national honour of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger.

In an unprecedented development in Nigeria’s judicial history, the Supreme Court justices had in a leaked letter, accused Muhammad of abandoning his responsibilities and diverting funds meant for the running of the Supreme Court.

They complained about their accommodation, vehicles, electricity tariff, supply of diesel, internet services to justices’ residences, training for justices and epileptic electricity supply to the court.

They accused the CJN of receiving their demands without acting “after several persistent requests” to hold a meeting which was finally held on March 31, where a welfare committee was set up.Among other things, the Supreme Court Justices demanded to know what had become of funds set aside for the training of justices, alleging that they were denied the usual two to three international workshops annually.

But in his response, the jurist, who was elevated to CJN on January 25, 2019, after his predecessor, Justice Walter Onnoghen, resigned over false asset declaration charges at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, blamed “a devastating economic crunch,” for his inability to meet their needs.

Muhammad’s reaction to the allegations was contained in a statement signed by his Special Assistant on Media and Strategy, titled, ‘State of Affairs in the Supreme Court and demand by Justices of the Supreme Court.’

While berating his colleagues for bringing their complaints to the public, Muhammad claimed that the apex court under him had been discharging its responsibility despite the cash crunch facing the establishment.

Muhammad was sworn in being the most senior Supreme Court justice following an ex-parte order of the CCT on January 23, 2019, which suspended Onnoghen from office.On July 17, he was confirmed by the Senate as the substantive CJN and subsequently sworn in by Buhari.

The Chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association, Makurdi branch, Maimuna Ikwulono, in an interview with The PUNCH, submitted that the allegations against the retired Justice should be investigated “so as to help administration of justice.”

Ikwulono, the first female NBA chairman of the Makurdi branch, said that the impropriety and administrative inefficiency levelled against the jurist should not be swept under the carpet.

“Nobody can say that those issues raised be swept under the carpet because we are looking for a solution. Certain things are being done that are hampering the justice administration process, that is affecting judicial responsibilities.

“It is incumbent on the relevant authorities to look into it to stop the wrong to have smoother administration of justice. It is not out of place to look into it,” she said.

Also, the Chairman of the Ilaro branch of the NBA in Ogun State, Talabi Oluwantonwo, told one of our correspondents that the former CJN should be investigated.

Oluwatonwo expressed shock at the speedy manner the executive accepted the resignation letter of the CJN without probing him on the allegation.

He said, “We were told that he resigned this morning. However, there are allegations against him bothering on corruption, he should be probed first.

“They should probe him first before accepting his letter of resignation instead of giving him a national award.”

Also, a former Secretary of the NBA, Asaba branch, AF Bridebra, endorsed the demand for an investigation of the Supreme Court under Muhammad.

Bridebra, who spoke in an interview with The PUNCH in Asaba, stated, “If there is any place we need transparency, it is the judiciary. The man (Muhammad) should be probed.

“The man was rumoured to have been involved in corrupt activities, so he should be probed. Not only him but it should be extended to all Supreme Court judges and NBA.

“The judiciary, as far as I’m concerned, is dying. Every state judge needs to be investigated; this is the beginning of the End-SARS revolution in the judiciary.”

The Chairman of the NBA Section on Public Interest and Development Law, Dr Monday Ubani, in an interview with The PUNCH, said, “Resignation does not stop investigation, if they so desire. One is that there must be the desire to look at the allegations raised by his colleagues, especially on issues of mismanagement of resources.

“The acting Chief Justice was one of those who supported the petition so he should look into it and have unbiased personnel to unravel it. We shouldn’t sweep it under the carpet but investigate it. Yes, he resigned on health grounds but it doesn’t stop probing into the finances of his administration if there is an extreme need for it.”

On the conferment of a national honour on him, Ubani said this could be withdrawn if he was indicted by a probe.

The judiciary workers said they had been vindicated by the happenings in the judiciary which indicated that it was yet to enjoy autonomy.

The National Treasurer, Judiciary Staff Union Staff of Nigeria, Jimoh Musa, stated, “With the complaint (by the Supreme Court Justices) and response, you will know that there is no autonomy even at the federal level. And now that they have woken up from their slumber to cry out for us to know, I think JUSUN will join hands and make sure the autonomy sees the light of the day.”

SANs’ positions

Some Senior Advocates of Nigeria also called for the probe of the former CJN.Rasheed Adegoke, SAN, explained that the former CJN should be investigated to set the records straight.

While commending Muhammad for resigning from office, the senior lawyer argued that the judiciary as the hope of the common man should be above reproach.

He stated, “If we want to set things right, there’s nothing that says that he should not be probed. If there had been allegations of misdeeds under his administration, the essence of the probe is to ensure that the records are even clean so that people will know what actually transpired.

“Were his colleagues who wrote the petition just making unnecessary noise or there was substance in what they were talking about? Only a probe will bring that to the fore.”

Another SAN, Ifedayo Adedipe, said the allegations against the former CJN should not be laid to rest because he resigned.

He said he must be investigated and brought to book if found guilty of the allegations levelled against him by his colleagues.

Adedipe said, “The reason Nigeria is not making progress is that there are no consequences for bad behaviours. Is this how other countries run their affairs? So, because he has resigned, if he has committed an infraction he should be allowed to go?

“People might as well be committing infractions and be resigning. If it is true that he has committed an infraction, particularly being the head of the judiciary, he should answer for it. We must leave sentiment out of our everyday activities.@

Lekan Ojo, said the rule of law does not support anything worthy of investigation to be swept under the carpet, noting that the Buhari regime “has zero-tolerance for corruption.”

He noted, “Those in charge of any investigation into his tenure will be in the best position to know whether there is a prima facie case to probe him; we stand for the rule of law.

“Certainly, the rule of law does not support anything worthy of investigation to be swept under the carpet. I know the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has zero-tolerance for corruption. If the government is of the opinion that there is a very good ground to probe any public officer, I’m sure the government will not hesitate to do so.”

Professor Samson Erugo, SAN, observed that the latest developments in the judiciary called for sober reflection, adding that an investigation into the situation was not out of place.

He added, “I suggest we remove sentiments from the current crisis at the apex court. The crisis is quite unusual, and calls for sober reflection. The now retired CJN Justice Tanko Mohammed should be commended for the courage to resign to pave the way for change. The average Nigerian public officer would have remained to fight the system using inherent pitfalls. I agree there should be an investigation to identify the unusual challenge leading to the memorandum by the ordinarily conservative Justices of the Supreme Court. The probe is not necessarily with a view to punish anyone, but to correct the system and effect positive change in the institution.”

Emeka Ngige, SAN, who described the CJN’s resignation as a welcome development, commended him for his courage. He added that the Auditor-General of the Federation should discharge his responsibility.

Speaking on the call for a probe of Muhammad’s tenure, he said, “We have audit departments in all government departments, so the Auditor-General of the Federation should do his work. Do not call it probe: at every financial year, there should be an audit of government expenditure, whether judiciary, executive or legislature, so the Auditor-General should do his work, it is not probe.”

An Abuja lawyer, Dr Daniel Makolo, also supported the call for an investigation of the allegations against the retired justice, insisting that the report of the probe should also be made public.

But a member of the NBA, Lagos branch, Kunle Anifowose, argued that it was premature to pin the allegations of embezzlement on the ex-CJN.

Speaking in the same vein, a lawyer and activist, Victor Giwa, lauded Muhammad for resigning on health grounds.

He noted that the allegations against him bordered on maladministration and not financial malfeasance. “So, the anti-graft agencies should allow the system to be unless where there are specific allegations of financial crime,” he submitted.

Meanwhile, the NBA Chairman, Port Harcourt branch, Prince Nyekwere, said the allegations of corruption levelled against the retired CJN remain to be proved.

On his part, the Chairman of the NBA, Okrika branch also in Rivers State, Emmanuel Eremie, said for the CJN to voluntarily step aside meant those allegations were weighty.

“It means the allegations are weighty. But the implication is this: We look up to the Supreme Court as the oracles of the law, and would not want them to wash their dirty linens in public.

“They can constitute an administrative probe panel and do the needful, just to save the image of the legal profession,” Eremie said.

The Chairman, Centre for Anti-corruption and Open Leadership, Debo Adeniran, also stated that the former CJN should be probed.

“It is a good thing he honourably resigned and didn’t allow himself to be thrown out like Onnoghen but then, apart from the NJC, the Body of Bencher, the anti-graft agencies should do their separate jobs on him and at the end of the day, he should be given adequate punishment, if found guilty. This is necessary to serve as deterrence for others,” he submitted.

In her reaction, the Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development, Mrs Idayat Hassan, said the centre would go beyond calling for just probes.

She said the situation demanded an in-depth look into the implications on the judiciary and above all, on the democracy in Nigeria.

She further added that while the resignation of the former Chief Justice was honourable, it was worrisome that it was happening close to the 2023 elections.

The Convener, Human Right Writers Association of Nigeria, Emmanuel Onwubiko, noted that no Nigerian should be above the law and hence, the allegations against the former CJN should not be swept under the carpet.

The Chairman, Transparency International, Nigeria, Musa Rafsanjani, said the development presented an opportunity to remove the secrecy in the judiciary “because there’s too much secrecy in the judiciary spending,” adding that Nigerians needed to know how funds were managed and spent in the judiciary.

He also said reforms were also necessary to tackle the conditions that made judges give contradictory judgments.

ICPC keeps mum

When asked if the Independent Corrupt and Other Related Offences Commission would probe the allegations against Muhammad, the commission’s spokesperson, Mrs Azuka Ogugua, declined comment.

“We don’t disclose our plans or investigations; when we are ready to carry out a probe, we would do it and inform you,” she said.

PUNCH

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