The Independent National Electoral Commission will fail neutrality test if it allows its officials, who conducted the December 5 inconclusive election in Bayelsa State to coordinate the rerun on January 9, lawyers have said,
The lawyers, who conducted a “legal clinic” on the Bayelsa election with civil society organisations, noted that their findings showed that the current composition of INEC in Bayelsa would not guarantee a free and fair rerun.
The report of the clinic, released in Yenagoa on Sunday, was signed by the General Counsel, Legal Clinic for Development and Democracy, Mr. B.B. Bamigboye.
The lawyers specifically urged the commission to redeploy its Resident Electoral Commissioner in the state, Mr. Baritor Kpagi, and other principal officers, alleging that they were no longer neutral as required by the Electoral Act.
The group noted that the candidates of the frontline political parties, Chief Timipre Sylva of the All Progressives Congress, and Governor Seriake Dickson of the Peoples Democratic Party, had publicly disputed the results in local government areas they allegedly lost.
It said in spite of the dispute, INEC declared winners in seven out of the eight LGAs, but allegedly aligned with the PDP to cancel the results in Southern Ijaw, citing widespread violence.
The group added that while the APC and a group of observers opposed the reason for the cancellation of the election, the PDP had continued to defend the INEC officials responsible for the cancellation.
The LCDD also recalled that the REC allegedly issued a statement claiming he was offered money to rig the election and that his life was under threat.
He said though the party that offered the REC money had been a subject of speculation, INEC leadership had yet to uphold the neutrality contained in its enabling statute following a plethora of petitions, allegations and counter-allegations involving its officials.
He said the electoral law required INEC to redeploy politically-exposed officials and to detail new personnel to conduct the supplementary election in Southern Ijaw and other units across the state.
It added, “While the Electoral Act does not confer locus standi on voters in election tribunal, the right to vote and be voted for is now under threat due to INEC’s inability to demonstrate commitment to neutrality.
“When we juxtapose the foregoing facts with Section 28 of the Electoral Act, 2010, we must of necessity demand a reasonable degree of legal rectitude from INEC.”
Quoting Section 18, sub-section 28 of the Electoral Act, Bamigboye stated, “(1) All staff appointed by the commission taking part in the conduct of an election shall affirm or swear before the High Court, an oath of neutrality as in the Second Schedule to this Act.
“(2) All Electoral Officers, Presiding Officers, Returning Officers and all staff appointed by the Commission taking part in the conduct of an election shall affirm or swear an oath of loyalty and neutrality indicating that they would not accept bribe or gratification from any person, and shall perform their functions and duties impartially and in the interest of the Federal Republic of Nigeria without fear or favour.”
He stated that based on admittance of the REC, the neutrality of INEC in Bayelsa was legally questionable.”