By Bruno Okeke
Less than seven months to 2019 general elections, the electoral umpire, Prof. Yakubu Mahmood, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, is engrossed in a battle to retain his reputation. A Federal High court in Abuja ordered,last week,for his arrest,for alleged non obedience of court order. Mahmood is paying prize for serving his nation.
Justice Stephen Pam who made the order for the arrest of INEC Chairman did so following Yakubu’s absence from proceedings in his court.The court had summoned him to appear in court to defend the contempt suit instituted against him by an acclaimed Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party in Anambra state,EjikeOguebego.Justice Pam noted that he could no longer tolerate Yakubu’s continued absence, having on three occasions refused to honour the court’s summons.
Yakubu’s lawyer, Chief AdegboyegaAwomolo (SAN), had earlier informed the judge that his client was absent from court because he was leading a team of electoral officers from the Economic Community of West African States to Mali. But the judge was defiant saying that the INEC chairman’s excuse of attending an assignment in Mali was not tenable.He also said the court would not fold its hands and be turned into a toothless dog by the defendant.
Mahmood was away on national assignment outside the country at the time. There was no indication of deliberate move not to appear in court.
A few days after the court order against him, the INEC Chairman approached the Court of Appeal to quash the arrest order issued against him by the Federal High Court.In a notice of appeal he filed through his lead counsel, the INEC chief claimed that Justice Pam acted in bad faith in the issuance of the arrest order because he had already filed a pending appeal against the order and the attention of the judge drawn to the appeal.
Among others, Yakubu claimed that until date, no order was enrolled and served on him for his personal appearance in court as required by law.
He averred that the warrant of arrest against him was a nullity because none of the parties in the contempt case applied for issuance of bench warrant except the judge who did so on his own.
The INEC chief maintained that he had not disobeyed any court order because he was not present before the court when the alleged order directing his personal presence was made and that Justice Pam who issued the order has no jurisdiction to punish him for the alleged disobedience of court order committed outside the court.
Besides, Yakubu asserted that Justice Pam committed a grave miscarriage of justice when he unilaterally struck out a motion on notice he filed on July 31 praying his court to adjourn the contempt charge against him pending the determination of his appeal on the contempt charge at the Court of Appeal.
He insisted that the trial court breached section 36 of the 1999 constitution by striking out his motion without hearing it, thereby denying him his right to fair hearing in the determination on merit of his application.
He, therefore, prayed the Appeal Court for an order setting aside the entire ruling of Justice Pam delivered on August 1, during which a bench warrant for his arrest was issued, and also prayed for an order of the appellate court remitting the contempt charge marked FHC/ABJ/CS/854/2015 back to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for reassignment to another judge of the court for hearing and determination of the matter, on the grounds that Justice Pam had exhibited patent bias against him in his handling of the matter.
Meanwhile the Electoral Commission has called for the criminalization of vote-buying to stop the trend in the political system of the country.
Mr AdedejiSoyebi, National Electoral Commissioner in charge of South-West, made the call in Abuja at the High-Level Post Election Roundtable on the 2018 Governorship Election in Ekiti state.
“Work need to be done on people to stop selling their votes because it is their conscience they are selling;it means that money has become the determining factor of their choices”.
“As a country, we need to think about this and find a solution to it, we need to start talking about it because the process made it difficult for INEC to really have a say”.
What happened in Ekiti state, if we are going to be very honest with ourselves is that, they did it so perfectly but very much distant from the polling units.
“This is how it works, a voter walks into our polling unit after being verified and he or she casts his or her vote that is where our relationship with the person ends”.
“Every form of vote-buying we are talking about- 80 per cent or 100 per cent- always takes place after the person has cast his votes“. He said.
He also said that stopping the menace should be a collective responsibility, adding that if there was no vote-selling, there would be no vote-buying.
“When we talk about vote-buying, we forget that it is the twin sister of vote-selling because there is no buying without selling”.
Soyebi said that INEC conducteda very credible election in the Ekiti state, but the only thing people remembered about the election was the issue of vote-buying.
The national electoral commissioner said that the menace had rooted into our political space and needed to be stopped.
He also said that the commission had been talking about vote-buying since the Anambra election and would continue to do so through increased sensitization of voters, through voter education for them to shun the act.
Soyebi said that when it became impossible for politicians to snatch ballot boxes, they resorted to buying votes.