Always assist election tribunals, lawyer tasks INEC
A legal practitioner, Sam Kargbo, has urged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to balance its duty by defending its declarations and returns before Tribunals. He said this would ensure justice for petitioners and the public. According to him, electoral credibility is rooted in timely and just determination of electoral disputes.
Kargbo, who spoke at a lecture on the theme ‘Media Civil Society, Electoral Offences and Election Tribunals in Nigeria’, said: “The cooperation of INEC is underscored by the fact that a petitioner must file his or her petition within 21 days of the declaration and return of the winner, and the Tribunal must conclude its hearing and deliver its judgment within 180 days of the filing of the petition.
“The petitioner is not only enjoined to file his or her petition within 21 days, but must also accompany his or her petition with all the oral and documentary evidence that he or she is relying on. That is the absolute prescription of the frontloading system applicable in Election Tribunals.
“Unfortunately, instead of being neutral, INEC often sees itself as the defender of its declarations and returns, and as such, opts for the less honourable choice of teaming up with its declared winner to frustrate the petitioner, and sometimes, thereby, defeating the ends of justice.”
Kargbo added that the media and civil society must also extend their scrutiny to the electoral litigants and expose their underhand and overreaching activities that tend to undermine Election Tribunals.
“They must give a fair and accurate report of tribunal proceedings and must not constitute themselves into alternate tribunals by engaging in media trials.
“The media must in turn do a reality check on information and reports from INEC and use that information to educate the voters on their rights and the imperative of making informed choices at elections. The media must also put out itself to investigate and report on allegations of electoral offences.
“The media must be vigilant and not waver in having its eyes on every activity of INEC – including having its presence at registration centres, campaign locations and venues of voting, counting, collation and announcement of results – to prevent electoral malpractice.
“The media must also respect the laws and the electoral process by ensuring that they only feed voters with authentic, accurate and balanced news and reports about the process,” he said.