Recall: Conflict as INEC tries to ‘shave’ Melaye in absentia
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) may be up to a very daunting challenge in its existence following its decision to commence the processes leading to a planned recall of the Senator representing Kogi West in the Senate, Dino Melaye.
INEC fixed yesterday for the verification of signatures, the first in the line of activities for the Senator’s recall. The exercise was carried out in 552 polling units of the senatorial district out of 556, since there were no petitions in eight other polling units.
INEC said the exercise was in response to moves by some constituents from the district, who registered their names and submitted photocopies of their Permanent Voter Cards. Over 188,000 people from the district reportedly gave their signatures in June 2017, indicating their readiness to recall Senator Melaye, alleging poor representation.
Outcome of the exercise is being expected today, being the April 29, 2918 at the INEC area office in Lokoja. However, lawyers and other stakeholders have expressed reservations as to whether INEC will live up to its name of being independent just before the verification exercises.
Those observations must have put the electoral umpire on its toes to do the needful, as the outcome may make or mar its integrity, as to how prepared it is for the all important 2019 general election under the APC-led Federal Government.
It is now left for INEC to prove naysayers wrong, because it went ahead with the recall exercise, when the principal actor to be affected by the outcome of the process,
Senator Melaye is detained on a hospital bed in Abuja.Can INEC shave Senator Melaye’s head in his absence? The electoral commission pointed out earlier that only Melaye can provide agents at the polling units to monitor the exercise instead of political parties, as is done during proper election.
Analysts believe that the hype by the police in the arrest of the senator may not be unconnected with the strategy to tuck him away, while the verification exercise goes on, so as not to be around to mobilise against his recall.
Some observers noted that for a Senator that had stepped on virtually every big toe, including those of the President, the use of security agents does not come as a surprise. If not, all these while, the Senator had been carrying on with his normal activities, while the same police that declared him wanted provided him protection.
Lawyers who spoke to The Guardian on the matter believe that at the end of the day, subject to the outcome of the exercise, the umpire may be enmeshed in series of litigations that may make the process a mere waste of public funds if the right things were not done.
Equally of note is the fact that Senator Melaye had been having a running battle with the Nigerian police over an allegation by some alleged criminals, Kabiru Saidu aka Osama and Nuhu Salisu (a.k.a small), who named him as their political sponsor that supplied them guns for some hatchet job preparatory to the 2019 election.
The case against the Senator, which was filed at the Federal High Court, Lokoja, was later transferred to Abuja at the instance of the senator, out of apprehension that his security would not be guaranteed in Kogi. He also contended since the suspects in their confessional statement said Melaye handed them the arms along the Airport Road in Abuja, the trial should be where the offence was committed.
Though the police had paraded the suspects at its state headquarters in Lokoja earlier when they made the allegations, in a twist the police authorities announced to a bewildered public that the criminals had escape from custody just before they were to be arraigned at the Federal High Court in Lokoja, along with their supposed sponsors.
The Kogi State commissioner of police, Ali Janga, was even redeployed for ineptitude, while his successor resumed.Yet, in another drama, the redeployed Janga was reinstated after the alleged criminals were rearrested before the two weeks deadline given by the Inspector General of police expired.It is generally believed that the current ordeal of the Senator vis-a-vis the commencement of his recall process, while on a hospital bed casts a big shadow of doubt as to the sincerity or otherwise of the electoral umpire.
A constitutional lawyer, Barrister Joel Usman, told The Guardian that if INEC says they are not aware of the Senator’s ordeal, it might be because no letter was communicated to it.He however observed that in the eyes of the law, Melaye’s ordeal is common knowledge for which judicial notice must be taken as it was widely publicized in virtually all media.
“I will say it is impossible for Melaye to be in all the polling units and wards at the same time. So, his presence in that regard is not mandatory, but the presence of his agents cannot be dispensed in my view.“If Melaye, before his present ordeal communicated the names of his agents to INEC, I think the process will sail through without serious legal implications.”
The legal practitioner added that if the Senator did not indicate his agents before now, considering his present situation, going ahead with the process would be a complete waste of public funds as it would generate a lot of litigations, which would certainly not be resolved within the stipulated 90 days.
On the appeal filed at the Supreme Court on the matter, Usman said he is not aware if there was any application for stay of execution of his recall, stressing that without any of the above, INEC can actually go ahead with the process, but if that motion was pending they cannot go ahead.
Another lawyer, Barrister Aliwo, said because it is a recall process, Melaye was ordinarily expected to be present. “As a matter of fact, it is not just by reason of ill health, the sickness developed from the police incarceration. That means even in ill health he is in incarceration at the instance of the police and that of the state,” he added, saying that it all means that the state through her agency, INEC has also undertaken to recall Melaye in his absence under incarceration.
Though Aliwo noted there was nothing wrong holding an election in the absence of a candidate, but in a recall process, the person to be recalled would be negatively affected by the process. Stressing that a person’s hair cannot be shaved in his absence, the lawyer contended that since Melaye is being held by the same principal agent effecting the recall, it appears to be a one sided affair.
“That is where I have reservations about the process. INEC appears to be more desperate than even the aggrieved, by going ahead with the process of recall, when the man is being held incommunicado. I think that is most unfair as INEC is expected to be an independent umpire.“They should not cry more than the bereaved. Some people purportedly complained to INEC that they wanted to recall the senator and the person is being detained. INEC is trying to take Panadol for the headache of the complainants.”He however observed that INEC might claim ignorance of Melaye’s detention, pointing out that the development behooves the Senator’s lawyer to put INEC on notice.
At a stakeholders meeting on the Process of the Recall (Verification) of the Senator recently, the electoral body was almost overwhelmed by thought provoking enquiries over fears about INEC’s credibility after the exercise.They queried the credibility of the card reader as a major electronic device for the conduct of the verification exercise, based on its failures during the 2015 election and other subsequent elections.