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INEC’s postponement of presidential polls illegal, HDP insists

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A collation officer along with INEC members (Independent National Electoral Commission) gather at a Local Government Area of South Kaduna on February 24, 2019, as they recount the election results before sending them to Abuja. – Nigeria awaited results from its presidential election, as civil society groups warned that disorganisation and violence may have undermined the polls. Results from February 23, 2019 vote were expected to trickle in to Abuja after being collated at the state and local levels. (Photo by CRISTINA ALDEHUELA / AFP)

The Hope Democratic Party (HDP) yesterday insisted that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) shifted this year’s presidential polls from February 16 to 23 in breach of the Electoral Act 2010.

Its lead counsel, Chukwunoyerem Njoku, told the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) that the electoral umpire never met the conditions spelt out in the law before postponing the exercise.

He informed the panel that following INEC’s “failure to adhere to the conditions precedent before postponing the election constitutionally, a referendum was conducted in line with the law and the presidential candidate of the HDP, Chief Albert Ambrose Owuru, emerged winner with over 50 million votes.”

Maintaining that Nigerians participated in the February 16 referendum, he, therefore, urged the tribunal to nullify President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory and declare Owuru as the ‘authentic’ winner.

He contended that the All Progressives Congress (APC) standard-bearer could not be said to be president on the strength of the February 23 polls “because the purported election was without merit.”

Describing the entire process as unlawful, unconstitutional and illegal while adopting the party’s final address, Njoku consequently asked the panel to void the polls and return the petitioner and his party as winners of the election.

Furthermore, the complainants want Buhari unseated over the allegation that a fake version of their party logo was on the ballot paper used by INEC.

They also queried the qualification of the president, canvassing that he should be disqualified for allegedly not possessing the minimum qualification to contest for the office.

But counsel to the president, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), urged the judges to dismiss the petition for being “frivolous, baseless and lacking in merit.”

He argued that the petitioners did not in any way adduce evidence on how the referendum was conducted and who organised it.

Olanipekun held that there was nowhere in the petitioners’ address that they made any case against his client.

The electoral body through its lead lawyer, Yinus Usman (SAN), urged the tribunal to dismiss the appeal with “substantial cost to serve as a deterrent to those who may wish to file frivolous and baseless petitions in the 2023 elections.”

He stressed that the request lacked merit because “INEC conducted an election known to law and not a referendum, as the claims of the two petitioners are strange to the electoral umpire and the law itself.”

He, therefore, urged the tribunal to uphold the Buhari’s declaration as winner of the polls.

The APC, in its final address my own counsel, Chief Akin Olujinmi (SAN), sought the dismissal of the petition for lacking in merit.

After entertaining arguments of all parties, the Justice Mohammed Garba-led tribunal thereafter reserved judgment till a date to be communicated to the litigants.

Meanwhile, the flag-bearer of the People’s Democratic Movement (PDM), Pastor Aminchi Habu, has offered reasons for withdrawing his petition from the panel.

According to him, the parties to the complaint found political solutions to his motives for contesting the election in the first instance.

He had sought the cancellation of the exercise on the strength that the PDM was excluded from the ballot papers.


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