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Lagos East Senatorial bye-election replays Kogi, tests INEC, judiciary

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The recent case of double registration instituted against Tokunbo Abiru, the senatorial candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC) for the October 31 Lagos East bye-election by Babatunde Gbadamosi of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), bears striking resemblance to Governor Yahaya Bello’s.

It would be recalled that prior to the November 16, 2019, off-cycle governorship in Kogi State, the governorship candidate of Social Democratic Party (SDP), Natasha Akpoti, dragged Bello to court for alleged double registration.

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Counsel to Akpoti, Mike Ozekhome, in his submission, prayed the court for a consequential order holding that Bello was not qualified to have contested the election having registered in both Abuja and Lokoja, an offence contrary to Section 24 of the Electoral Act. The senior lawyer contended that the case against Bello was not a pre-election matter circumscribed by a time limit to file, but a case of fraud that could be filed anytime.

Ozekhome further informed the court that the second defendant, INEC, already admitted that it committed an error by registering Bello twice, adding that the electoral umpire also said its hands were tied to do anything because of the governor’s immunity.

However, while delivering its ruling on the matter, Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, dismissed Akpoti’s suit, stressing that being a criminal and not a civil offence, the plaintiff, Akpoti, lacked the legal authority to institute the action as an individual.

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Similar to Akpoti’s case against Bello, Gbadamosi and PDP had on September 29, 2020, approached the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, seeking the disqualification of Abiru from contesting the bye-election on the basis of alleged double registration and unlawful possession of two permanent voter cards.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), alongside Abiru and APC, were joined as respondents in the suit, in which the plaintiffs argue that the first respondent, Abiru, is not registered to vote or be voted for in Lagos East Senatorial District. While praying the court for Abiru and APC’s disqualification on at least two counts, Gbadamosi, in his statement of claims, alleged that the APC senatorial standard-bearer, Mr. Abiru, has two PVCs numbering 90F5BO and 90F5A, respectively.

The plaintiff further averred; “Mr. Abiru is not registered to vote in the East Senatorial District. Our evidence for the first case against Mr. Abiru can be verified from the Voter Register, as it exists on the INEC server.

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“For the second case against Abiru, we refer to his letter of 14th August 2020 to INEC, requesting a transfer of his address from Road A2 HSE Ago, Carlton Gate Estate, off Chevron Drive, Lekki, Lagos, to 38 Oriwu Road, Ita Elewa, Ikorodu, Lagos.”

Gbadamosi informed the court that Abiru’s request to transfer his address was not granted, remarking that INEC, in its reply, explained that since the “Continuous Voter Registration Exercise is presently suspended,” it was impossible to grant his request.

Distilling issues that make Abiru unqualified to participate in the October 31 by-election, Gbadamosi stated: “Based on case number 1, Mr. Abiru is guilty of identity fraud. With two PVCs, it is reasonable to assume that Mr. Abiru is one of those people who vote multiple times on election day.

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“Based on case number 2, it is clear that Mr. Abiru cannot vote in the October 31 Lagos East Senatorial Election. According to the constitution, a citizen who cannot vote cannot be voted for.”

Gbadamosi further claims that being an imposition on his party, Abiru’s sponsors, in their haste to impose him on the people of Lagos East Senatorial District, did not do proper due diligence to discover that their candidate is not a bona fide voter in the district, which comprises Epe, Ibeju-Lekki, Ikorodu, Kosofe, and Somolu.

The Senate seat of Lagos East became vacant following the demise of Senator Bayo Osinowo of APC. While APC believes that the bye-election would be a walkover for its candidate, the opposition PDP threw up a strong candidate in the person of Babatunde Olalere Gbadamosi, thus making the contest very competitive.

Sources close to Abiru told The Guardian that the APC candidate was not prepared to join issues with “those who know they cannot win the election on popular vote, but resorted to false and laughable litigation.”

But in a statement, Director of Media, Gbadamosi campaign organization, Mr. Adetokunbo Pearse dismissed APC’s disdain for due process and impunity, saying “there is nothing false about the case. The processes have been filed and court records show that the matter is now before the Federal High Court, Lagos, and PDP and Gbadamosi are asking for the disqualification of Abiru on at least two counts.”

The case of double registration, especially INEC’s stated refusal to transfer Abiru’s voter address to a new, comes as a new test for the electoral umpire and the judiciary’s contribution to the credible poll, especially following public acclaim for INEC after the recent Edo State governorship poll.

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