Monday, October 15, 2007

A Referee Has Power to Officiate? & INEC Acted Constitutionally?

A Referee Has Power to Officiate? & INEC Acted Constitutionally?

By Paul Adujie
Wednesday, 04 April 2007
The verdict is in! A referee can officiate? An umpire can control a tournament? I would have thought this, rhetorical! It goes without saying, a referee, an umpire has authority!

Now; Let the game begin!

An Appeals Court in Nigeria has finally answered a vexing question and has therefore laid to rest, whether or not, Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has the power or authority to disqualify candidates for elections in Nigeria. The five persons, Appeals Court decision was unanimous. A reversal on appeal to the Supreme Court of Nigeria, is highly unlikely!

It is now settled law, that INEC do, indeed have the authority, through the Electoral Act and the Constitution of Nigeria, to determine who qualifies as candidates for elections in Nigeria, according to our laws. This interpretation by the Appeals Court meets good legal reasoning and it is also in accord with common sense!

The Appeals Court and indeed, any reasonable person could not have come to a different conclusion!

The only question to be resolved was, what is the purpose of INEC? If that question is answered satisfactorily, it would and should become clear to all, that INEC is a regulatory body, and all regulatory bodies do have and should have power to make determinations, determinations in compliance with the laws and constitution, coupled with the exercise of reasonable discretion and sense of responsibility.

Opponents of INEC have argued against INEC’s power or authority as a regulatory body, to make determinations and enforce same. How could that be? What would be the use of a regulatory body without authority, power and exercise of reasonable discretions? What would be the use of a referee or an umpire that does not possess the authority, power and reasonable discretions to officiate and control a game, a match or tournament? Why have a referee or an umpire at all, in the first place?

Only oxymoronically gifted persons that could have argued or continue to insist, that a regulatory body such as INEC, should not have the authority, powers and reasonable discretion to examine, analyze, screen, to determine the qualifications and suitability of candidates for elections. INEC should and does have the authority to qualify and disqualify candidates; Or, INEC, as a regulatory body, would have be rendered useless!

Nigerians who are tired of those who pillage and plunder Nigeria should celebrate this groundbreaking judgment of the Appeals Court! In essence, the court has added one more weapon and one more ammunition to the war against corruption. This Appeal Court judgment has established, in our body of laws, that we will all be held to account for our actions. It is as if to say to all Nigerians, there are consequences for corruption and sundry misconducts! You want to be corrupt? You will be barred from public office!

The Nigeria we want after all, is a Nigeria where there are rewards and punishments for actions and indulgences. Where we are all held to account. This is therefore a victory for accountability, transparency and good governance!

These are the sorts of foundations, systems and structures that will enable Nigeria become a better society for Nigerians’ common good. Those who are corrupt now will have, a multiplicities of public agencies to contend with as citizens, and more particularly so, if and when, such citizens engage in politicking and seeks elective and appointive public office.

Now perhaps, Nigerians citizens, especially public officials, would become more circumspect and reflective or deliberative in their actions and conducts. Now perhaps, Nigerians would be more careful not to affront and violate all laws and in particular, laws that are enforced by EFCC, ICPC, Federal Internal Revenue Service, FIRS, and other relevant agencies, because, eventually, the government, political opponents or a third party, or a public spirited citizen, might just squeal on a wrongdoer, inform INEC and zap their political ambitions! The fear of INEC, may soon become the beginning of political survival wisdom! It is all coming together for Nigeria and for good! Nigeria’s greatness begins!

This is an epochal and momentous legal decision! This is a landmark judgment, this is a giant milestone in Nigeria’s democratic development and I applaud our Appeals Court!

Here is an excerpt of Appeals Court decision:

“Once the candidate has been established to be in breach of a condition precedent delineated in the 1999 Constitution.”

“A lead judgment written by the President of the appellate court, Justice Umaru Abdullahi, but delivered by Justice Rabiu Danlami Muhammad, following the absence of the former held that: "For the avoidance of any doubt, having regard to the clear provisions of the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act, it is my considered view that the appellant (INEC) has the power and authority not only to screen any candidate sent to it by political parties, but to also remove the name of any candidate that failed to meet the criteria set out by the Constitution without having to go to court."

“In reaching the conclusion that INEC has the power to disqualify candidates, it reviewed the relevant provisions of the law and the Constitution. The reviewed provisions are Section 137 (1) of the Constitution and Section 32 of the Electoral Act.”

“Justice Abdullahi declared: "The law on interpretation of the statute is settled that where the words of a statute are clear and unambiguous, they should be given their ordinary grammatical meanings, unless it will result in ambiguity or absurdity.”

"Not only are the words of Section 137of the Constitution clear and unambiguous, it is common ground that it provides for disqualification of a candidate aspiring to the office of the President or Vice President.”

"What is in contention is whether the appellant, the body charged with the power to organize, undertake, and supervise all elections to the office of President, Vice President, etc. as well as carry out such other functions as may be conferred upon it by an Act of the National Assembly pursuance of paragraph 15 of the third Schedule can ensure the observance of the provisions of Section 137 (10) of the Constitution?”

"It is the view of the learned senior counsel for appellant (Gadzama) that it could. There is merit in his submission since the maker of the Constitution would not make these provisions for the fun of it.”

"I am of the firm view that if the appellant decided to close its eyes to the infraction of the provisions of the Constitution, it would be tantamount to abandoning the heavy responsibility placed on it by the provisions of the Constitution to wit: Organise, undertake and supervise the conduct of a credible election”

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