The suit seeking to compel the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to release the particulars of the 2023 Presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress(APC), Senator Bola Ahmed has been stalled.
The case which is before the Abuja division of the Federal High Court filed against INEC, by a legal practitioner, Mike Enahoro-Ebah was stalled on Wednesday due to the absence of Tinubu’s counsel in court.
Enahoro-Ebah took the electoral body to court over its alleged refusal to furnish him with the certified true copies (CTCs) of the nominations forms submitted by the All Progressives Congress (APC)’s 2023 presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu, to the electoral umpire in the previous and forthcoming elections.
The application, marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1337/2022 which came via a motion ex-parte dated and filed on August 5 before Justice Donatus Okorowo, has INEC as the sole respondent.
But the matter, which was on number four on the day’s cause list, could not proceed because INEC was neither represented in court nor filed any processes.
The court had, on August 12, granted the ex-parte motion seeking leave to apply for judicial review of an order of mandamus directing or compelling INEC to furnish him with the CTCs of the “nomination forms for governor and affidavits in support of personal particulars and all other documents attached thereto, submitted to the respondent by and on behalf of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, for the 1999 and 2003 Governorship Elections in Lagos State.”
The applicant also asked the court to compel the electoral umpire to release to him the CTCs of the “Nomination Forms EC13A, EC 9, Affidavits and all other documents submitted to the respondent by and on behalf of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, for the 2023 Presidential Election in Nigeria.”
Although the matter was earlier fixed for September 2 for hearing, the case did go on because the court did not sit.
However, when the case was called on Wednesday, Enahoro-Ebah informed that his originating summons and the hearing notice, indicating that the matter was coming up on September 7, had long been served on the commission.
“The respondent has filed no processes in opposition to our motion and our originating motion is ripe for hearing and we are ready to proceed my lord,” he said.
Justice Okorowo advised the counsel to take another date to afford INEC more time to respond
“My lord, they have 14 days to respond and the time has elapsed,” Enahoro-Ebah responded.
The judge further advised him to exercise patience so that the electoral umpire would not perceived the court to have delivered the judgment in a hurry.
He said if the commission failed to file any application, the lawyer could file a contempt so that all these would be in court record
Okorowo subsequently adjourned the matter until October 12 for hearing and directed that INEC be issued with a hearing notice.
Enahoro-Ebah, in the application he filed, said he had applied for the documents through his letters of July 13 and July 22 to INEC In compliance with Section 29 (4) of the Electoral Act, 2022; Section 1 (1) & (3); Section 2 (6) and Section 7 (4) of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
In a four grounds giving for his application, the lawyer argued that his request for the CTCs of public documents in custody and possession of INEC is a right conferred and established by Section 29 (4) of the Electoral Act, 2022 and Section 1 (1) of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
“The mandatory statutory duration of 14 (Fourteen) days within which the respondent is to issue CTCs of the requested public documents in its custody and possession, according to Section 29 (4) of the Electoral Act, 2022, has lapsed, therefore, the respondent is deemed to have refused to accede to applicant’s request/application.
“The right of access to public documents in custody and possession of the respondent is inclusive of the right to institute civil proceedings in court to compel the respondent to issue same documents to anyone who applies for same, as established in Section 29 (4) of the Electoral Act, 2022, and Section 1 (3), Section 2 (6) and Section 7 (4) of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
“The public documents sought from the respondent are connected one way or another to election and the sui generis nature of it means time is of the essence,” he said.
Enahoro-Ebah, therefore, urged the court to declare that the failure of INEC to furnish him with the CTCs of the public documents in its custody through his letters of July 13 and July 22 within 14 days of application amounted to a breach of Section 29(4) of the Electoral Act, 2022 and a wrongful denial of information under the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
But in an interview shortly after the sitting, Enahoro-Ebah said INEC, through one of its directors, invited him to the office on August 15 where he was given “Form EC 8 and Form EC9 which are the forms, affidavit and additional forms submitted by Tinubu in 2022.”
The lawyer, however, said that the earlier documents the APC presidential candidate submitted in 1999 and 2023, which also formed part of his application have not been availed me.
“And I asked the director when will those ones be ready and they said they will get in touch with me as soon as they are ready,” he said.
He said the commission had already flouted its own law since 14 days had expired from the time the application was made.