May 29 handover still stands — Lawyers

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Some constitutional lawyers have said that despite the postponement of the February general elections by six weeks, the May 29 handover date for incumbents still stands.

They said the deadline for the conduct of the elections, as stipulated by the Electoral Act, is one month to the expiration of the current tenure.

In separate interviews with SUNDAY PUNCH on Saturday, the senior lawyers said although the commission has the powers under the constitution to shift polls, the postponement of this year’s elections would affect the electorate, the political parties and the electoral umpire negatively.

They berated the Independent National Electoral Commission for postponing the February general elections by six weeks.

Foremost constitutional lawyer, Professor Itse Sagay, decried the postponement of the poll. He, however, said the six-week extension was still within the law.

Sagay said, “The issue is not the postponement, it is about the trust the electorate have in INEC. How does the postponement affect the morale of the people? How does it affect the credibility of the commission?

“It is a mistake and I hope that there are no very severe consequences for our democracy as a result of such a mistake.”

Another lawyer, Mr. Tayo Oyetibo, said the postponement was constitutional as long as the election is held within the days stipulated before the handover date. He, however, said shifting the exercise had its adverse effects.

“The problem with this current scenario is that the poll shift will likely demoralise the electorate who have been eager and might have made sacrifices to vote in the February 14 election. It will also mean the political parties will have to spend more as campaigns will continue,” the SAN said.

Similarly, Mr. Afolabi Fashanu (SAN), said as long as the postponement did not exceed the handover date, there would be no constitutional crisis.

“It is unfortunate that INEC has demonstrated that it was ill-prepared for the general elections. This is evident in its difficulty to successfully distribute the PVC,” he added.

In the same vein, another legal expert, Mr. Emeka Ngige (SAN), said INEC had shown Nigeria to be a “never-ready country of unserious people where anything goes.”

He said even though INEC had the opportunity to shift the poll not closer than 30 days to the handover date, it should not have postponed it that far.

Ngige said, “The European Union has left their various homes and countries. The Americans have come here to observe the elections. They have already started mapping out their areas of coverage for distribution of non-sensitive materials and other things.

“Now, they are going to meet an announcement that elections have been postponed for six weeks. We expect them to go back to their countries and return in the next six weeks, as if they have no other thing to do.”

In his submission, Mike Ozekhome (SAN), stated that the Electoral Act gives INEC the power to postpone elections by a period of not more than 150 days before the expiration of the present term (May 29) and not more than 30 days before the end of the current administration.

He said, “It gives INEC the power to do so when it believes that there is danger in holding the elections, due to, for example, insurgency or insurrection. That power is statutory and it is with INEC. INEC, as the official organiser of the elections, can only deal with its aspect of the elections, which does not include security, for example. Both INEC staff and the voters need security.

“I understand that they have done this on the ground that they want to carry out a final onslaught on Boko Haram in the North-East. Whether that is true or not, I do not know. But the important thing is that, under the constitution, May 29 is a sacrosanct day.”

Also, human rights lawyer, Mr. Festus Keyamo, described Saturday a sad day for the country. He said while INEC had all the powers to postpone elections, there were indications that the Peoples Democratic Party could allegedly manipulate the electoral umpire.

He said, “The ruling party is imposing its will on the umpire. What started as a joke when the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, flew the election postponement kite in London has become an ugly reality. The implication of this is that Nigerians should be vigilant from now on.”

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