Sebiribo Peters, counsel to Emmanuel Ekong, candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for Abak/Etim Ekpo/Ita Federal Constituency, who is challenging the declaration of Aniekan John Umanah of the Peoples Democrat Party (PDP), at the National Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Uyo, has accused the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Akwa Ibom state of bias.
He made the allegation at the tribunal while informing it of INEC refusal to release documents to the petitioner despite several attempts in disobedience to an earlier order by the tribunal.
Peters had complained that INEC refused to give him certified true copy of receipt in payments for documents and some election materials especially in cancelled polling units in the constituency, to aid his case.
“I have been to INEC office severally without success. The last time I went I was told the person in charge is on leave and nobody knows when he will come back,” Peters said.
Flowing from this, Chairman Justice W. Akanbi, lambasted INEC and the Reesident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in the state, Mike Igini, over what the tribunal considered as uncorporative attitude of the umpire to petitioners.
The Chairman wondered why INEC will refuse to release documents which it holds in trust for Nigerians no matter party affilition, whenever they are requested for.
Justice Akanbi said: “The Resident Commissioner should know that INEC is keeping the (materials) for the Federal Government. I hereby make an order that INEC must produce the documents in question to the petitioner within days rather 10 days INEC requested for. It should provide forthwith all documents regarding Abak/Etim Ekpo/Ita Federal Constituency to the petitioner.”
The judge said he would hold INEC’S counsel, M.T Don Gospel responsible if it failed to provide the documents.
Meanwhile, Peters told The Street Journal it was surprising that INEC is with holding materials from those who requested for them.
“I commend the panel for the order because petitioners have made streanous effort to get election materials or documents to prosecute or defend their petitions. Most times when you get there they give one excuse or the other.
“INEC seems to have been a god and law unto themselves. With this order of this tribunal, which it has inherit power to do, I think we are now feeling that justice will be done according to the law in the petition.”
He said his experience with the election umpire has been that INEC has defaulted in its own law.
“By law under section 77 of the Electoral Act, within 14 days of your application for election materials, INEC ought to give to you whatever you are looking for. And by section 77 (2) the REC will go to prison for 12 months and pay a fine of N12m if the materials are not made available. But the law has not been followed in this case.”
Peters wondered how a petitioner or defendant will persue his or her case successfully when denied election materials.
“When you deny a petitioner or respondent materials, how do you hope he files his petition? So, it’s like you are timing him to fail even right from the beginning.”
He regretted that he has since requested for the materials since March and until now, July he is still battling to get them.
“I think INEC officials in Uyo should wake up to their responsibility. They should not behave as if they are law and god unto themselves, unfortunately, that is what is playing out and it is bad,” he summed.