Mixed reactions as INEC drags suspended Adamawa REC, Ari to court

The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, will on Wednesday, July 12, arraign the suspended Adamawa State Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, Yunusa Hudu Ari before an Adamawa State High Court, sitting in Yola, the State capital.

Ari will be facing a 6-count charge.

DAILY POST recalls that many Nigerians, particularly, members of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, were rudely shocked when in the early hours of Sunday, April 16, 2023, the Adamawa REC, Ari, declared the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Senator Aishatu Dahiru Ahmed as the winner of the Adamawa State Governorship elections.

The public outcry and condemnation that followed Ari’s declaration stemmed from the fact that the announcement, according to the 2022 Electoral Act, was supposed to be made by the State Returning/Collation Officer and not the REC. The shock was also informed by the fact that results were still being collated when Ari made the controversial announcement.

Ari was alleged to have sneaked into the state governorship collation centre to declare Senator Ahmed, popularly called Binani, as the winner, when according to the official results released by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Binani was trailing behind Governor Ahmadu Fintiri, who had established a margin of lead of 31,249 votes before the unfortunate declaration.

Before the supplementary polls, Fintiri already polled 421, 524 votes ahead of Binani who polled 390, 275 votes. However, he could not be returned by the state returning officer, Professor Mohammed Mele, because according to him, the margin of lead did not exceed the number of cancelled votes in 69 polling units, with a total number of 37,016. That led to a supplementary election.

However, a mild drama ensued at the resumption of the collation of results from the supplementary polls, which was held across the state on Saturday, April 15, 2023, as Ari, who had abruptly suspended the collation exercise and shifted it to 11am on Sunday, April 6, sneaked into the collation centre at 9:00 am, two hours ahead of the scheduled 11am, to declare Binani the winner.

Prior to the declaration, the information in the public domain was that Fintiri was already leading going by the results from the 10 local council areas so far declared in the supplementary polls.

According to the report, out of the 10 council areas, Fintiri had already won in eight – Demsa, Lamurde, Jada, Ganye, Song, Maiha, Hong and Shelleng councils, leaving Binani with only two councils – Yola North and Yola South.

Ari’s action immediately attracted both local and international reactions with many Nigerians, as well as civil society organisations and election observer missions, describing it as the height of lawlessness and the highest form of electoral recklessness, fraud and impunity.

Following the barrages of condemnation from various quarters locally and internationally, the INEC, through its official Twitter handle, responded at once and asked Nigerians to disregard the action of the Adamawa REC. It accused him of usurping the powers of the Returning Officer, Professor Mele, by announcing the results of the polls, which were yet to be tallied and concluded.

And on Monday, April 17, INEC moved a step further to declare Ari’s announcement null and void and of no effect. It also summoned the REC and Professor Mele to its headquarters in Abuja for further questioning and necessary actions.

Subsequently, Mele completed the collation of results and announced Governor Fintiri of the PDP as the winner of the poll on Tuesday, April 18, bringing to an end the ugly drama staged by Ari and his co-travellers.

However, on the same Tuesday, April 18, the electoral umpire announced Ari’s suspension and also wrote a letter to the Nigeria Police Force, demanding the arrest and prosecution of Ari over the electoral infraction.

And on Thursday, April 20, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the suspension of the Adamawa REC, pending the completion of the investigation by the police.

But, the suspended Adamawa REC, rather than feel remorseful and apologetic, declared that he had no regret doing what he did.

Shortly after he declared that he had no regrets for declaring Binani the winner in controversial circumstances, he was arrested by the police. The arrest came exactly 15 days after the INEC’s petition to the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) in that regard.

A statement by the Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), CSP Muyiwa Adejobi, said he was arrested because he had earlier been declared wanted over the Adamawa governorship poll’s controversy.

Adejobi said: “The Nigeria Police Force hereby confirms the arrest of the Adamawa State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Hudu Yunusa-Ari, who was alleged to have announced the candidate of the All Progressives Congress as winner of the gubernatorial elections during the recently concluded supplementary elections.

“This followed calls for his arrest and investigation by the Independent National Electoral Commission on the basis of alleged impropriety in the course of supplementary gubernatorial polls in the state. Ari was arrested by the Police Election Planning, Monitoring, and Evaluation Team in Abuja on Tuesday, May 2, 2023.

“He is currently in Police custody and is being grilled to ascertain the motives and motivations behind his alleged improper actions during the supplementary elections in Adamawa State. In addition, other officials and individuals culpable in the saga are being interrogated by the team.

“The Inspector-General of Police has given a clear assurance that every individual involved/indicted in the matter will be apprehended and investigated in line with the provisions of the law for possible prosecution.

“The Inspector-General of Police has assured of the commitment of the Force to ensure that justice is served in this case and that all guilty parties are brought to justice.”

However, insisting that he had no regret whatsoever for his action, Ari said he wasn’t offered money by anyone to make the announcement.

“I didn’t ask Binani or Fintiri for a single penny. It is against my religion to collect money from someone to help him do anything, I swear to God. And the claims that I was offered N2 Billion are just baseless allegations and mere rumours. Where will I take N2 Billion to? I saw on social media that I was offered N2 Billion.

“I don’t regret announcing Binani winner of the election. Anything you do according to the law, you won’t regret it.

“I wrote a letter to INEC which they said they won’t accept but I’m sure they’ve accepted, and the invitation sent by the police is mandatory for me to honour it. I never went into hiding. I will honour the invitation of the police,” he said.

However, almost three months after the great expectations by Nigerians of what would become of Ari and his accomplices, the INEC, through its National Commissioner on Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye, announced on Thursday, July 6, that the Commission had filed a six-count charge against the suspended Adamawa REC, Ari.

A statement by Okoye noted that the case was filed at the Adamawa State High Court sitting in Yola, against Ari for his unprofessional conduct in the recently concluded Governorship election in the state.

“It would be recalled that on Tuesday, July 4, 2023, the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, during a meeting with the RECs, confirmed the receipt of the case files from the Nigeria Police, following the conclusion of investigation into the alleged electoral offences committed during the 2023 General Election, including the one involving Ari. He has assured Nigerians of immediate action on the matter.

“As provided by Section 145(1) of the Electoral Act 2022, an offence committed under the Act shall be tried in a Magistrate Court or a High Court of a state where the offence is committed, or the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Furthermore, Section 145(2) of the Act provides that a prosecution under the Act shall be undertaken by legal officers of the Commission, or any legal practitioner appointed by it.

“Having reviewed the case file from the Police, which established a prima-facie case against Ari, the Commission has filed a six-count charge against him at the Adamawa State High Court sitting in Yola. Consequently, the Court has fixed Wednesday July 12, 2023 for commencement of trial. The Commission is also working with the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) for diligent prosecution of other cases,” Okoye said in the statement.

Now that the electoral umpire has slammed a six-count charge against one of its most senior officials for acting in a manner that is inconsistent with the law, Nigerians would also want to know the implications of such a move.

The consensus in some quarters is that the Adamawa case is just a tip of the iceberg when a holistic view is taken about the conduct of the 2023 general elections across the country.

Those who hold this opinion would want the INEC to go beyond the Adamawa REC to other RECs in other states of the federation and probe into their activities.

However, there are others who insist that what the Adama REC did was not in any way different from what the INEC chairman himself did at the national level, where he declared the then APC candidate, now President Bola Ahmed Tinubu as winner when the results were still being uploaded on the INEC’s portal.

One of those who hold this view is the President of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF), Dr. Pogu Bitrus.

He agreed that much as the national headquarters of the INEC realized that what the Adamawa REC did was not in accordance with their rules and guidance, and has gone ahead to prosecute him, INEC also needs as a body to look at what they did at the national level.

“Did they do the right thing by pronouncing Tinubu as president at the time when they did? Yes, the Adamawa REC did what he did, but Prof Mahmood Yakubu also did what he did knowing that the election didn’t go according to the INEC’s guidelines and his own pronouncements, which have been tendered in court as evidence.

“However, he went ahead and declared Tinubu at 4am, which is similar to what Ari did in Adamawa. So, will you prosecute the man in Adamawa without looking at the man in Abuja? That is a moral question for the INEC to answer,” he stated.

Stressing that he who comes to equity must come with clean hands, he said: “So, the issue here is that we have a situation where somebody who is culpable is trying to judge another person who is also culpable.

“INEC needs to look at its problems holistically and ask: did we do the right thing? There is nothing wrong in accepting that someone has made a mistake rather than pretending that all is well when all is not well.

“The INEC should look at its performances across board and try to address the issues holistically, so that we can have a better outcome of what happened. Yes, the opposition is in court and INEC can say because of that, the court should be allowed to determine, but when you see that you have done the wrong thing, you should take steps to right that wrong so that we can have the right thing,” he submitted.

In the same vein, the Enugu State Chairman of the Labour Party, LP, Casmir Agbo, commended the INEC for instituting the legal action against the Adamawa REC, but insisted that the INEC chairman and Okoye should equally face the same action because according to him, what they did across the country, including Enugu State, was far worse than what Ari did in Adamawa.

He said: “People should obey the law because the law of the country is meant to be obeyed and anybody who is trying to circumvent the law should be brought to book; that is how the society lives. That is how to sanitize society. Whatever or whoever you are, you are working under the law.

“However, it is not only the Adamawa REC that should be prosecuted. The INEC chairman, Yakubu, and Festus Okoye, should also be prosecuted.

“Two of them should also be brought to book; it shouldn’t be the Adamawa REC alone because they also subverted justice in Enugu State. Okoye should be brought to book.

“But, the action against the Adamawa REC is normal because if you want to sanitize a society, you must be ready to prosecute those who offend the law,” he said.

Also contributing to the discourse, a lawyer and public affairs analyst, Ikechukwu Onodi, equally agreed that INEC has the powers to prosecute electoral offenders, including the Adamawa REC, but insisted that Ari did not do anything different from what the INEC chairman did with the presidential elections result declaration.

He said: “On the Adamawa REC, INEC has the powers to prosecute him, but the political angle is even more interesting. Would INEC have prosecuted him if not that things went awry?

“What did the man do wrong that Yakubu didn’t do worse? What he did in declaring Binani is not different from what Yakubu did in declaring Tinubu.

“Yes, INEC has the powers to prosecute Adamawa REC and other electoral offenders, but how thorough and unbiased are they in doing that and what happens to the INEC chairman? Who will prosecute him?”

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