The 23 members of staff of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday opposed the bid by the Federal Government to prosecute them at the Federal High Court, Abuja.
The INEC officials were alleged to have accepted bribe of N360 million from politicians during the last National Assembly re-run election in Rivers State contrary to Section 18 (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011 and punishable under Section 15 of the Act.
However, shortly after the case was called, their counsel, led by Ahmed Raji (SAN), informed Justice John Tsoho that the defendants had filed a motion challenging the territorial jurisdiction of the case in Abuja.
The lawyers claimed that any attempt to subject the defendants to trial in Abuja would bring an unfair prosecution and prejudice them since the alleged offence was said to have been committed in Rivers State.
Raji, who told the court that all the defendants are residents in Port Harcourt as well as the witnesses they are proposing to call for testimonies, further argued that the defendants would not be able to prepare their defence properly as envisaged by the law.
He, therefore, requested that the case be transferred to Port Harcourt where the alleged offence was committed in the interest of justice and fair-hearing.
Consequently, he urged the court to stay the issue of plea pending the resolution of the motion, and also to allow the accused persons continue the administrative bail granted them.
The court, therefore, adjourned till April 7 for hearing on applications filed by the defendants.
In another development, the Senate Committee on INEC has said that it would support the 2019 general elections timetable recently released by INEC.
Chairman of the committee, Mohammed Ali Ndume (APC, Borno South), who stated this yesterday while answering questions from journalists in Abuja on INEC’s early release of the timetable, said the commission was doing the right thing by setting out target for elections so that they could be well prepared when the election proper takes place.
He stressed that he personally encouraged the commission to start early when they came for the budget defence as there was no provision for it in the 2017 budget.
Besides, the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) yesterday faulted the electoral commission for releasing the elections timetable without prior official notice to it before going public.
The body noted that as a critical stakeholder in the electioneering process, the electoral umpire should have communicated all the registered political parties before releasing the timetable to the public.
At a stakeholders’ forum at the commission’s headquarters in Abuja yesterday, Mohammed Nalado, who spoke for IPAC, however, admitted being aware of INEC’s plans through grapevine sources but expressed reservation that the decision should have been communicated to them as most party officials were agape when they read in the newspapers of the development.
Meanwhile, a coalition of pro-democracy groups yesterday sued President Muhammadu Buhari to an Abuja federal high court over his reluctance to appoint 33 resident electoral commissioners (REC) to fill the vacant seats across the 36 states of the country.
Cynthia Mbamalu, who spoke with reporters on behalf of the groups in Abuja, said that the “reluctance” of the President to appoint the RECs could impact negatively on the conduct of the 2019 general elections.