By Taiye Agbaje
A Federal High Court, Abuja had, before the February 25 Presidential and National Assembly election, ruled that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was at liberty to prescribe or choose the manner in which election results shall be transmitted.
The position of the court followed the dismissal of a suit filed by the Labour Party (LP) seeking to compel the Commission to adopt electronic method in transmitting 2023 election results. This was revealed in a story by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
Justice Emeka Nwite, in a judgment, held that Section 52(2) of the Electoral Act, 2022, cited by counsel to the party, Monday Mawah, provided for voting and transmission of results in accordance with the procedure to be determined by INEC.
According to him, this is to say that the commission is at liberty to prescribe or choose the manner in which election results shall be transmitted.
The copy of the judgment delivered by Justice Nwite on Jan. 23, prior to the Presidential and National Assembly elections held on Feb. 25, was gotten by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Thursday.
NAN reports that LP, through its lawyer, had, on Aug 22, 2022, filed the originating summons marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1454/2022 to sue INEC as sole respondent.
The party asked the court to determine whether having regards to combined effect of Sections 47 (2), 50 (2), 60(4), 60 (5) and 62 (1)(2) and other relevant provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022 the commission can still insist on manual collation of results in the general elections.
The LP sought two injunctive reliefs in the event that the question was resolved in its favour.
These include: “A declaration that the respondent has no power to opt for manual method other than the electronic method provided for by the relevant provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022.
“An order of this honourable court directing/compelling the respondent to comply with the Electoral Act, 2022 on electronic transmission of result in the forthcoming general elections. ”
However, INEC neither responded nor filed any process in the suit.
Mawah, in his argument submitted that in view of the provisions of the law, manual collation of result was unknown to the Electoral Act, 2022 and therefore must be rejected or disallowed by the court.
Delivering the judgment, Justice Nwite said: “it is indeed a trite law that the function of the court is no more than interpreting the law.
“In interpreting the law, the court is enjoined to interpret the status as they are without going outside them to bring in what the court would think was intended,” citing previous case to back his ruling.
According to him, the functions, roles and duties of the court in interpretation of statute is to give meaning and effect to clear and unambiguous word of the statute.
The judge said from the argument of the plaintiff’s counsel, the bone of contention or the sections that sought for interpretation were Sections 50(2) 60(5) and 62(2) of the Electoral Act, 2022.
He said Section 47(2) as cited by the lawyer only dealt with accreditation of voters using a Smart Card Reader but not collation or transmission of result as postulated by him.
“The provision of Section 60(5) of the Electoral Act, 2022 as cited above has provided for the transfer of election result including the total number of the accredited voters from the polling unit.
“Section 62(2) on the other hand provides for compilation, maintenance and continuous update of the register of election result as distinct database for all polling units’ results as collated in all elections conducted by the commission.
“The said Section 62(2) has mandated that such register of election results shall be kept in an electronic format by the commission at its national headquarters.
“Now a close reading of Section 50(2) has provided for voting and transmission of result to be done in accordance with the procedure to be determined by the commission.
“This is to say that the commission is at liberty to prescribe or choose the manner in which election results shall be transmitted,” he said.
Nwite equally held that Section 60(5) empowered the polling unit’s presiding officer to transfer the election results including the total number of accredited voters and results of the ballot in a manner to be prescribed by INEC.
“This is also to say the commission is again at liberty to prescribe to the Polling Units’ Presiding Officers the manner in which to collate and transfer the election results as well as the accredited number of voters in an election under the Act.
“In view of the foregoing, can the act of the defendant (INEC) in collating and transferring election results manually in the forthcoming 2023 general elections be said to be contrary to the relevant provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022?
“The answer can only be in the negative as there is no wherein the above cited sections where the commission or any of its agents is mandated to only use an electronic means in collating or transferring of election result.
“If any, the commission is only mandated to collate and transfer election results and number of accredited voters in a way or manner deemed fit by it.
“In view of the above, I find that by the provisions of Sections 50(2) and 60(5) of the Electoral Act, 2022, the correct interpretation of the said statutes is that the defendant (Independent National Electoral Commission) is at liberty to prescribe the manner in which election results could be transmitted and I so hold,” he said.
The judge consequently dismissed the suit.