Justice Obiora Egwuatu of a Federal High Court, Abuja, yesterday ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) to allow eligible voters with the Temporary Voter Cards (TVC) participate in the March 18 governorship and state houses of assembly elections.
But INEC last night vowed to appeal against court order. The Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmim, said the commission was taking necessary steps to vacate the order. Oyekanmi confirmed that INEC had been served with the court order.
Oyekanmi added: “INEC has been served a copy of the judgement delivered today by the Federal High Court, Abuja Division which ordered it to allow two Plaintiffs to vote with their Temporary Voter’s Card (TVC). The Commission is taking immediate steps to appeal against the judgement of the trial court.”
This was just as the Commission yesterday, said the insinuations that the redeployment of its former Director of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), Chidi Nwafor, was partly responsible for the technical glitches experienced during the presidential and National Assembly polls held on February 25, was nothing but an attempt to mislead the public.
On same day, the Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC) expressed support for the rescheduling of the governorship and state assembly elections from Saturday, March 11 to March 18, 2023 by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
The electoral body had on Thursday, announced the postponement of the governorship and states’ Houses of Assembly elections to March 18.
INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman, Voter Education and Publicity, Festus Okoye, in a statement, had said the decision to postpone the polls was made to ensure adequate time to back up data stored on the over 176,000 BVAS machines from the presidential and National Assembly elections and, then, reconfigure the machines for the governorship and House of Assembly elections.
Justice Egwuatu made the order to allow eligible voters with TVCs participate in the elections while delivering judgment in a suit filed by two aggrieved Nigerians seeking the use of TVCs in the general elections in the absence of the Permanent Voter Cards, (PVCs).
The judge predicated the order on the grounds that the plaintiffs were duly registered and captured in INEC’s database.
“An order is made compelling the defendant (INEC) to allow the plaintiffs to vote using their TVCs issued by the defendant, the plaintiffs having been duly captured in the National Register of Voter’s database.
“A declaration is made by this court that the plaintiffs, having fulfilled all necessary legal requirements to register and having consequently been captured in the defendant’s (INEC) central database and manual, printed paper based record or hard copy format of the defendant’s maintained Register of Voters, the plaintiffs are entitled to vote using their Temporary Voter Cards in the forthcoming 2023 General Election,” the judge said.
Justice Egwuatu however, stated that he was unable to grant the third prayer of the plaintiffs which sought to allow every eligible voter with a TVC to vote because the suit was not filed in a representative capacity.
“This suit having not been brought in a representative capacity, I find myself unable to grant any relief pursuant to prayer three of the plaintiffs’ application.”
The court held that there was no portion of the law, both in the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act that states that it was only PVCs that could be used, but that the law under Section 47 provided for a voter’s card.
Speaking to newsmen, counsel to the plaintiffs, Mr. Victor Opatola said the judgment was a win for all Nigerians who suffered to get registered to vote, were duly registered but due to no fault of theirs could not get their PVCs before the election.
According to Opatola, since my clients had fulfilled all necessary requirements by law but were not issued their PVCs until the time for collection of PVCs was over, they should not be allowed to suffer.
The lawyer also said that it was the law of equity that what applied to the goose should also apply to the gander.
“So what the court is saying is that these two people who have fulfilled all necessary requirements can vote with their TVCs, then by law of equity, it should also apply to all Nigerians who have fulfilled all necessary requirements and were issued TVCs by INEC.”
He maintained that this should be so because the content of the TVC was the same as the content of the PVC and the only difference was the plastic used for the PVC.
INEC had repeatedly held that only eligible voters with the PVCs would be allowed to vote in the 2023 presidential, governorship and parliamentary elections.
However, the plaintiffs, Kofoworola Olusegun and Wilson Allwell in the suit filed on February 8 and marked FHC/ABJ/CS/180/2023, had challenged the position of INEC and asked the court to determine, “Whether by the true construction and interpretation of section 10(2), 12(1) and 47 of the Electoral Act 2022; Section 77(2) and 132(5) of the 1999 constitution (as amended), and bearing in mind that the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) machine introduced by INEC only needs the thumbprint and/or facial recognition to accredit a voter.”
Besides they prayed for, “An order compelling INEC to allow the plaintiff to vote using the TVC issued by INEC, the plaintiff having been duly captured in the national register of voter’s database.