ELECTION TRIBUNAL: INEC BARS FORENSIC EXPERTS FROM INSPECTING BALLOT PAPERS
An order from the Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Lokoja, Kogi State directing Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to allow forensic experts from Nigeria Police Force to inspect ballot papers used for the conduct of the last National Assembly election may have been thwarted as INEC was alleged to have barred the team of the forensic experts from gaining entrance into its office.
The All Nigeria Peoples Party's (ANPP) candidate in the election, Sam Adejoh Okedi, had dragged the PDP candidate, Ismaila Husseini Inah, who was the winner of the election, to the tribunal alleging large scale irregularities and therefore urged the tribunal to cancel the election.
When the case came up for hearing recently, the election petition tribunal granted the prayers of the ANPP candidate, Sam Adejoh Okedi, to be allowed into INEC office in Lokoja to inspect and obtain certified true copies of election materials and for forensic experts to view and analyse the ballot papers used in the conduct of the April 9 National Assembly election for Idah Federal Constituency.
The tribunal Chairman, Justice Mrs. Celine Nweke, in granting the prayers of the petitioner, which was filed by his counsel, Mr. O.J. Aboje directed INEC to allow the petitioner and the team of forensic experts inspect and authenticate ballot papers used in the disputed polling units in Idah Federal Constituency.
The disputed polling units where the ballot papers are to be inspected and authenticated are in Ejule Ward, Uje Ward, Onyedega Ward, Iyano Ward, Odeke Ward and Akpayo Ward of Ibaji areas.
Others are polling units in Ogolu Ward, Ekulolo Ward, and Oji-Aja in Igala/Mela Odolu Local Government Areas of the state.
The tribunal ordered that the forensic analysis must be carried out and completed within 10 days from the date of service of the Order in the presence of counsels to both the petitioners and the respondents.
But when the team of forensic experts, along with the counsel to the petitioner arrived INEC office in Lokoja, on Monday for the inspection, they were barred from gaining entry into the office.
Daily Sun learnt that after waiting for hours at the gate of INEC office without response, they decided to repeat the visit the following morning and all entreaties to allow them speak with the resident electoral commissioner proved abortive.
Meanwhile, it was gathered that copies of the tribunal order had earlier been sent by courier to INEC office to alert them of their coming.
Speaking with reporters in Lokoja, counsel to the ANPP candidate, Bala Mohammed, frowned at the attitude of INEC in flagrantly disobeying the tribunal order accusing INEC of being partisan.
He said the attitude of INEC was a ploy to ensure that the 10 days grace given by the tribunal to inspect the ballot materials expired to compound the case, calling on INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega to call the state resident electoral commissioner to order.
However, when contacted, the Head of Public Relations and Publicity, INEC office, Lokoja, Ahmed Bagudu, said INEC was not aware of any court order and if at all there was one, it was not the duty of the petitioner to bring the order to their office but the court bailiff or INEC counsel.
He said before any order must be carried out on the inspection of ballot papers, the papers must be properly served to the commission and adequate security must be put in place so that those coming for the inspection would not tamper with some other INEC materials.