INEC: We can’t disqualify aspirants with court cases

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The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has for the umpteenth time denied speculations that it would disqualify politicians with court cases from contesting future elections in Nigeria.

Speaking to our correspondent, the National Commissioner in charge of Publicity of INEC, Prince Adedeji Solomon Soyemi said that those peddling such rumours are mere busy-bodies aimed at scaring their likely opponents from contesting.

The speculations recently gained ground when anti-corruption agencies, especially the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arraigned some major political aspirants in court over alleged money-laundering with regards to 2015 campaign funding.

Prince Soyebi insisted INEC has no powers to disqualify any candidate submitted by the political parties for a nomination.

He said: “We have been inundated with this baseless insinuation, which we have denounced because INEC has no power whatsoever to disqualify any political aspirant or candidate as the case may be.

“The rumours have been trending on social media alleging that INEC will not issue forms to anyone with a pending case of embezzlement before the security agencies or any court. The story is completely false and baseless and could not have emanated from the Commission.

“As we have stated repeatedly, grounds for disqualification are clearly spelt out in the 1999 Constitution as amended. There is no way whatsoever to act outside the Constitutional provisions to disqualify anyone.”

Meanwhile, an Abuja-based lawyer, Barrister Yunus Abdulsalam told our correspondent that apart from constitutional provisions, only the judiciary can disqualify a candidate from contesting in an election.

Yunus said: “For INEC to disqualify a candidate over an allegation of graft will amount to a clear violation of Section 36(5) of the 1999 constitution (as amended). That constitutional provision clothed all candidates with the garment of a presumption of innocence until proven guilty by a competent court of law.

“Such disqualification will amount to a penalty and INEC by law did not have such power. The power to penalise is exclusively that of the judicial arm of government. This position was reiterated by the supreme court in the case of Action Congress and others Versus INEC which Reference SC 69/2007.

“We should also remember that the then Presidential candidate of APC in 2015 was also a beneficiary of INEC insistence of not disqualifying any candidate when his school certificate issue came up and there was no court verdict to disqualify and INEC refused to do otherwise.”

After the recent arraignments in courts of top politicians in the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) over their involvement in campaign funding scandal in 2015, social media was awash with a claim that INEC would disqualify any aspirant that has pending court cases.

One of the trending messages reads: “We will not sell forms to Anybody with a pending case of Embezzlement, under Investigations either Police, SSS, EFCC, ICPC or in any Court – INEC

“The Stage is set. The Drama is about to start. The effort to sanitize the political system by Buhari is about to begin. Only clean candidates shall come onboard, enough is enough for the corrupt politicians whose aim is to deprive our children their future, we shall not allow them again to play on our collective intelligentsia as Nigerians.”

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