December 17, 2010

Voters Registration: Court gives INEC go ahead nod

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, heaved a big sigh of relief Friday, following the decision of a federal high court sitting in Abuja to set-aside the restraining order that hitherto stopped it from going ahead with its planned voters registration exercise.

Justice Ibrahim Auta who vacated the interim injunction he earlier granted against INEC on December 3, however fixed January 27 and 28, 2010, to commence hearing on the substantive suit challenging the contract awarded by the electoral body for the importation of the Direct Data Capturing Machines, which it intends to use in conducting the voters registration exercise.

An Indigenous company, Bedding Holdings Limited, took the INEC, its chairman, Prof Attahiru Jega, the AGF and three companies, Haier Electrical Appliances Corporation Ltd, Zinox Technologies Ltd and Avante International Technology Incorporated, before the high court, contending that it was the only company with the patent right to produce Electronic Collapsible Transparent Ballot Boxes, ECTBB, in Nigeria.

The company equally maintained that it was the patentee in respect of Proof of Address System/Scheme, PASS, used for the collation and collection of  names, age, sex, address, finger print, geographical description and location of various places in the country, including the bio-data of every person resident in the country.

It specifically accused INEC of infringing on its patent right by contracting the 3 companies to produce voters register for the 2011 general elections without first seeking and obtaining a written license, consent and authority from it and has therefore asked court to award it N10 billion as damages.

Following decision of the INEC to commence the registration exercise early next year, the plaintiff quickly ran before the high court with a motion ex-parte that eventually culminated in the restraining order that was Friday vacated by Justice Auta.

Though the court noted that the plaintiff successfully established that it is the bona-fide owner of the patent rights over the subject matter of the suit, it however anchored its decision to discharge the injunction on the overriding public interest.

The high court further observed that the defendants failed to controvert the compensation claims of the litigant with any convincing proof of evidence, adding that its decision to lift the ban it earlier placed on INEC was in order to ensure that the judiciary is not seen as contributing to the failure of the 2011 general election.

It however adjourned the case to hear the substantive suit on its merit.