BY TORDUE SALEM
ABUJA – Efforts by a House of Representatives’ joint-committee on Justice Electoral Matters to hold a secret session with the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Attahiru Jega, failed yesterday as the electoral umpire insisted on an open meeting.
Prof. Jega had turned down a request for a secret session with the lawmakers, following allegations that the commission was partisan in honouring exparte orders on party primaries.
The House panel had, at an interactive session with Jega, proceeded on a general demand that the commission must avail it with facts on cases pending in courts against it and exparte orders it had honoured or ignored.
The lawmakers, however, posed a caveat that explanations on specific cases raised in the allegation be done closed door.
But the INEC boss insisted that all enquiries on allegations and his responses be made public for Nigerians to get the side of the commission on the issue of party primaries and court orders.
“The motion that was passed by the House on this matter was done in public. And allegations of preferential treatment were made. So we will prefer that if there are specific cases, they should be mentioned publicly now so that we can clarify them.
We want to be given an opportunity in public to clear them,” he said. The legislators, however, did not respond to Jega’s response.
It should be recalled that some of the lawmakers at the session had either lost at the parties primaries through party-hierarchy intrigues, dying-minute substitutions or exparte orders.
According to Prof. Jega, the commission had to ignore certain court orders because they came after INEC had obeyed orders from “courts of co-ordinate jurisdiction”.
Henry Dickson, Chairman, House Committee on Justice, who had suggested the close-door session, stressed that “the meeting was not an investigation or an inquisition” of INEC, but an “interactive session”.
He argued that a secret session would have taken care of the technical aspects of the probe, while the commission’s boss made general remarks in public. The idea was immediately endorsed by all members of the committee.
The Chairman of the House Committee on Electoral Matters, Musa Sarki Adar, had regretted the plethora of court cases that bedeviled the party primaries, warning that April polls could be imperiled if the trend was not checked by politicians and the commission.
“We prayed that the scenario that led to the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election is not being re-enacted by the sponsors of those exparte injunctions,” he said.
Jega had earlier told the committee that over 300 court cases were either pending against the commission, including those on party primaries in which INEC was joined.