Political Parties React To INEC’s N3 Billion Budget For Election Litigation, Lawyers Justify Allocation
Some political parties have referred to the N3 billion budgeted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to fight litigation arising from the 2023 general election as overboard.
Naija News earlier reported that the electoral body budgeted over N3 billion to defend itself from the results of the February 25 presidential and national assembly election and the March 18 governorship and state assembly polls.
It was gathered that INEC in its Election Project Plan for the 2023 general election earmarked N3 billion for the prosecution of election-related cases.
However, while some political parties have said the amount budgeted for litigations by the electoral commission is wasteful, lawyers have argued about the sufficiency or otherwise of the budgeted funds could not be debated.
It was gathered that the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Debo Ologunagba, described the N3 billion budget as wastefulness of INEC.
Ologunagba said “Nigerians should ask INEC why they are spending so much to defend election cases. We have condemned the conduct of the 2023 general elections by INEC. The media should rise and condemn the wastefulness of INEC.
“How can an institution that spent over N300bn for BVAS use another N3bn for litigations? The expectation was that there would be no credibility crisis after the deployment of BVAS.”
Similarly, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) also shared PDP’s thoughts, saying it’s rather worrisome for INEC to allocate that much.
The embattled APGA National Chairman, Victor Oye submitted that “It is very worrisome. This shows that there are likely to be more election petitions in 2023 than we had in 2019 (election). It is not a good development because this huge amount could have been deployed for more developmental purposes.
“If elections are generally acceptable as free, fair and credible; there would be no need for these numbers of cases. This calls for INEC to be more responsible in the discharge of its constitutional mandate.”
The Labour Party (LP) didn’t also differ in its reaction when it said INEC has so many bad cases hence no amount of budget can stop its flag bearer, Peter Obi from reclaiming his mandate.
The National Chairman of the Labour Party, Julius Abure pointed out that, “If INEC had done the right thing, APC and PDP would have been a thing of the past by now. We are not intimidated by whatever money they are planning to use. But of course, we know they won’t spend the N3b on litigation.
“That money will find its way into people’s pockets. We know the lawyers in INEC take their salaries from the Federal Government. Any legal process that the commission is filing is always free. So where do they plan to spend the N3b? It is another way to steal money. That is the truth of the matter.
“What INEC has on its hands now are bad cases. No matter the grammar or what they write, it would amount to nothing. It is obvious on election days that the BVAS didn’t work that day. Were we able to transmit the election results from polling units? How exactly are they going to justify the report that their server shut down amid rigging in court?”
But the National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Felix Morka, shared a different view when he said it was within the right of INEC to defend the conduct and outcome of the elections.
Morka stated that “I didn’t know anything about their finances or budget for the election petition litigation. But what I can say is that INEC is the electoral umpire, the agency charged with the duty to conduct elections for Nigeria. That duty extends to litigating or defending any lawsuit arising from that election.
“It is their legal responsibility to respond to or defend any petition brought against it in the conduct of the election. The law prescribes INEC functions and gives the commission powers that it would exercise, even in this instance.
“I don’t see anything extraordinary about INEC electing to defend the election or bring forth its response to the petitions that parties have brought. That is what we expect and we think INEC is well within its authority to respond to those lawsuits by candidates or parties.”
Meanwhile, some lawyers have defended INEC’s N3 billion litigation budget, saying it may not be enough to settle its legal fees because the commission was a party to all the election petitions filed by the candidates and their parties across the country.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) identified as Rotimi Jacobs told The Punch “You know we have the best Electoral Act, but we didn’t change our attitude. So that’s why you see every contestant will challenge the election. And where everybody challenges the election, INEC must be a party.
“So I wonder whether that amount will even be able to defend all the election petitions that will be filed all over the country. If they truly want to pay lawyers, I don’t know how that fund will be able to take care of litigation, witnesses, and other logistics.”
Also on his part, another senior lawyer, Afam Osigwe, stated that “What I’m saying is that INEC is by law to defend elections conducted by it. And in doing that, they will foot the expense of filing processes, foot travel expenses of their staff, and then the professional fees of private legal practitioners who may be engaged to defend them in those matters.
“So, I will not be able to comment on the sufficiency or otherwise of the amount or to suggest that the amount is too large or too small. It may well not be enough, or they may well not utilise all of it. But court matters entail a lot of costs.”