Jega, INEC face contempt charge over transparent ballot boxes

The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and its chairman, Attahiru Jega, have been dragged before the Federal High Court, Abuja on contempt charges for failure to abide by a ruling of the court, the International Centre for Investigative Reporting reports.

In a motion filed Wednesday July 18, Bedding Holdings Limited is asking the court for an order to commit INEC, Jega and the registrar of patents “to prison and detain them in custody until they fully purge their contempt of the Honourable Court”

The Federal High Court, Abuja, had on June 5 while ruling in a suit instituted by Bedding Holdings, affirmed the plaintiff’s patent right over transparent and collapsible ballot boxes used by the electoral body in conducting elections in the country.

The court equally affirmed the plaintiff’s patent right over electronic collapsible ballot boxes and declared that any action taken by the defendants in the case, including INEC, Jega and the registrar of patents without the approval of the patentee, was “ unconstitutional, illegal, unlawful and is therefore null and void.”

Furthermore, the court granted an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants from using the patented materials “except with the express and prior consent, license and authority of the plaintiff.”

However, in its motion to commit Jega and other to prison for contempt, Bedding Holdings said that INEC had defied the court ruling twice by conducting elections in Kwara State (the rerun elections in two wards in Ilorin North–West local government area held on Saturday, June 30, 2012) and last Saturday’s governorship election in Edo State. 

The position of INEC and Jega on the judgment is that the electoral body no longer uses the transparent ballot boxes referred to in the judgment. Following the ruling in early June and a report published on June 19 by icirnigeria.org, (http://www.icirnigeria.org/index.php?id=20) INEC issued a statement saying that it stopped using the ballot boxes referred to in the judgment in 2003.

In the statement issued and signed by Kayode Idowu, chief press secretary to the INEC chairman, the electoral body stated, “The judgment asserts the right of patent by the Plaintiff, Bedding Holdings Limited, to plastic transparent ballot boxes with steel frames that was last used by INEC in the 2003 General elections”

“In effect, it has nothing to do with the polythene, collapsible transparent ballot boxes used for the 2011 General Elections and all other elections conducted since then, including the impending Edo State Governorship Election.” the statement further claimed.

Clarifying issues further, Idowu said that “for avoidance of doubt, INEC no longer uses the ballot boxes in dispute, and so the judgment could not have affected the 2011 General Elections or, indeed, subsequent ones.”

On the Edo governorship election which was yet to hold, Idowu noted that “the court also granted an order of perpetual injunction concerning “electronic collapsible transparent ballot boxes,” but claimed that the “Commission is not using and has no intention of using it in the Edo State Governorship Elections.”

Also speaking on the court ruling as it affected the Edo governorship election, Jega, shortly on arrival in the state on Tuesday, July 10, said that judgment would not affect the poll as it had nothing to do with the ballot boxes used in last year’s general elections and subsequent ones, including the Edo State governorship poll.

“As far as we are concerned the judgment does not affect our preparations for the elections in Edo State,” he said.

“The judgment is with respect to collapsible transparent ballot boxes, which are totally different from the ones we are using for this election,” Jega stated further.

However, court documents in the possession of this website show that even while he addressed journalists at the Benin airport on July 10, contrary to his words, Jega knew that the ballot boxes to be used in the Edo election were the ones in contention.

For, on June 28, in an affidavit deposed to by one Rahima Aminu, a legal officer with INEC headquarters on its behalf in support of a motion to stay the execution of the court’s June 5 order, the electoral body complained that it was not served notice of the proceedings of the processes leading to the judgment and that it had therefore been denied fair hearing.

More importantly, however, the deponent stated “That I know as a fact that the Ballot Boxes to be used in the said forthcoming Elections (in Edo State) may be the subject of the injunctive Order of this Court sought to be stayed from being executed.”

Amina deposed further, “That I know that it is not feasible for the Applicant to acquire/procure a new design or different Ballot Boxes for the said election given the short time for the Election.”

This position contradicts earlier insistence by Idowu and Jega that the ballot boxes used by the electoral body since 2003 were different from the one referred to in the court ruling.

The court is yet to fix a date for hearing in the contempt case.


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