Controversies over the timetable for the 2019 general election have taken a legal twist as Hope Democratic Party (HDP) has dragged the Federal Government of Nigeria, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), National Assembly (NASS) and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) before an Abuja Federal High court over the timetable released for the poll.
The party is asking the court to void and set aside the schedule of the elections as announced by INEC, which it according to it, is a contravention of Sections 76, 116, 132 and 178 of the 1999 Constitution and Section 25 of the Electoral Act, 2010
It also wants the court to determine whether by virtue of the provision of the amended Electoral Act, 2010, INEC, NASS and AGF are not under a duty and obligation to electronically hold and conduct the scheduled 2019 general elections into the offices of the president, National Assembly, governorship and state Houses of Assembly in the same day in any order or sequence they may choose to conduct the elections on the appointed date.
HDP prayed the court for an order of perpetual injunction restraining the three defendants, their agents, servants and privies from engaging, planning or conducting any form of staggered general elections under any guise in the forthcoming 2019 general elections.
The party also sought order directing the defendants to undertake and ensure the holding of all elections in 2019 by electronic devices, including card readers which would make the election processes easier.
Also, the party prayed the court to set aside the letter of AGF and INEC dated January 11, 2018 notifying political parties in the country of the staggered elections for 2019 on the ground that the letters and staggered elections are unconstitutional, oppressive, abuse of power and ultra vires.
In a 20-paragraph affidavit in support of the originating summons, the plaintiff claimed to be a registered political party and had participated in the previous staggered general elections outside the proposed general elections and that it has interest in the conduct of a free and fair general election within the ambit of international best practices at the 2019 general elections.
In the affidavit, deposed to by one Ipinu Emmanuel, its lawyer, the party claimed that the defendants have, since 1999, been inconsistent in adhering strictly to and holding any proper general elections, but resulted to a form of staggered general elections at different dates and shifting order and sequence of elections at will and to their advantages.
The affidavit stated that the present day reality and harsh economic situation and limited resources of participating political parties and their sponsored candidates favoured the conduct of all the elections into various offices in one appointed date to save costs, curtail election expenses and to make elections affordable to parties.
The affidavit averred that apart from saving costs, a one-day election in any sequence would ensure victory and emergence of good candidates for good governance.
HDP's suit will further deepen controversies over the timetable for the 2019 general election.
The National Assembly sparked off the controversies with the stipulation of timetable for the election in its amendment to the Electoral Act.
According to the new time-table included in the amendment by the lawmakers which is now awaiting the assent of President Muhammadu Buhari, the National Assembly election is to hold first, followed by gubernatorial and state houses of assembly polls and the presidential election to be conducted last.
This was contrary to the INEC’s time-table released before the National Assembly's amendment which puts Presidential and National Assembly elections first, while governorship and state houses of assembly elections are to follow.
Some lawyers, including Senior Advocate of Nigeria and Lagos-based human rights actives, Mr. Femi Falana, had also opposed the National Assembly dictated timetable as they argued that INEC is the only body constutionally empowered to fix order of elections.