The Supreme Court has ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to forgo conducting any elections across local government areas in Warri, Delta State.
In a unanimous judgement by a five-man panel of Justices, the apex court said the electoral umpire must not conduct the 2023 elections until a fresh delineation of Wards and Units in Warri South-West, Warri South and Warri North Local Government Areas is done.
The judgement followed an appeal marked: SC/413/2016 lodged against INEC, before the apex court, by the Delta South Senatorial candidate for the All Progressives Grand Alliance, George Timinimi and nine others.
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The lead judgment by Justice Uwani Musa Abba-Aji compelled INEC, “its agents, servants, privies and assigns to conduct a fresh delineation of all the electoral wards/polling units for Warri South-West, Warri North and Warri South Local Government Areas of Warri Federal Constituency in Delta State for the purpose of future elections.”
The appellants had in a suit they filed at the Federal High Court in Asaba on March 28, 2011, on behalf of the Ijaws of Warri Federal Constituency of Delta State, averred that INEC did not properly delineate wards and units in the three LGAs, alleging the existence of fictitious wards and units.
They alleged that the said fake wards and units were being used as instrument of electoral manipulation and fraud, lamenting that in some cases, areas with high population, had less wards and units while sparsely populated areas had undeserved number of wards and units.
Consequently, they prayed the court for; “A declaration that the Warri South-West, Warri North and Warri South Local Government Areas of Warri Federal Constituency are not yet properly delineated into electoral wards and units by the defendant, its agents, servants, privies and assigns since 1999 till date for the purpose of registration of eligible voters with clearly identifiable wards and units in Delta State.
“A declaration that any further election conducted within the Warri Federal Constituency to wit: Warri South-West, Warri South and Warri North Local Government Areas of Delta without proper delineation of appropriate wards/units allocated according to the existing population by the Defendant in this suit is null and void.
“A declaration that Warri Federal Constituency is due for fresh delineation of wards and units in compliance with the statutory and constitutional provisions of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
They further sought an order of the Court to compel the defendant, its agents, servants, privies and assigns to conduct a fresh delineation of all that electoral wards/polling units for Warri South-West, Warri North and Warri South Local Government Areas of Warri Federal Constituency in Delta State for the purpose of future elections.
Likewise, “order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendant, its agents, servants, privies and assigns not to conduct any other election within the Warri Federal Constituency comprising Warri South-West, Warri South and Warri North Local Government Areas until a new updated delineation of wards and units are put in place by the Defendant”.
However, the case of the appellants was dismissed by both the high court and the Court of Appeal in Benin.
Dissatisfied with concurrent verdicts of the two lower courts, the appellants, through their team of lawyers led by Mr. Eric Omare, took their case before the Supreme Court.
When the matter came up on December 2, 2022, the apex court, invoked its original jurisdiction under section 22 of the Supreme Court Act and heard the appeal on its merit.
In its own judgement, Supreme Court, upturned the decisions of the two lower courts after it held that there was merit in the case of the appellants.
It, therefore, ordered INEC to carry out fresh delineation of Electoral Wards and Units in the Warri Federal Constituency of Delta State for the conduct of future elections.
The declaration by the apex court leaves the conduction of 2023 elections in the affected areas in jeopardy as the possibilities of INEC concluding a delineation exercise in 40 days looks bleak.
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