Teddy Oscar, Abuja
House of Representatives’ minority leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, has urged supporters of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to ignore the call by the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, for voters in Saturday’s governorship election in Osun State not to copy the numbers of the ballot papers and take photographs.
Gbajabiamila, who accused Jega of crying more than the bereaved, described the call by the INEC boss as “unlawful and bias”.
The leadership of the opposition party, during its final rally of last Tuesday, encouraged voters, especially supporters of its gubernatorial candidate, Rauf Aregbesola, to ensure that they record the serial number of their ballot papers, and use their phones to take a shot of the paper before living the poling unit.
It particularly believes that the action would be a proactive measure to check any attempt to rig the election against Aregbesola.
But Jega, at an interactive section of political stakeholders ahead of the governorship election in Osogbo on Wednesday, said that any attempt to snap ballot papers would be in violation of the Electoral Act.
“To photograph the ballot paper will be a violation of the secrecy of the ballot. It is illegal, and I will urge voters to disregard that directive,” Jega said.
The APC federal lawmaker, in a statement signed his research and media aide, Wasiu Olanrewaju-Smart, said that Jega should not cry more than the bereaved.
“Professor Jega is not to interpret the provisions of any law passed by the National Assembly. Our courts constitutionally continue to enjoy and exercise that exclusive preserve. What is more worrisome is that the instruction was meant to make rigging more difficult for the PDP. PDP has not said a word (at least not yet) about this but instead it is a supposed unbiased electoral umpire that comes out firing from all cylinders. It sounds like a case of one crying more than the bereaved,” Gbajabiamila said.
He added that contrary to the position by INEC, the commission should embrace the lawful advise made by Aregbesola since it would help the commission achieve its objective of conducting a free and fair election.
“Indeed INEC in the converse should applaud this development because it reduces the stress on it, and the burden of proving that an election was regular and fair,” he added.
He also said that the intent of the legislature in drafting the electoral act is to ensure transparency.
“When we drafted this section of the law, it was to ensure that voters were not intimidated or induced whilst casting their votes. If after you cast your vote you take a picture of it for the records, posterity, and transparency, you cannot be said to have violated section 125 of Electoral Act (as amended).
“Even a cursory look at the Electoral Act from the beginning to the end shows a clear intent on the legislature to ensure transparency. That is the theme of the Act. Now the Section 125 of Electoral Act quoted copiously by the chairman is very clear as to its applicability and the meaning of secret voting. The section refers to third persons and not to the voter.
“Moving beyond the law, one question I would want the chairman of INEC to answer is this, what harm would it cause for a voter to take a picture of his ballot paper with his phone and keep same in his pocket for future? What harm? What does the system or INEC lose?
“It’s only an offense for the voter, to disclose who he intends to or voted for to any other person and not to himself. Surely, secrecy does not extend to oneself. The APC charge tells the voter to take a picture of HIS one vote and keep it for the records. He need not disclose it to another person until such is necessary perhaps in an electoral or judicial dispute,” Gbajabiamila said.
To further drive home his argument, Gbajabiamila urged INEC not to make the electoral system assume the nature of a cultist process.
“Stretching the commonsensical meaning of secrecy to include oneself makes a mockery of our electoral law. The intent is to ensure transparency and credibility of the process. There is a sharp difference between secrecy and cultism. INEC should not make our electoral system assume the nature of a cultist process.
“If we were to concede to the INEC chairman’s strange interpretation, how then do we count the votes in public view after the election? How then does a court or tribunal subpoena ballot papers for examination? Surely, these two instances would also violate the secrecy of the votes,” he added.
Gbajabiamila concluded that law of evidence in Nigeria places much premium on photographic evidence in unleashing truth and serving justice.
“INEC must also understand that our laws of evidence admit and give high probative and evidential value to photographic copies, if and when it will serve the cause of justice. Finally our constitution (I believe Section 67) allows every Nigerian, who is above the age of 18 and, who resides in Nigeria to register, vote and be voted for.
“There is no point in mouthing this constitutional provision, if that vote cannot be guarded and protected. Intrinsic in that constitutional provision is the right to photograph your vote so it can count. Mr. Chairman, the end justifies the means. It can no longer be business as usual,” he concluded.