N360 million bribe: INEC officials challenge trial in Abuja

Staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Tuesday questioned their arraignment before a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja over allegation of bribery.

The twenty-three electoral officials were to enter their plea on a seven-count charge dated March 7, 2017, filed against them by the Federal Government for allegedly  receiving N360 million as bribe from the Rivers State Government to compromise the results of the December 10, 2016 re-run parliamentary elections in the state.

The Federal Government further alleged that apart from the N360 million bribe, N111 million and N300,000 were recovered from the 23 INEC personnel.

Each electoral officer, the Federal Government claimed, got N1 million, while the three senior electoral officers for the Senatorial Zones received an extra N5 million each which brought the total sum to N360 million.

However, the scheduled arraignment could not hold following the filing of an application by counsel to the 23 INEC officials.

Counsel to the 1st to 20 defendants, Ahmed Raji (SAN), had informed the court of the application dated March 13, 2017.

Raji said, “My Lord, we have filed an application by way of motion on notice questioning territorial jurisdiction of this court to hear this matter.

“We are challenging the court’s jurisdiction because all the alleged acts took place in Port-Harcourt and none of the 1st to 20th defendants live here in Abuja.

“And the question is; will it not be neater and tidier to resolve this issue? We are of the humble opinion that this is a very fundamental issue that must be resolved. In the interest of justice, we want this court to stay taking of plea until the issue of jurisdiction is resolved” Raji told the court.

Counsel to the 21st and 23rd defendants, U.O Ukairo and the counsel representing the 22nd defendant both aligned with the submissions of Raji.

They submitted that the issue of jurisdiction is “threshold” and therefore urged court to “differ the arraignment of the INEC officials until the determination of the application.

Reacting, the prosecution counsel, A.K Aliyu, an Assistant Chief State Counsel, Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation did not oppose the application.

“We are expected to react formally to the motion on notice dated March 13 and served on us challenging territorial jurisdiction, the prosecution said.

As a result, Justice Tsoho adjourned the suit till April 7, for hearing of the defendants’ application challenging their planned trial in Abuja by the Federal Government.

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