The Full Bench of the Supreme Court last Friday clarified that it does not have any authority to hear complaints of election irregularities that were still before the National Election Commission (NEC) for investigation.
Chief Justice Francis Korkpor, who made the clarification said, the Supreme Court was only interested in hearing whether the NEC has the constitutional power to declare and certificate a winner, when it has not completed investigation about election irregularities and fraud filed against that winner.
“What I want for you to understand here today, is that we are not here to listen to arguments about election malpractices that are before the National Election Commission for investigation,” Chief Justice Korkpor further clarified, before the Full Bench was able to list final arguments on its injunction placed on the certification of several senators-elect in the just ended Special Senatorial Election.
However, the panel of justices did not say whether they would lift the injunction or not. Instead they reserved ruling into the matter.
The Full Bench recently placed stay orders on the certification of Senators-elect Varney G. Sherman (Grand Cape Mount), Morris Saytumah (Bomi), and Dr. Jim Wombah Tornolah (Margibi).
The Supreme Court Justice in Chamber, Associate Justice Philip A.Z. Banks who placed the injunction said he did so based on a request filed by lawyers representing several defeated candidates.
The defeated candidates who included Dr. Foday Kromah, Lahai Lassana and Ansu Sonii of Margibi County alleged that last December’s election was marred by fraud, vote rigging, irregularities and malpractices, adding that the NEC refused to investigate the allegations and was in the process of certificating those individuals it declared as winners.
It was based upon those allegations that the lawyers begged the court through the Chamber Justice to prevent the NEC from certificating the senators-elect against whom the complaints had been lodged.
But at Friday’s hearing, Chief Justice Korkpor said, “We don’t have any power to declare the result of an election while an investigation is pending before the NEC. We are only interested in hearing the harm NEC’s declaration and certification caused you people.”
Justifying their intervention, Chief Justice Korkpor maintained that “Since these are election related matters, it is not our duty to interfere; but we are only doing so, because of the injunction placed on the process, to establish whether complaints can be heard before certification.”
In his response, NEC lawyer, Cllr. Joseph Blidi, said there was no law that says, “When there is an appeal you should not go ahead with the certification, even if the process is challenged by anyone.” Cllr. Blidi cited Article 83(c) of the 1896 Constitution which mandates the NEC to declare election results not later than 15 days after the casting of ballots.
He also based his argument on Section 6.2 of the Election law passed by the National Legislature, which he stated, “gives us the authority to declare and certificate a winner while matters of election irregularity are pending before NEC.”
He went ahead to say, “If our investigation established that the certificated person is not the legitimate winner, we can come back and withdraw the certificate from that individual, even if they have already taken their seat.”
According to him, NEC has not done anything wrong; instead they were operating with the mandate given to them by the Constitution and the Election Law.
He argued that certification was one of the major requirements an elected lawmaker needs in order to be seated in the National Legislature.
Another election related case that was heard by the Full Bench was a request for the Supreme Court to compel the NEC to revoke its certificate issued to Senators-elect J. Gbeh-bo Brown (Maryland) and Commany Wesseh (River Gee), alleging vote rigging, irregularities and malpractices.
The allegations were brought against the two certificated senators by Representative Bhofa Chamber (Maryland) and former football star, Jonathan Boye Charles challenging the integrity and credibility of the process.
The Full Bench also reserved ruling into that matter.