The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will be releasing the final list of the 2023 presidential and National Assembly candidates on Tuesday, September 20, 2022. IMOLEAYO OYEDEYI examines the series of court cases threatening the legitimacy of some of the candidates being put forward by the political parties.
Barring any last minute change in plan, by Tuesday, September 20, 2022, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will be releasing the revised and final list of candidates vying for various positions at the federal level in the 2023 general election. But the fate of quite a number of candidates still hangs in the balance due to a flurry of post-primary election crises.
INEC had initially released a list of the candidates on Friday, June 24, but the commission had to announce a comeback date for a revised and final list following the handful of court cases and litany of rejections that greeted the list.
While announcing a new date earlier this month, INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, had said: “Activities towards the 2023 general election will enter the critical stages this month. In the next 19 days, the commission will publish the final list of candidates for national elections (presidential, senatorial and House of Representatives) as provided in Section 32(1) of the Electoral Act 2022 and the timetable and schedule of activities released by the commission.
“This will be followed on October 4, 2022, by the publication of the final list of candidates for state elections (governorship and State Houses of Assembly).
“Campaign in public by political parties will officially commence on September 28, 2022, as provided by Section 94(1) of the Electoral Act 2022.
“As campaigns commence, we appeal to all political parties and candidates to focus on issue-based campaigns. This is the best way to complement our efforts to ensure transparent elections in which only the votes cast by citizens determine the winner,” the INEC chairman had added.
But while the political parties may have started getting set to roll out the drums to their campaign grounds, dozens of court cases still threaten the legitimacy of some of their candidates, which observers believe put these parties in a fix and may likely disrupt the forthcoming campaigns to sell their candidates to Nigerians and boost their chances ahead of 2023.
Among the political parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) may likely be the hardest hit if the almost 18 court cases surrounding its candidates across some states in the federation remain unresolved before Tuesday and possibly October 4.
Top among the cases the ruling party is battling are those involving the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan; former Minister of Niger Delta, Honourable Godswill Akpabio and that of the Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, all jostling to pick the 2023 Senate tickets for Yobe North, Akwa-Ibom North-West and Ebonyi South senatorial Districts respectively.
Before being caught in the legal web, the trio had failed to partake in the main APC senatorial primary election held on May 28 2022, in their respective states. The trio instead went ahead to contest the party’s presidential primary, which was eventually won by Senator Bola Tinubu, who now flies the party’s presidential flag for 2023.
In the widely held senatorial primary election, Governor Umahi had forwarded his younger brother’s name, Austin Umahi, as an aspirant for the Ebonyi South seat. MrUmahi, it was alleged was used as a stand-in so his brother, the governor, in the event he failed to clinch the presidential ticket of his party in the primary.
MrUmahi eventually won the APC’s senatorial primary held on May 28 nine days before the party’s presidential primary. But shortly after the governor lost at the presidential primary, the party cancelled the senatorial primary election in Ebonyi South District and rescheduled it for June 9, 2022, to beat INEC’s deadline.
Although no reason was given for the cancellation, the decision was said to have been taken to compensate Mr. Umahi for his loss at the presidential primary and accommodate him in the race for the Senate. Governor Umahi emerged winner in the party’s rescheduled exercise held at Afikpo North Local Government Headquarters, where the initial exercise was also held.
Though his younger brother, Mr. Austin, did not dispute the outcome of the exercise, when INEC published the first list of successfully nominated candidates of political parties in June, Governor Umahi’s name was missing.
Like Umahi, Akpabio also emerged winner in the emergency primary election the ruling party conducted on Thursday June 9 aftermath the APC presidential primary that was said to be heavily dollarised. In the case of Lawan, the winner of the Senatorial primary, Bashir Machina, simply refused to step down for the Senate president. He even threatened legal battle should INEC substitute his name with Lawan’s, which has created a huge barricade for the number three man as well as INEC’s insistence that both Lawan and Akpabio stand disqualified, claiming it was not aware and did not monitor the rescheduled primary elections that produced them as candidates.
But in a fresh twist to the drama, a Federal High Court in Abuja has ordered the electoral commission to include Akpabio’s name. The court, in a ruling on Thursday, ordered the electoral umpire to accept and publish Akpabio’s name as APC senatorial candidate for AkwaIbom North/West senatorial district in 2023.
While ruling on the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1011/2022, Justice Emeka Nwite held that INEC acted illegally by refusing to accept and publish Akpabio’s name after it was sent by APC.
The judge ruled that Akpabio was validly nominated as the Akwa–Ibom North/West Senatorial District candidate of the APC from the primary conducted by the party’s National Working Committee on June 9, 2022.
The judge said INEC “is bound by the provisions of Section 29 (3) of the Electoral Act to publish only the personal particulars of the candidate of the first plaintiff for the Akwa–Ibom North/West Senatorial District elections in the person of the second plaintiff (Akpabio) as received from the first plaintiff.”
According to the judge, INEC cannot publish any other name or particulars of any other candidate as candidate of the APC for the Akwa-Ibom North/West Senatorial District elections, “except as nominated, submitted and received from the first plaintiff (APC).”
The judge further rejected INEC’s claim that it declined to monitor the primary conducted by APC on June 9, which produced Akpabio as the party’s candidate, because it had monitored the one conducted on May 28.
The judge faulted INEC for accepting to monitor the May 28 primary, conducted by an illegal faction of the party led by Augustine Ekanem as against the June 9 primary conducted by the APC NWC, an organ of the party authorised by law to conduct such primaries.
Justice Nwite said: “I am of the view that the defendant (INEC) cannot choose and impose a candidate on a political party.
“The fact that INEC chose to monitor an illegal primary and produce a report, cannot give it legitimacy. INEC cannot unilaterally pronounce a primary conducted by a political party or a candidate submitted to it as invalid, without a valid court order,” the judge said.
He held that there is no law empowering INEC to refuse to accept and publish the name of a candidate sent to it by a political party without an order of court.
“The consequences of the defendant’s (INEC) failure to monitor the legal primary conducted on June 9 by the first plaintiff, cannot be visited on the plaintiffs.
“The defendant lacks the vires to usurp or assume the power of the court to disqualify a candidate,” Justice Nwite held.
But while the court ruling may have given Akpabio respite, it is not so with Lawan. A Federal High Court in Damaturu, theYobe State capital, hearing the suit involving him and Machina, has reserved judgement indefinitely, leaving the ruling party with just 48 hours to find every legal means to achieve its compensatory bid for Lawan.
While offering his viewpoint on the fate of Umahi and Lawan, Associate professor and head of the Department of Political Science, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko (AAUA), H. N. Iwu, noted that going by the interpretation of the law with regards to the Electoral Act, the political parties are expected to submit to all the regulations as captured in the Act.
“The Electoral Act is also expected to provide guidelines for INEC itself. But looking at the exigencies of Nigerian politics, evidenced by the delay with the judiciary to deliver judgment on the various court cases, I will say that if the judiciary is not able to meet up with the timeframe before INEC comes out with the final list of candidates, it is the INEC position that will overrule that of the political parties, because there is an already stated time-frame for submission and publication of candidates’ names for the election,” Iwu explained.
“In the case of Akpabio, the court has ruled. And if there is no further litigation from any other party in a legal case, that can be said to be put to rest. But if the case of Lawan continues with repeated litigation, the legal tussle will frustrate the whole process and preparations of even INEC itself. I see these issues as being symptomatic of the Nigerian endemic political problem,” he averred.
Speaking on the fate of Umahi in Ebonyi, the Iwu said: “The issue of placeholder is not proper in the context of the electoral game that the governor and his brother played. INEC knows fully that the person who emerges as a party’s candidate at a primary election that was keenly contested and held based on the extant electoral laws of the land remains the candidate of the party. So they should not have left the space open no matter the agreement between Umahi and his brother, who won the main primary. It greatly showed institutional failure on the part of the electoral umpire. Such an act shows that INEC is not only weak, but also willing to compromise standards, which is not appropriate as institutional weakness poses serious implications for the sanity of our democracy.
“There was a stipulated timeframe for primaries for all the federal and state seats in the forthcoming election. As expected, the primaries went ahead, and someone was declared the winner by the same INEC. Why then did the umpire leave the seat vacant in the first released list when the party came back with another name for a supposed rescheduled primary that even INEC said it never observed? The main question is under which law was the first primary held? Was it not under the Electoral Act and INEC supervision?
“More so, why did INEC allow the so-called secret primary to be held without its supervision? As far as I am concerned, except the initial primary was flawed on technical ground and did not hold, there was no legal backup for the rescheduled primary, especially when it was not supervised by INEC,” Iwu contended.
But explaining whether INEC can still do anything when a political party has put forward a name to replace the one it had first submitted as its candidate, Iwu said: “That is where the law will come in. And I believe the position of the law is that whoever won INEC-supervised primaries is the right candidate, more so since there was no contradiction with any aspect of the law with the conduct of the first primaries. So the law will uphold the winner of the first primary and undermine whoever is put forward as winner of any other primary election for the same seat. The best will be the court asking both parties to go for out-of-court settlement. So, parties cannot operate outside the confines of the law.
“Constitutionally, it is the duty of the political parties to submit the names of their candidates to INEC. But the clause there is that the primaries that produced the candidates have to be the ones supervised by INEC. But in the event that INEC rejects a candidate’s name submitted by his party, INEC will have to provide constitutional explanations that informed its rejection of the candidate. But if this is not given in any case, it is left for the court to clearly decide on the supremacy of the matter between INEC and the political party in question,” the don added.
Meanwhile, aside Lawan, Akpabio and Umahi, the legitimacy of some other candidates of the party in states such as Ogun, Benue, Rivers, Kwara, Kogi and Sokoto is still lying on shaky grounds.
But like the ruling party, its main opposition, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Labour Party (LP) are also battling last-minute legal hurdles to have the names of some of their candidates in the soon-to-be-released INEC’s list.
As of the time of filing this report, the PDP and the LP are having legal issues in states such as Benue, Kano, Rivers, Plateau with the biggest for the PDP being Edo State with its two feuding factions- that of the state governor, Godwin Obaseki and the party’s South-South Zonal National Vice Chairman, Chief Dan Orbih. They are both laying claim to the party’s ticket for the different offices. Past court rulings have forced INEC to recognise the list submitted by the Orbih’s faction. But it is still left to be seen whether the electoral umpire will maintain this position when the final list is displayed on Tuesday, especially with the growing fears that the state governor’s faction is cooking up fresh litigation to help its candidates attain legitimacy before the electoral umpire.
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