2023: Political parties’ request for deadline extension

RECENTLY, during one of their regular meetings with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under the auspices of the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), the leadership of political parties asked the commission to grant them an extension of time in which to conduct primaries and submit their list of candidates for various political posts. The parties hinged their request partly on the recent long Easter holiday. The 18 political parties eligible to field candidates for the 2023 general election jointly demanded an extension of the deadline for the conduct of their presidential conventions, primaries and congresses. National chairman of the Action Democratic Party (ADP) and chairman of IPAC, Mr. Yabagi Yusuf Sani, tabled the political parties’ request shortly after the  chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, said that the June 3 deadline for the conduct of primaries remained sacrosanct.

Calling for a 37-day extension which would change the deadline for the conduct of primaries to August 4, the IPAC chairman listed the constraints which he said made the June 3 deadline unrealistic and unattainable to include the Ramadan and Lenten periods, the forthcoming governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states and the number of aspirants seeking elective offices, which he noted had made screening processes cumbersome. He said: “It is within the framework of the enduring bond between the INEC and IPAC in service to the country that all the 18 registered political parties on the platform of IPAC are, without exception, requesting the INEC to consider a slight adjustment to the recently announced timetable and schedule of activities for the 2023 general election.” Sani added that the IPAC general assembly regarded the time allotted by INEC for the conduct of primaries as too short in view of the efforts required by the political parties  to ensure effective and scrupulous screening and selection of qualified and quality standard-bearers. According to him, the significance of a tidy selection of party candidates in the elections had the benefit of minimising conflicts that could slow down the electoral process.

Truth be told, the request by the affected political parties shows the rather unserious manner in which they have been conducting their affairs in the build-up to the 2023 general election. We find it preposterous that they are blaming their tardiness on the unprecedented large number of aspirants jostling to emerge as candidates on their platforms. While there is nothing wrong with a large number of persons seeking to actualise their ambition on party platforms, serious parties the world over have well-thought-out criteria that  aspirants must meet which would preclude an unwieldy situation. It is absurd to sell nomination forms to hundreds of candidates, then complain that screening them would take much more time than provided by law. We are not moved by IPAC’s claim that “the political parties have also had to be cautious and painstaking in the screening and selection procedures as a safeguard against disruptive incidents of litigation by aggrieved aspirants.” There would be litigation even if the parties were granted all the time in the world.

There is, we believe, no cogent reason to oppose INEC’s decision. The parties had ample time to prepare for the 2023 election and the excuse of a long Easter holiday/Ramadan period cannot withstand scrutiny. The holidays in question were mapped out statutorily and not by happenstance.  Besides, the electoral commission had previously had to adjust its election timetable due to the delay in the passage and signing of the amended Electoral Act, and any further adjustment will disrupt its programme. As noted by the INEC boss, “Any review to extend the timeline for one activity will affect other activities and put unnecessary pressure on political parties and the commission. This will ultimately result in more complications than what the extension seeks to achieve. Therefore, the commission will not review the timelines. Working together, we should ensure fidelity to the timelines in conducting transparent and democratic primaries for the purpose of electing candidates for the 1,491 constituencies for which elections will be held on 25th February and 11th March 2023.” We think that this is a reasonable step to follow.

Indeed, the foregoing throws up some fundamental questions. If the parties cannot properly organise their internal affairs, how can they organise the Nigerian society? Why do they want to toy with the rules and regulations guiding the conduct of elections? Parties that expect to be taken seriously should be able to plan ahead. Elections have consequences and so should the failure of political parties to abide by law.

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