Why we allowed underaged candidates in 2019 ― INEC

The Independent National Electoral Commission has justified its current stance to declare underaged candidates ineligible to contest the forthcoming governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states unlike in the recent 2019 general elections when it condoned invalid nominations.

Findings revealed that 8 nominations were declared invalid in Kogi state for the November 16 election while 6 suffered a similar fate in Bayelsa state.

Further checks revealed that the candidate of the Social Democratic Party in Kogi state, Barrister Natasha Hadiza Akpoti has her nomination declared invalid as her running mate, Engineer Khalid Adams Ogbeche was declared underaged and consequently, ineligible to contest. Barrister Natasha has since alleged that her nomination was axed by INEC to ensure victory for the incumbent governor and candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Governor Yahaya Bello.

But INEC in a statement it issued on Friday and signed by Festus Okoye, National Commissioner and Chairman Information and Voter Education Committee, said it has alerted political parties prior to the conduct of the 2019 general elections that it would no longer allow parties to field underaged candidates for elective offices since it was a breach of the nation’s Constitution.

“Members of the public may recall that just before the 2019 general elections, the Commission had cause to draw the attention of political parties to the same problem of nominating underaged candidates. That communication was a notice to the parties that future violation of such a basic provision of the Constitution would be unacceptable and could lead to severe consequences. “Accordingly, the Commission has informed the affected parties that their names and logos will not appear on the ballots for the Bayelsa and Kogi Governorship elections due to the invalidity of their nominations.”

Barrister Okoye who noted that the parties affected by the Commission decision to axe candidates were earlier notified by INEC that their candidates were ineligible to contest, further argued that their moves to submit fresh nominations were rebuffed by the electoral body as they could not meet up with the deadline for submission of nominations.

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The statement further read in part: “The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) monitored the primaries conducted by political parties for the nomination of candidates for the November 16, 2019 Governorship elections in Bayelsa and Kogi States.

“On September 12, 2019, the Commission informed the public that 64 political parties conducted primaries in Bayelsa State and 59 in Kogi State. Out of these, 52 political parties for Bayelsa State and 49 for Kogi State respectively, submitted the list and personal particulars of their candidates at the close of nomination at 6 pm on Monday, September 9, 2019.

“The Commission also informed the public that from its preliminary review of the list and personal particulars submitted by the parties at the close of nomination, some of the Governorship and Deputy Governorship candidates were below the minimum age prescribed by the Constitution and that the Commission was considering further action. By a letter dated September 13, 2019, the Commission notified the concerned political parties of the invalidity of their nominations. In Bayelsa State, six of the nominated Governorship and/or Deputy Governorship candidates were affected, while in Kogi State there were eight such nominees.

“Some of the affected parties have written the Commission admitting their error and requesting to submit new nominees to replace the underaged ones. However, this was after the deadline for submission of nominations on September 9, 2019. As such the Commission could not accept any fresh nominations. In like manner, since the parties did not submit valid nominations before the deadline, they cannot substitute the candidates on the grounds of death or voluntary withdrawal, in accordance with the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), which assumes the prior existence of valid nominations.”

The statement further revealed that for the Kogi elections, 23 political parties will be fielding candidates out of 49 that initially filed nominations while 45 political parties will be fielding candidates for the same exercise in Bayelsa state.

“At the close of the time stipulated by sections 31, 33 and 35 of Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) for the submission of the names of nominated candidates, 49 nominations were received for Kogi State. Out of these, 41 nominations were valid, while 8 were invalid. Subsequently, 18 political parties withdrew from contesting the elections. Therefore, 23 political parties will contest the Governorship election in Kogi State. For Bayelsa State, a total of 52 nominations were received. Out of these, 46 were valid, while 6 were invalid. One political party has since withdrawn from the contest, leaving a total of 45 political parties to contest the governorship election in Bayelsa State.”

INEC disclosed that “in compliance with section 34 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), the full names and addresses of all candidates standing nominated will be published in the relevant offices and on the website of the Commission on Monday, September 30, 2019.”

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