By Robert Egbe, Okodili Ndidi, Jide Orintunsin and Gbade Ogunwale, Abuja

  • 2023: Parties file 334 pre-election cases against INEC

  • No extension of voters’ registration deadline – Commission

Governors Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto State), Bala Mohammed (Bauchi) and Dave Umahi (Ebonyi) may not face sanction after all on account of their participation in two different primaries ahead of next year’s elections.

Also unlikely to be penalised for the same reason are Senate President Ahmad Lawan and former Minister of Niger Delta, Senator Godswill Akpabio.

The five politicians had bought nomination forms of their party for the last presidential primaries, and after pulling out or losing, sought their party’s ticket for other positions; an action a Federal High Court, Abakaliki described as a violation of Section 115 (D) of the Electoral Act.

The section stipulates that no person shall sign or obtain more than one form as a candidate for different elections.

It prescribes a two year jail term for offenders.

But senior lawyers yesterday agreed with INEC Commissioner in charge of enlightenment, Festus Okoye, that the governors and the former minister did not appear to have acted in violation of the law.

Among those who spoke with The Nation were Messrs Emeka Okpoko, Segun Fabunmi and Lawal Pedro, all senior advocates of Nigeria (SANs).

Okpoko said: “The language of the law is that if a person signs a nomination paper or result form as a candidate in more than one constituency in the same election. Now if you observe very closely, the language says as a ‘candidate’.

“When do you become a candidate? The Electoral Act has stages. First you procure a form, then you are screened, then you participate at the primary of your party, whether by way of direct or indirect primary – a lot will depend on that.

“It is if you then win that your name will be on the list of the names submitted by your political party as a candidate for the election. So, you must first of all pass that stage.

“That is why in law, a person who did not participate in all these stages and then participate in the primary does not even have locus to initiate a pre-election litigation.

“You become a candidate from the point when the political party that is sponsoring you includes your name on the list of the candidates submitted by it to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

“If your name is not there, you were not a candidate. At best, you were an aspirant at that material point in time.

“If, for instance, the PDP submits your name as a candidate and another party, for instance APC, submits your name again as its candidate i.e. you sign a nomination form for both of them, in more than one constituency, it is only at this point that the applicability of Section 115(D) will come in.

“These are the ingredients that must be established for the offence stated in Section 115(D).

“If you look at Section 29 of the Electoral Act, you will see that your name has to be submitted by your political party when it is submitting the list of its candidates for the election. It is from that point on that you can say you have become a candidate, not before that.”

Fabunmi’s views were similar.

His own words: “I think I agree with Okoye. Although the issue still has to go through judicial interpretation up to the Supreme Court, as it were. I don’t believe the high court judgment (in Umahi’s case) is the final decision.

“I agree with Okoye in the sense that if you are an aspirant and you are not declared a candidate for an office, you cannot be said to have violated that provision

“For example, you are vying for a senatorial seat, as an aspirant, but you are not the candidate chosen or declared to contest that seat or position, then you lost, you can still vie for another position.

“But if you are declared the candidate to vie for that election, and you’ve signed the form, you cannot go again now to go and vie for another position; it will be multiple. I think that is what Okoye is saying and I think I agree with him.

“And if you look at the definition of aspirant and candidate, they are two different things entirely. Aspirant is someone who has not been chosen, you are still aspiring, while a candidate is somebody that has been nominated, declared for that position.

So, I think I agree with him totally.”

Pedro, a former Lagos State Solicitor-General, said: “It is by giving legal interpretation using the established rules of interpretation of statute that will bring out the proper implication of Section 115 (D) of the Electoral Act.

“For the Interpretation, the salient words in the subsection are very important. Therefore to be in breach of the Act a person must have signed “as a Candidate” and not as an Aspirant as rightly opined by Mr. Festus Okoye, INEC Commissioner in charge of enlightenment.

“Secondly, he must have signed nomination paper or result form as a candidate in more than one constituency “at the same election”.

“Therefore to be in breach of the Act a candidate must have signed in the same election more than once. The Act did not provide for signing in more than one constituency at a general election as we have constituencies in a State different from Federal Constituencies in a State.

“Section 152 of the Electoral Act provides that ‘election’ means any election held under this Act and includes a referendum; ‘general election’ means an election held in the Federation at large which may be at all levels, and at regular intervals to select officers to serve after the expiration of the full terms of their predecessors.

“Therefore it is the court that should be allowed to determine whether any candidate has breached Section 115(d) of the Act not the INEC.”

Justice Fatun Riman of the FHC, Abakaliki had on Friday, July 22 dismissed a suit filed by Governor Umahi seeking his recognition as the All Progressives Congress (APC) senatorial candidate for Ebonyi South.

Citing section 115 of the Electoral Act 2022, the court held that the governor was not an aspirant and could not participate in the election or pre-election matters of the APC as regards Ebonyi South zone.

A few days earlier, the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner in Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Mike Igini, had said in a television interview that some politicians were accusing the organisation wrongly for doing its job.

He said: ”Some people are claiming that they participated in one election, that they filled two forms; it’s ignorance of the law and it’s not an excuse.

“We are preventing them from being candidates for prison and they are calling our names everywhere.

“There are many candidates that have done this. INEC can only point you in that direction; that’s what we can do.

“People walk their way to prison when they say that they bought two forms. Section 115 (D) prohibits that.

“In fact, subsection 3 of 115 says that even that attempt itself will be treated as the offence.

“If you bought two forms for different constituencies at the same time as a candidate, if they bought two forms like we have been hearing, they have run afoul of the law already.

“Because a state assembly election is a constituency, House of Representatives is a constituency, senatorial is a constituency, governorship is a constituency, presidential is one constituency.”

The commission has already declined to accept the names of Senate President Ahmad Lawan and the immediate past Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Chief Godswill Akpabio as APC senatorial candidates for Yobe North and Akwa Ibom North West respectively, saying their nominations did not conform with the law.

The INEC commissioner in charge of Information and Voter Education, Mr. Festus Okoye, disputed Igini’s position on the implication of the section.

Speaking on Channels television, Okoye said RECs cannot speak or take positions on behalf of the Commission.

He said: “Let me just say this and say it very clearly and unequivocally: if you look at the constitution of Nigeria, which is the ground norm, the commission is made up of the Chairman, who is the Chief Electoral Commissioner of the federation, and 12 National Commissioners. These are the ones that the constitution refers to as the Commission.

“Now, RECs are not the Commission. The powers given to National Commissioners and the chairman of the commission are delegated to the RECs. In other words, RECs operate in a delegated capacity. So, if we do not delegate powers to a REC, a REC will not have powers to act.

“Furthermore, when a REC is appointed, the chairman of the commission swears in the REC and the REC is assigned responsibilities by the commission. In other words, he goes to represent the commission, which is the chairman and the 12 National Commissioners.”

Also reacting to Igini’s position, the House of Representatives accused INEC of interpreting and applying the Electoral Act in error to the benefit of some parties and the detriment of others.

It said the Commission was making decisions about politicians and the electoral process on the basis of “flawed interpretation of the Act without recourse to the National Assembly or a Court of competent jurisdiction for proper interpretation”.

The Lawmakers also accused the Commission of making and changing guidelines and regulations arbitrarily to the benefit of certain parties and sometimes in conflict with provisions of the 2022 Electoral Act.

Parties file 334 pre-election cases against INEC

Following the conclusion of nomination of presidential and National Assembly candidates for the 2023 election by political parties, 334 pre-election cases have been filed in different divisions of the Federal High Court across the country challenging the process.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is joined in all the cases.

According to INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, the Commission is currently facing numerous cases arising from the conduct of congresses and primaries by political parties.

He said the number of cases is expected to rise with the publication of the list of governorship and House of Assembly candidates.

According to Yakubu, “although these are purely intra-party issues, the Commission has been joined in all these cases. With the publication tomorrow of the personal particulars of candidates for Governorship, Deputy Governorship and State Assembly elections, we expect the number of cases to rise even higher.

“Sadly, the issue of internal democracy in political parties remains a sore point in our electoral process in Nigeria. The Commission will continue to engage with political parties while standing firm against any transgression by strictly enforcing the provisions of the law and extant regulations and guidelines.”

No going back on July 31 deadline for voters registration – INEC

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday ruled out the possibility of extending the ongoing nationwide Continuous Voters Registration exercise.

In an interactive session with journalists in Awka, Anambra State, the INEC National Commissioner in charge of Voter Education and Publicity, Barr. Festus Okoye, insisted that it the exercise would close on July 31, 2022 as scheduled.

Okoye said at the end of the exercise, the commission would scrutinise the voters’ registers with a view to getting rid of multiple registrations and thereafter print the various permanent voter cards (PVCs), display voters’ registers across the 774 local government areas and polling units, among other activities.

The commission, he said, would make available all the PVCs for those who registered or carried out voters’ transfers between January to June 2022 on October 2022, while those who enrolled between July 1 and July 31, 2022 would receive theirs by November 2022, at various local government offices of INEC.

Okoye commended stakeholders in Anambra state for supporting the commission in the exercise.

He said: “We deployed a total of 110 INEC development devices to Anambra; ten malfunctioned, six were repaired by our in house engineers and redeployed back to fields.

“In Anambra State, we trained some of our staff to assist in carrying out the exercise. We isolated those for transfer, replacement, and others. We trained our staff to assist in rendering the various services.

“We extracted clear protocol on how to carry out voters transfer, voters review and replacements to mitigate the surging crowd. We isolated places to carry out intervention; and we took machines to markets, churches, NUJ, NYSC orientation camp and other places where they are large concentration. For complaints, we developed a compliant desk for people to voice out their complaints. Over 50 complaints were received and treated. We carried intervention at 82 locations.”