From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye
A group known as Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts, has warned the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), not to take the country back to the days when impunity reigned supreme by substituting the names of legitimately elected candidates in the just concluded political parties primaries with those that did not participate in the process.
In a statement issued by its Director, Dr. Sam Amadi, the group advised INEC to ensure that its actions are guided by the Electoral Act to avoid external manipulations by anti-democratic elements.
It further urged INEC to reject fraudulent and false submission of candidates by the parties.
The warning followed the controversy surrounding the submission of the names of Senate President, Ahmad Lawan and former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, which surreptitiously appeared on INEC portals as senatorial candidates of the party when they did not participate in the primaries that produced the party’s candidates.
According to the group, for anyone to emerge as a candidate based on the provisions of the Electoral Act, the person must have participated in a primary election.
It stressed that an aspirant must have purchased the expression of interest form for the senatorial election and screened, adding that by the provisions of Section 33 of the 2022 Electoral Act, a political party cannot remove or substitute a candidate that emerged from a valid primary.
The group also stated that the person must be on the list of contestants sent by a political party to INEC and must have participated in the senatorial election on the 27th of May when the election was conducted.
The statement read: “With the conclusion of the elective primaries of the parties and the close of deadline for submission of the candidates for federal elections based on the guidelines issued by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the process for the 2023 General Elections in Nigeria has commenced in earnest.
“The Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts has watched the process of the elective primaries of the parties and is satisfied with the considerable compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022.
“We want to commend INEC for exercising its oversight functions in a manner that forced the parties to comply with the requirement of democratically electing candidates for elective offices in the 2023 General Elections. Without INEC oversight, many of the parties would have continued the tradition of violating the norms of democracy in the choice of their candidates.
“As an intellectual and policy thinktank committed to providing insights and evidence-based analyses to assist state institutions to deliver on their mandates, the Abuja School is alarmed at the efforts of some politicians and party leaders to undermine the provisions of the electoral law as regards submission of nominated candidates to INEC.
“It is being reported that some high-profile politicians who did not win INEC- monitored primaries of their parities are being submitted by their party leaders, in clear violation of the provisions of the electoral law.
“Two notable cases are those of the President of the Senate and the former Minister of Niger Delta Affair, who contested for the APC Presidential Primary and lost, but are making frantic efforts to regain senate seats from the winners of the primaries.
“The winners of the duly conducted primaries have refused to give up their tickets. Notwithstanding, the party reportedly has uploaded the Senate President and the Minister of Niger Delta as senatorial candidates, although they did not participate in a valid primary.
“Submitting names of persons who did not win duly conducted primaries on INEC portals is contrary to the electoral law. The electoral law requires that only persons who won duly conducted primaries should be submitted as candidates.
“It is INEC that determines what is a duly conducted primary, based on its guidelines and the electoral law. The practice in the past where INEC allowed parties to make wrong and fraudulent entries and hoped that the courts will reverse them has gone with the new Electoral Act which now empowers INEC to reverse such fraudulent and wrong actions by the parties.
“Section 84 (1) of the Electoral Act, 2022 provides that “A political party seeking to nominate candidates for elections under this Act shall hold primaries for the aspirants to all elective positions which shall be monitored by the Commission”.
“Section 84 (13) of the Act further provides that “Where a political party fails to comply with the provisions of this Act in the conduct of its primary, its candidates for election shall not be included in elections for the particular position in issue”.
“These provisions and others in the Electoral Act aim to ensure that only candidates who win duly conducted primaries are presented for elections. Unlike in previous electoral law, the new law authorizes INEC to disqualify candidates who did not emerge from a duly conducted primary which INEC monitored.
“In the context of the new electoral law and the wrong submissions the parties are making in these notable instances, the questions Nigerians ask are (1) whether INEC will gamble with its integrity by accepting from political parties names of persons that did not emerge from valid primary monitored by INEC, (2) whether INEC will compromise and ignore the report of its monitoring team about those candidates that emerged from validly conducted primaries across the 36 states; (3) whether INEC will act like a real regulator and exercise its power to sanction parties that violate the electoral law and reject fraudulent and false submissions from the parties; and (4) whether INEC will succumb and accept high profile persons who did not emerge from validly conducted primaries.
“We call on INEC to discharge its regulatory obligation by rejecting every submission of names of persons who did not emerge from valid primary elections as candidates for elective offices in the 2023 General Elections.
“INEC should realize that the new electoral law has imposed an obligation on it to review all filings and submissions by the parties and disallow fraudulent and false fillings or submissions, in line with the Electoral Act, 2022 and the 1999 Constitution.
“The Commission should note that any legal advice to it to abandon its regulatory duty and await when aggrieved persons go to court for judicial redress is wrong and shows deep ignorance of the changes in the regulatory framework of elections in Nigeria.
“Building from the errors of the past that undermined the credibility of our electoral democracy, the legislature has imposed the obligation of legality on the party and the responsibility of regulatory oversight on the Commission. Therefore, it will be a gross betrayal of the legislative intent in the new electoral law if the regulator, INEC, fails to take action to protect free, fair, and credible elections in 2023 by accepting fraudulent and false submissions by any party.”
The group said, “As scholars and policy professionals committed to the integrity of democracy in Nigeria, we are concerned that INEC may fail this important test of its readiness to uphold strict compliance with the rules and norms of electoral democracy as captured in the new electoral law.
“We encourage INEC to rise to its responsibility to regulate political parties in order to protect electoral democracy. We assure INEC that we will continue to support the Commission in its commitment to ensure free, fair, and credible elections in Nigeria. We also assure the Commission of our determination to ensure that it effectively discharges its regulatory duties under the electoral law.”