9/17/2021 8:43:00 AM


To sanitise the political process, INEC must assert its regulatory authority over political parties, argues Bolaji Adebiyi Speaking with leaders of political parties a couple of weeks ago, Mahmood …

To sanitise the political process, INEC must assert its regulatory authority over political parties, argues Bolaji AdebiyiSpeaking with leaders of political parties a couple of weeks ago, Mahmood Yakubu, national chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, raised a familiar concern about the worsening legal disputes that attend the conduct of primaries for the selection of candidates for elections. He noted the negative impact of this on the electoral body’s preparations for elections, lamenting that it hampers its plans and confuses the electorate.

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Mahmood had in the past complained about the rising intervention of the judiciary in the electoral process to the extent that the third arm of government rather than the ballot is now becoming not only the determinant of the eventual outcome of electoral contests but also decides who participates at all.

The latest manifestation of this is the impending Anambra State governorship election slated for November 6, 2021 where the hand of the judiciary is already all over the place with a couple of conflicting rulings rendering interim orders that put in abeyance the nomination of the candidates of the three major parties namely the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC). No doubt, some of the rulings are scandalous and Mahmood’s complaint has since attracted the attention of Ibrahim Mohammad, the chief justice of Nigeria, who summoned the chief judges of the culprits and warned them that such further acts of judicial rascality would be punished.

Time will tell if Mohammad’s warning would be heeded. For behind these legal actions and rulings are politicians who have perfected the act of perverting the political process and corruptly securing judicial stamp for their perfidy. The rules are usually very clear. But the politicians sidestep the rules, overwhelm their party’s processes and proceed to shop for court orders to legitimise their manipulations. It follows the regular pattern of factional congresses being held and one or more of the factions approaching the court for an order restraining the electoral commission from recognising the candidate of other factions. A pliant judge is always available to grant the interim order behind the back of the defendant. And as it happens most times the final judicial outcome is so technical that it calls to question the essence of the ballot in an electoral process that is supposed to be based on popular will. The outcome of the judicial contest over the 2019 Imo State governorship contest where the man who came fourth in the field was declared the eventual winner by the Supreme Court is still fresh in the minds of many Nigerians.

The Imo scenario almost repeated itself in Ondo State but for a last-minute split decision of the apex court. Eyitayo Jegede, the PDP’s candidate in the 2019 governorship contest, had approached the election tribunal after his defeat by the incumbent, Rotimi Akeredolu of the APC. Clearly worsted in the contest, the PDP flagbearer did not bother to dispute the figures. He raised a technical issue about the signatory to his opponent’s nomination form.

By the electoral law and INEC guidelines a candidate’s nomination form can only be endorsed by the national chairman and national secretary of the sponsoring political party. But shortly before the contest in October last year, the APC had in controversial circumstances dissolved its national working committee and appointed a national caretaker committee to take charge. There were legal issues raised about this move but the APC power establishments went ahead with the contentious decision. In the absence of a substantive executive committee, it was Mai Mala Buni, the governor of Yobe State, who doubles as the chairman of the caretaker committee of the party that signed Akeredolu’s nomination papers. Jegede challenged the validity of the nomination.

His case was that Buni being a governor could not hold a party position under the 1999 Constitution as altered, arguing that since something cannot stand on nothing the signature of Buni had nullified Akeredolu’s nomination. Although the tribunal did not find merit in his case and dismissed it, the Court of Appeal agreed with Jegede’s argument in part but still dismissed it on the technical ground that Buni was not joined. In a split decision of four to three at the Supreme Court, Akeredolu was saved by the failure of Jegede to join Buni.

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The point here though is that the will of the people could have been upturned by a mere technical but avoidable error wilfully committed by the APC political establishment that would not be minded to obey rules. The technical argument arose from the controversial dissolution of the executive of the APC even when it was obvious that the decision breached the constitution of the party.

At the root of the crises arising from the selection process of candidates is the refusal of the parties to obey their own constitution. Although the Supreme Court has held severally that the only valid selection process is the one guided by the national executive committee of a political party, disputes still arise on the validity of candidates presented to INEC.

This ought not be if INEC will be willing to assert its authority under the constitution. A combined reading of Section 15 (c ) of the Third Schedule to the Constitution as altered and Sections 85 – 87 of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended gives the electoral body the power to regulate the political parties by monitoring their operations and ensuring that they comply with all lawful regulations, including their own constitutions that are registered with it.

Section 87 of the Electoral Act especially makes the conduct of primaries compulsory for the selection of candidates by the political parties, and INEC is required to monitor the exercise. The question, therefore, is why INEC does not intervene to enforce the law and would rather wait for the plethora of conflicting court orders that only serve to confuse the electoral landscape?

The answer may well be that it does not want to be blackmailed by the usually unruly politicians who are not given to obeying rules. But rules are meant to be obeyed and the enforcement agency cannot afford to be blackmailed into shirking its responsibility simply because there would be perception of interference in the internal affairs of the offending group. INEC had in the past asserted its authority as it did in the case of the APC in Zamfara in 2019 and much earlier in 2013 when it compelled the PDP to repeat its congresses in about eight states.

Mahmood’s indication to leaders of registered political parties a couple a weeks ago that his commission’s roles as both an electoral umpire and political process regulator would be diligently enforced going forward would be a befitting return to the past; at least to instil sanity in the fast-deteriorating polity.

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