By Sunday Ani
Rights Activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana has disagreed with a National Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mr. Mohammed Haruna, for tackling the Akwa Ibom State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Mike Igini, over his position that the former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio’s nomination as senatorial candidate was unconstitutional.
The Akwa-Ibom REC had earlier argued that Akpabio did not comply with the new Electoral Act, 2022, which states that a candidate for any elective position must emerge from validly conducted primaries of a political party monitored by the INEC. He further noted that the All Progressives Congress (APC) primary for the election of the governorship candidate in Akwa-Ibom was also not monitored by the INEC as it was cancelled for security reasons. For Igini both the candidates did not emerge from valid primaries monitored by INEC and cannot be recognized by the electoral body.
But, in trying to distance INEC from Igini’s position, Mr. Haruna said Igini remarks only painted a partial picture of the relevant regulations as he merely mentioned Section 31 that deals with the issue of withdrawal of candidates.
He blamed Igini for failing to mention the section which mandates INEC to monitor only the primary of the State party executive recognised by the party’s National Headquarters, saying, “So if anyone was picking and choosing, it was Igini and not INEC.”
In a statement signed by Falana and made available to the Daily Sun, he drew Haruna’s attention to the fact that the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan representing Yobe North Senatorial District and Akpabio, who now wants to represent Akwa-Ibom West Senatorial District at the Senate, did not purchase the APC’s expression of interest forms for the Senate, were not screened for same and did not participate in the party primaries. Falana noted that the duo purchased the nomination forms for the APC’s presidential primary for N100 million and were screened for the position by the party. “They proceeded to participate in the well televised presidential primary election of the APC held in Abuja and monitored by INEC. Meanwhile, in the senatorial primaries conducted by the APC and monitored by INEC, Rtd. DIG. UdomEkpoudom and Bashir Machina emerged the candidates for Akwa Ibom West Senatorial District and Yobe North Senatorial District respectively. Even though both candidates have not withdrawn from the senatorial race the APC has submitted the names of Senators Akpabio and Lawan for the two Districts in utter breach of the Electoral Act, 2022,” Falana stated.
Defending the nominations of the APC candidates who did not take part in party primaries in Yobe and Akwa Ibom States, Mr. Haruna said that the INEC has no powers to reject names sent by political parties as primaries were the sole prerogatives of parties. “INEC’s responsibility is merely to monitor the primaries and make sure they abide by their own regulations, the Electoral Act & the Constitution,” he added.
Falana noted that by taking such a position, the INEC National Commissioner was apparently inciting litigation without any legal basis whatsoever for claiming that “Our power in that regard rests on the fact that our reports are admissible as evidence whenever an aggrieved candidate petitions his party or the courts. It is, therefore, up to an aggrieved candidate to apply for the certified true copy (CTC) of our reports for presentation as evidence that his party did not abide by any or all of the three sets of regulations mentioned.”
Debunking Haruna’s position, Falana said: “It is trite law that party primaries and nomination process are governed by the Electoral Act, 2022, particularly Sections 29 and 84 therein. It is the responsibility of the National Working Committee (NWC) of political parties to conduct primary elections by setting up Party Primary Election Committees for all states while the state executive provides the venue. Section 84 (1) clearly states that a political party seeking to nominate candidates for elections under this Act shall hold primaries for aspirants to all elective positions which shall be monitored by the commission. The monitoring by INEC is mandatory. To that extent, any primary of a political party not monitored by officials of INEC is illegal.
Aligning with Igini’s position, Falana further said: “Under the Constitution and the 2022 Act, INEC has undoubted powers to reject candidates that did not emerge from valid primaries. In other words, the decision of INEC to disqualify a candidate who did not take part in a party primary may be challenged in the Federal High Court by a political party or aspirant who complains that the provisions of the Electoral Act or any Act of the National Assembly regulating elections in Nigeria has not been complied with by the Independent National Electoral Commission in respect of selection or nomination of candidates and participation in an election.
He advised INEC to rise up to its statutory duty to sanitise the democratic process and prevent unnecessary pre-election litigations, saying, “INEC ought to realise that the nation has moved away from the era of imposition or illegal substitution of the names of candidates. Hence, INEC has been empowered to reject the names of candidates who did not emerge from valid primaries conducted by political parties and monitored by INEC. In particular, individuals who contested presidential primaries and lost cannot be permitted to replace candidates who won senatorial primaries. Unless the winners of party primaries voluntarily withdraw from the electoral process, political parties lack the power to engage in any form of substitution. Therefore, INEC should desist from promoting pre-election litigation by failing to exercise its enormous powers under the Electoral Act and the Constitution.”