Unless the Nigerian political actors resolve to play by the rules, the electoral debacle in the country’s democratic system would continue to get worse.
Although there are many laws to guide the steps of political actors, the insincerity and narrow pursuit of selfish interest render the laws ineffectual.
That narrow-mindedness played out recently when some National Assembly members, governors and other politicians willingly decided to break the Electoral Act 2022 by aspiring to be candidates for their political parties in two different positions.
The Electoral Act 2022 frowned at the such game, which it described as double nominations in the same election circle. However, though the political actors were aware of the implications of their actions, namely, a two-year jail term for any defaulter when convicted, they still went ahead.
In some instances, the political overlords even threatened fire and brimstone against their placeholders, who refused to yield the position for them.
This could explain why recently the leaders of the National Assembly, Senate President Ahmad Lawan and the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila admitted there were errors in the Electoral Act 2022 after they had shot themselves and other statutory delegates out of the primaries.
Their attempt to amend those specific portions in a hurried manner met a brick wall as President Buhari turned down their selfish desire by refusing to assent to the amendment.
Two cases in point are those of Lawan, who is the current President of the Senate and Godswill Akpabio, the immediate past minister of Niger Delta Affairs. Both had contested in the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential primary, which was won by Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
After losing out, both chose to pick Senate tickets for Yobe North and Akwa Ibom North West senatorial districts respectively, sparking controversy over the legality of the such move since most Senate primaries were conducted before the presidential primary.
Earlier, there was speculation by an online medium that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had succumbed and had listed their names. But, in a swift reaction, the electoral umpire debunked the insinuation that it doctored and backdated documents to accommodate nominations of Lawan and Akpabio as senatorial candidates for the 2023 general elections.
In a statement by its National Commissioner, Festus Okoye, INEC also said it was yet to recognise “any of the two personalities as senatorial candidates,” adding that the matter was still in court.
“The forms of the two personalities were not published by the Commission,” INEC said. “The decision of the Commission triggered legal action, which is still ongoing. It, therefore, defies logic and common sense to go around and submit doctored documents purportedly recognising the duo as candidates when the matter is clearly subjudice,” it added.
Controversy persists regarding the nominations emanating from Yobe North and Akwa Ibom North West senatorial districts in respect of Lawan and Akpabio. It was reported that Bashir Machina won the party’s ticket for Yobe North, while Udom Ekpoudom won the primary election for Akwa Ibom North West, which was monitored by INEC officials. INEC, thereafter, rejected the substitution of their names with Lawan and Akpabio by the APC.
Okoye said: “As evidence of the alleged role played by the Commission, a certified true copy of Form 9C uploaded by their political party and received by the Commission on June 17, 2022, when the nomination portal closed was presented by the medium.
“For clarity, Form EC9 (submission of names of candidates by political parties) is the Form uploaded by parties on the INEC nomination portal. This is clearly indicated on the title of the form, which was received on June 17 when the portal closed.
“What follows is the publication of the personal particulars of nominated candidates, which was done a week later. The Forms of the two personalities in question were not published by the Commission.
“As part of the ongoing case in court, a law firm requested from the Commission a Certified True Copy (CTC) of the Form EC9 submitted by the APC as its candidate for Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District, which we are duty bound to oblige them under the law. The form was certified on July 15.
“If minimum care had been exercised by the promoters of the story, they would have seen the two stamps of the Commission bearing different dates on the form. It is this form that is now misconstrued as INEC’s endorsement. For the record, the Commission has not recognised any of the two personalities as a senatorial candidate.”
Another case was that of Ebonyi State where Governor Dave Umahi contested in the presidential primary while his brother stood in for him and later yielded the ground but a high court judgment in that matter said the Governor could replace his brother.
A Federal High Court sitting in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital had recognised Princess Ann Agom-Eze, as the Senatorial candidate of the APC against the prayer of Governor Umahi.
The governor had approached the court through his counsel, Roy Nweze Umahi, to order the INEC to recognise him as the authentic senatorial candidate for Ebonyi South senatorial District. However, Princess Eze later approached the court with a counterargument on the governor’s senatorial bid.
Austin Umahi (the governor’s younger brother), a contender, stepped down at the second primary election conducted on June 9, 2022, which paved way for the governor to emerge unopposed.
Umahi’s counsel, therefore, argued that the governor’s name should be recognised by INEC since the first winner of the Ebonyi South Senatorial primary election, which took place at Afikpo North Local Council of the state, Austin Umahi had withdrawn.
But, in his judgment, Justice Fatun Riman, who relied on section 115 of the Electoral Act 2022, noted that the governor was not an aspirant and cannot participate in the election or pre-election matters of the APC as regards the Ebonyi South Senatorial Zone because the primary held on May 28, 2022.
From the cited section of the new Electoral Act, the governor neither procured forms for nor participated in the election and cannot claim any right based on the primary election.
Recall that the former Resident Electoral Commissioner in Akwa Ibom State, Mike Igini, had warned that politicians who procured multiple forms were criminals and risked two years imprisonment.
Counsel to Agom Eze, Barr Nwonu Nnaemeka, pointed out that his team’s argument was that, as soon as Austin Umahi withdrew from the primary, Agom Eze should claim all her rights as regards the exercise, being the second runner-up.
In Bauchi State, Governor Bala Mohammed contested the PDP presidential primary, which he lost after polling 20 votes. The Secretary to the Bauchi State Government (SSG), Ibrahim Kashim, won the governorship primary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state.
However, Kashim won the primary as a proxy of Governor Bala Mohammed who recovered it from him after losing out in his presidential bid. In Kashim’s case, he was the sole aspirant in the contest.
Again, the APC in Jigawa also flouted the law during a special (fresh) senatorial primary election following the death of its senatorial candidate, the late Tijjani Ibrahim Gaya in China after a brief illness.
Senator Muhammad Sabo Nakudu had emerged unopposed in a fresh (special) primary election to replace the late senatorial candidate for Jigawa South West District. Nakudu scored all the 375 votes cast by delegates from seven local councils of the senatorial district in the state.
Announcing the result, the chairman, electoral committee, Engr. Shehu Umar Dange said the exercise was peaceful and orderly. He commended the delegates, local organising committee and the party officials for their support and contribution.
Senator Nakudu had initially aspired for the gubernatorial position but lost to the serving deputy governor, Alhaji Umar Namadi Danmodi.
Weighing in on the contentious issues, Femi Falana (SAN), said: “Both the electoral act and the Constitution have empowered INEC to reject names of candidates that did not emerge from valid primaries but INEC gave the impression that its hands were tied.
“I was forced to come out to draw the attention of INEC to the relevant provisions of the Constitution in particular. The law imposes a duty on INEC to monitor the primaries of every political party. INEC officials monitored the primary and they submitted reports. If the names of aspirants who did not participate in the primary were submitted, INEC has the power to remove the names and demand from the political party, the names of the actual winners. But INEC said no. This is what has led to the plethora of cases needlessly.
“INEC now goes to court because INEC is a principal party, even though it is a nominal party. The evidence of INEC is going to determine what happens. They will monitor the election as an independent body. This is our report. But this would have been unnecessary if INEC had simply warned the political parties.
“The most interesting one is that of the Senate President and Senator Akpabio. Now as the Senate President, you coordinated the promulgation of a new electoral act 2022. Section 115(d) of that law has criminalised double nominations. So, you can’t say that you took part in the presidential primary and also took part in the senatorial primary at the same time.
“Under that section, double nomination attracts two years imprisonment. Again, I will expect INEC to draw the attention of the APC to the provision of the law that they are playing with fire.”
Senator Alex Kadiri, who represented Kogi East from 1999 to 2003, said the issue at hand is very germane. “When I ran for governorship in 2003, by the time the congress of the party ended in the states, with particular reference to Kogi, it was too close to the nomination for the senatorial primary.
“That is why when I did not get the governorship, I could not go back to pick the form for Senate. If I had gone back to pick the form, maybe nobody would have even opposed me because I was in control of my constituency then and now. My constituency sees me as a decent human being through and through.
“The same thing had happened even to Dr. Olusola Saraki, the late Senate leader. He wanted to be President and in the process, he allowed Dr Salman to run for the Senate in his stead in Kwara State. When the elections were over, Salman refused to step down for him.
“That is the same scenario playing out between Lawan and Machina right now. The same scenario between Akpabio and the other person in Akwa Ibom State. It is only fair for those who participated in the processes of election or selection to become candidates of their parties. The party should not truncate anybody’s ambition because any Nigerian can go to any length to reclaim his/her mandate.”
Kadiri noted that in some other climes, people stage coups because of this type of humiliation. “I heard the one in Yobe State was even unopposed. Now, you are telling him that he is no longer the candidate, that you are the party and you are substituting him with somebody who went for the presidential election.”
Kadiri expressed the opinion that what the new Electoral Act 2022 requires at this point is for the judiciary to put it to the test, so politicians’ excesses could be curbed.
He added that this would help the electoral reforms take firm root.