The National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Adams Oshiomhole yesterday accused the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of bias.
This came after the electoral body yesterday barred the party in Zamfara State from fielding candidates in next year’s general elections, accusing it of failing to hold primaries within the stipulated time.
“Based on the provision of Section 87 and 31 of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended, the commission does not expect that your party will submit names of any candidate from Zamfara State. For clarity, our position therefore, is that the APC will not be fielding candidates for the governorship, National Assembly and state Assembly elections,” INEC said in a letter addressed to the party’s leadership.
But Oshiomhole faulted INEC in a correspondence to the commission’s secretary, Mr. Okechukwu Ndeche. He said the party actually conducted primaries. To buttress his claim, he referred the scribe to a signed report from the Zamfara electoral committee on primaries held between October 6 and 7, 2018.
“The summary of the report, as you will find, is that following the high level of friction, disagreements and threatened violence by various political camps before the primaries, all the aspirants met at City King Hotel, Gusau, to find a truce.
“After hours of intense horse-trading, a consensus was reached within the spirit and context of the Electoral Act and the constitution of our party on the basis of which a list was produced which was confirmed/affirmed by all delegates present. This was done in strict compliance with section 87 (6) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as Amended).
“Therefore, the claim in your letter under reference that ‘no primaries were conducted by your party in the state, notwithstanding that our officials were fully mobilised and deployed’, could only be referring to their observation that actual voting did not take place, which is not the only mode prescribed for producing candidates in the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended). We, therefore, affirm that indeed primaries took place in Zamfara State.”
He said: “We note that the PDP did not also hold primaries in Kano, but no such similar letter was written to the PDP in relation to Kano State. It is our contention, in the circumstance, that your letter is not only preemptive, but your position seems to negate the spirit of any fair hearing and is devoid of legal basis.”
Oshiomhole said that the APC would surely present candidates for governorship, National Assembly and state Assembly elections in the state before the October 18, 2018 deadline for the submission of such names.
The chief press secretary to INEC’s chairman, Rotimi Lawrence Oyekanmi, however, dismissed suggestions that the commission would reverse its decision.
He told The Guardian via telephone: “INEC did not take the decision without duly following necessary rules and guidelines. The commission made guidelines for the 2019 elections as to when primaries should hold, names of candidates to be submitted and all the parties agreed. The decision has been made and it will stand because it is in accordance with the rules guiding the procedure.”
Some top legal minds also said there was no judicial backdoor for the APC to escape the sanction. A Senior Advocate on Nigeria (SAN), who preferred anonymity, told The Guardian: “It is the electoral act that has actually empowered INEC to draw up guidelines and timetables for elections. If INEC comes out to say that in view of the Electoral Act it cannot extend time for you, then that is final.
“This is because you cannot fall back on the constitution, since the provisions regulating elections in this respect are not self-executory. The constitution has delegated such powers to the Electoral Act, which has, in turn, delegated them to INEC.
“So, it is near-impossible for them to come out of this problem. It will be also irresponsible of INEC to eat its words tomorrow under any circumstance. It should be able to stand on what it has said or done.”
Also, an Abuja-based constitutional lawyer, Mr. Mike Ozekhome (SAN), said: “Law is law and should be respected by all citizens. What the constitution says is clear. The electoral law is clear.”
He held that the constitution has empowered the Electoral Act with guidelines and election timetable. Therefore, its position should be respected. There is no provision in the constitution for the APC to break free from the penalty, he said.
He added: “APC has lost the state totally. I believe it is a divine strategy to deliver Nigerians. God will ensure that there is enough commotion within the party, so that Nigerians can get them out of power in 2019. The suffering, insecurity and the economy is killing everybody, while government is busy spending millions of Nigeria’s money doing propaganda.
“You will see more commotion in other states and at the federal level, so that Nigeria can be liberated. It is a rescue mission that God has started. Zamfara is a template for the party; it is a test case for Nigeria. I can see all of them defecting to other political parties including the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).”
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) meanwhile welcomed the punitive action, urging INEC to resist pressure and remain steadfast in its sanction.
At a press conference yesterday, it warned that any attempt to influence the electoral umpire to change the decision would spark crisis.
PDP’s National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said the party was aware of some subterranean moves by the APC to arm-twist the commission into reversing itself.
“We are aware that INEC has notified the APC that it has no candidate in the 2019 election. Our appeal to INEC is that it must not allow itself to be subdued by the APC and its leadership whether in government or in the party. Doing so will be a recipe for anarchy in Zamfara State.
“For once, they must not allow any form of collusion with the APC because since Zamfara State APC did not meet the October 7 deadline, then it means they have no candidate for the 2019 general elections.”
Also reacting to the ban, a former deputy national chairman of the PDP, Chief Olabode George, said the Zamfara issue could not be treated in isolation to commend or judge INEC without bringing into focus what happened in the Osun, Ekiti and Ondo governorship elections, where the commission acted below expectation.
Asked whether the APC might coerce INEC into changing its mind, he said: “Everything depends on what Prof. Mahmood Yakubu would succumb to and how he decides to protect his interest.”
According to a factional state chairman of the party in Lagos, Mr. Fouad Oki, the APC risks an implosion, following the “charade it called primaries across the country.” According to him, the primaries negate what the 2014 INEC regulations for primaries stipulate, “especially in section 11 where it talked about certified membership register, which must be available for inspection before the exercise. Oshiomhole should be sent back to his labour house to play aluta and not to lead a ruling party.”
President, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Alhaji Yerima Shettima, said the Zamfara decision notwithstanding, INEC has not yet lived up to expectations. He warned the commission not to plunge the country into another civil war by conducting a biased poll in 2019. “The APC is demonstrating unnecessary desperation to retain power, given the manner it conducted its primaries,” he added.
A former APC spokesman, Mr. Bolaji Abdullahi, and a chieftain of the PDP, Prince Adeseye Ogunlewe, both warned that failure by INEC to assert itself and hold credible elections could plunge the nation into chaos.
In another upset for the APC, a High Court in Port Harcourt declared as null and void the nomination of Mr. Tonye Cole as governorship candidate in Rivers State.
The court has also nullified the senatorial, House of Representatives and House of Assembly indirect primaries on the grounds that they were based on illegal ward congresses.
Justice Chiwendu Nwogu delivered the judgment in a suit (PHC/78/2018) filed by Ibrahim Imah and 22 APC aspirants challenging their exclusion from the state congresses. He said it was illegal and unconstitutional for the APC to nominate Cole and other legislative candidates on the premise of congresses the court had already nullified.
The judge stated that the court on May 30, 2018 declared the rescheduled ward congress of May 19; local government congress of May 20; and state congress held on May 21, as mere academic exercise having earlier nullified the congresses held on May 5 and 12.
Nwogu reprimanded the APC for disobeying a court order restraining it from going ahead with the congresses. He said the congresses that led to the emergence of the Ojukaye Flag-Amachree-led executive were therefore illegal as they failed to comply with the party’s guidelines.
The judge asserted that all actions taken by the party, including the nomination of Cole and all legislative candidates while the case brought before the court by the aggrieved APC members was pending, had been set aside because they were illegal and unconstitutional.
He explained that everyone who purchased nomination forms for the ward congresses, including those that filed the suit, were legally entitled to contest the ward congresses of May 19, 2018.
Nwogu also dismissed an application brought by APC’s lawyer, Prince Azunda, seeking to stop the delivery of the judgment. He accused the legal representative of wanting to unlawfully arrest the judgment.
At a rally in support of direct primaries at Igboukwu Field, Port Harcourt yesterday, Senator Magnus Abe praised the decision of the court. He said it was unjust of the APC to collect money from members and ask them not to run.
“People cannot sit in Lagos and choose a governor for Rivers people. They can’t say that our views don’t matter. We will show them that the people cannot be taken for granted. We will fight this, no matter how long it takes.”
Also, the controversies trailing the primaries forced some aggrieved governors to again seek audience with President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday.
At the closed-door meeting were: Akinwunmi Ambode (Lagos), Muhammed Abubakar (Bauchi), Rochas Okorocha (Imo), Abdullahi Ganduje (Kano), and Kashim Shettima (Borno).
The meeting came barely a week after nine other APC governors held talks with the president over similar issue.
There was no official communication from the presidency on the visits. Addressing reporters however Okorocha, who is the chairman of the Progressives Governors’ Forum, admitted the mission was to “look at issues concerning our primaries.”
Noting that the challenge in Zamfara State APC was addressed during the meeting, he added: “In every democracy, you should expect a kind of disagreement and we have kindly requested that something be done to bring warring factions together, so that we can have a united party to face the challenges ahead. We are happy that will soon take place.
“Most of the problems have been resolved except for one or two states where we have issues. And where (things) become more difficult, we ask for Mr. President’s intervention. We are talking about reconciliation. What is important to us is that we must never go into this battle a divided family. We want to make sure that all governors are intact and all National Assembly members are intact. We will never speak differently. We will speak as members of the party.”