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Party primaries: Why INEC is helpless while parties swim in confusion


INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

Now that party primaries have been concluded and names of candidates submitted and published by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in line with the requirement of law, managing the fallout, especially in the two major parties-ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is another matter.

It has continued to raise concerns among party leaders, who are battling to ensure that the issue does not affect the chances of parties in the elections. Losers are licking their wounds and at the same time complaining bitterly of being schemed out. They have also accused the party leadership and INEC of aiding and abetting manipulation during the primaries.

Winners on the other hand, are celebrating and at the same time preparing for the main election. But the development is not new or different from what it used to be in the past, especially since 2010, when the 2006 Electoral Act was amended reducing drastically the powers of INEC in party’s primaries.

Recall the 2007 general elections, when despite all efforts, neither then President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo nor PDP national leadership was able to successfully substitute the names of Chibuike Amaechi and Senator Ifeanyi Arararume as the PDP governorship candidates for Rivers and Imo respectively.

This was due to INEC’s reports and affidavit deposed in court, showing that the duo won the PDP governorship primaries. The National Assembly, while amending the 2006 Electoral Act, ahead of 2011 general elections changed sections of the Act in order to strip INEC of certain powers regarding party primaries.

Not many Nigerians saw the effect that move by the National Assembly would have on parties’ primaries. After the amendment of 2006 Electoral Act, President Goodluck Jonathan signed it into law and it became 2010 Electoral Act. That was the Act that guided the 2011 party primaries and general elections.

One major amendment in that Act was that which stripped INEC of any major role in the parties’ choice of candidates beyond being mere observers at primaries. The powers to decide on party’s choice of candidates was given to the party national leadership, thereby making INEC’s monitoring of primaries a mere formality.

Unfortunately and ironically, some who lost out in the party primaries for 2019 and are complaining, were beneficiaries of imposition in 2015 primaries. The INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner in Akwa Ibom, who was at the time in Cross River, Mr. Mike Igini raised the alarm over some sections inserted into the 2010 Electoral Act by the lawmakers, stating that it will stifle free and fair primaries in parties and castrate INEC from performing its function as an unbiased umpire during party primaries.

According to Igini, the amendments in the 2010 Electoral Act have led to “castration of INEC,” making it unable to enforce internal democracy in various political parties.

In a one page address titled: “Amended Electoral Act 2010: The Death Of Section 87 (9) And The Internment Of Internal Party Democracy,” he said: “It is noteworthy that as an electoral management body, INEC has been working under legal uncertainty as the Electoral Act was undergoing amendment being the guiding statute for conducting electoral processes.

However, having perused within the last 24 hours the gazetted copy of the Electoral Act, 2010 of December 29 as amended, it has become clear that the dictatorship intent in elitism has triumphed over the overarching pluralism that Nigerian people clamour for in matters of internal democracy.
“To be clear, Section 87 (9) of the preceding Electoral Act, 2010 clearly underscored the inherent ability of INEC as a commission to arbiter timeously on contentious party nominations which do not follow stated party guidelines by specifying in Section 87 (9) of the old Electoral Act that: ‘Where a political party fails to comply with the provisions of this Act in the conduct of its primaries, its candidate for election shall not be included in the election for the particular position in issue.

“Whereas, in the amended Electoral Act, 2010, this provision has been expunged by the lawmakers; more significantly, to nail the coffin of Section 87 (9), the lawmakers introduced a new provision to Section 31 (1) which completely strips INEC of any say in the matter of disqualification of nominees submitted by political parties. This new provision states that: ‘Every political party shall, not later than 60 days before the date appointed for a general election under the provisions of this Bill, submit to the commission in the prescribed forms, the list of candidates the party proposes to sponsor at the elections, provided that the commission shall not reject or disqualify candidates for any reasons whatsoever.

“By using this blanket phrase ‘any reasons whatsoever, the lawmakers have stripped INEC, the supposed umpire, of the ability to determine the qualification or status of any candidate submitted by a party, irrespective of any circumstances surrounding a candidate’s status, the party now dictates, how, who and why a candidate can contest in an election in which they are participating, even if INEC has doubts, it must seek legal interpretation in a court that has no timeline and cannot stop a party’s candidate from taking part in an election conducted by INEC.”

An example that played out in 2011 was that of Kano State Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) governorship candidate. Though INEC maintained that the Kano CPC gubernatorial primary election was won by Mohammed Sani Abacha, who polled the highest votes, the party insisted on fielding retired Colonel Lawal Ja’afaru Isah as its candidate. The commission caved in after some show of resilience. It was handicapped. Invariably and by implication, a party can forward the name of a candidate who never even contested a primary election.

When Igini raised the alarm, nobody, including the lawmakers and those of the legal profession took him serious. That was how political parties used all sort of undemocratic means to pick their candidates for the 2011 elections and INEC had no option, but to accept their list. Because of that experience and other challenges posed by some provisions of the 2010 Electoral Act, INEC ahead of the 2015 general elections made recommendations for amendments to the National Assembly.

Speaking on the provisions in the 2010 Act that require urgent amendments, the then INEC chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, said: “With regards to political party primaries and the nomination of candidates, there is a provision in the 2010 Electoral Act, which actually creates conflict and confusion in terms of ensuring and regulating internal party democracy.

“Section 31 of the Electoral Act says when a party does a primary and submits the name of the candidate to INEC, INEC should not reject that name submitted by the party. Then, there is Section 87 of the same Electoral Act, which states that candidates of the political parties should emerge through democratic process.

“Now both the Electoral Act and the Constitution have mandated INEC to monitor political party primaries. So anytime a political party conducts primary, we send people to monitor–we hear different reports of how it happened – to see whether they have complied with the party’s constitution, to see whether they have complied with the Electoral Act and to see whether they have complied with the Constitution.

“In 2011, we had situations where we would send monitors, they would come and produce a report. We would know who emerged in the primary through democratic means, as Section 87 of the Electoral Act says, but the names that the parties send to INEC were totally different.

“Some of them, for example, will ignore number one and send number three, or they will even ignore the list and send somebody who does not even participate in the primary and of course a provision in the Electoral Act created that ambiguity and confusion and there is nothing we could do. If we did not accept, they would accuse us of interfering in the internal activities of political parties.”

For reasons best known to politicians, efforts to amend the 2010 Electoral Act ahead of 2015 elections failed, following President Goodluck Jonathan’s failure to sign the bill into law at the appropriate time. This made political parties and INEC to rely on the provisions of 2010 Electoral Act to conduct party primaries and the 2015 general elections.

2018 Electoral Act And 2019 Party Primaries
By INEC’s 2019 Election timetable, party primaries commenced on August 18, 2018 and ended October 7, 2018 for national and state elections, while that of the FCT Area Council was slated for between September 4 and October 27, 2018. It was expected that the amended 2018 Electoral Act would have been ready even before the primaries.

That never happened because NASS members went on extended vacation and President Muhammadu Buhari was to complain of poor drafting and errors in the proposed 2018 Electoral Bill sent to him for assent by National Assembly before they went on recess.

It was expected that National Assembly members would hurriedly reconvene to correct the alterations in the bill to beat the deadline, but that never happened before the parties commenced their primaries on August 18 using the 2010 Electoral Act.

Expressing concern over the non-signing of the 2018 Electoral Bill before the deadline, Igini said: “I am worried, if not disturbed that President Buhari may not be able to assent to the new 2018 Electoral Bill that contains profound changes that would tremendously re-define the process of party primaries for the nomination of candidates for the 2019 elections.

“We are likely to have more of the same kind of primaries outcome lacking internal democracy that would engender rancour and disarray among party members. We have just few days to the commencement of the primaries across the nation and the governing Act is the extant one. lf (the proposed provisions contained in) the new bill is signed after these primaries, it cannot operate retroactively and so we might just be headed to utter chaos that bedeviled the 2015 elections.

“Already some parties have factional disputes, which are bound to be worsened if we don’t get the pending new Act awaiting the assent of the President. Remember that nothing has changed in terms of attitude and character of the political elites.”

Just as predicated, parties’ primaries especially that of the PDP and APC were manipulated with impunity and brazenness. There was no level playing ground. It has been war of words among party chieftains. Lives were lost in some cases, and the will of the electorate were subverted.

Many aspirants were shortchanged in many ways, ranging from denial of access to the venue of the exercise, financial extortion, harassment, intimidation, imposition, and substitution. It was impunity galore. Different rules were applied in the same situation by the party leaderships in collaboration with some mischievous INEC personnel.

While all these lasted, INEC appeared helpless, having been castrated by the provisions of 2010 Electoral Act. Some INEC personnel capitalised on the development to engage in fraudulent acts with some desperate politicians.

Meanwhile, investigations showed that some fundamental changes that will guarantee free and fair primaries and elections were made in the pending Electoral Act No.6 2010 (Amendment) Bill 2018 waiting for Buhari’s assent.

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