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Primaries: Don’t stampede political parties, APC chieftain warns INEC

By Muyiwa Adeyemi (Politics Editor), Adamu Abuh (Abuja) and Silver Nwokoro (Lagos)
20 May 2022   |   3:44 am
A Chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr. Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, has warned Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) against stampeding political parties in the conduct of primaries.

Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim

• Rights lawyer drags APC, PDP, others to court over high cost of forms
• Agbakoba urges electoral umpire to be neutral on petitions

A Chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr. Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, has warned Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) against stampeding political parties in the conduct of primaries.

He said: “Insistence of INEC that political parties must conclude their primaries before June 3, 2022 is unreasonable and illegal.”

In a statement by his media office in Abuja, he said: “Party primaries are integral part of the democratic process, and it is bewildering that INEC is not even interested in debates between aspirants, which remains a huge opportunity to define party platforms.”

He said while the Electoral Act is clear that parties have 180 days to an election to submit their nominations, which is in August, it seems what “INEC wants is just for parties to gather somewhere and select candidates any how”.

Olawepo-Hashim argued that while INEC has power to draw an election timetable, it has no such power over timetable for parties’ primaries. The timetables for primaries are the internal affairs of political parties, in so far as they do not violate the electoral act.

“The right of political parties to internally regulate themselves is an essential part of their freedom of association, in as much as their actions do not violate the Constitution and the Electoral Act,” he said.

THIS was as constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, Chief Festus Ogwuche, approached an Abuja Federal High Court over the high cost of expression of interest and nomination forms charged aspirants by political parties.

In the suit (FHC/ABJ/ CS/677/2022), Ogwuche, in an originating summons, maintained that imposition of fees which range from N500,000 to N100 million by political parties is in clear breach of Article 13 of the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights, Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25 of the International Covenant on Human and Peoples Rights and Sections 222 (b), 224, 14 and 17 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, which guarantees the citizenry the right to participate in the governance of the country.”

The Port Harcourt-based legal practitioner thereby sought, among others, an order setting aside the fees paid by aspirants for the purchase of nomination and expression of interest forms and a declaration that they are unlawful, unconstitutional, criminal, null and void.

MEANWHILE, a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, has urged INEC to be impartial and neutral in election petitions.

He also urged the commission to clarify its position on how the 2023 elections will be conducted. He stressed that INEC’s recent statement that elections will be conducted manually and electronically is confusing, as it allows politicians opportunity for mischief.

The rules set out by INEC, he said, must be clear on how votes will be counted. Agbakoba, in a statement yesterday, noted that INEC’s proper role is to assist courts to resolve election disputes but unfortunately, it has acted as a defendant in election petitions.

He said: “This is very wrong. First, it puts on the petitioner the onerous burden to produce evidence, which INEC holds in its custody. As neutral regulators, the proper role of INEC is to assist the courts by always producing documents. The burden should not be on the helpless petitioners.”