Shekarau, Nnamani: How INEC can overcome mischief by candidates, parties
Senators Chimaroke Nnamani and Ibrahim Shekarau are both former two-term governors of Enugu and Kano State. The two former governors, who represented their respective districts in the senate, recently joined hands to bring the operation of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) into further public scrutiny.
Both men had aspired to return to the Red Chamber and were cleared by their respective political parties to contest the February 25, elections. But, mid way through the process, Shekarau turned coat, left the party platform on which he was to contest the election-the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP)- and returned to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
On his part, Senator Nnamani, pretending to be piqued by the refusal of PDP to abide by the zoning arrangement as prescribed by the PDP constitution, decided to publicly announce his support for the presidential candidate of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, instead of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the PDP contender.
While NNPP tried to replace Shekarau due to his defection from the party to rival PDP, PDP moved against Nnamani by first suspending him and subsequently announcing his eventual expulsion from the party.
Owing to the assassination of Mr. Oyibo Chukwu, the Labour Party (LP) candidate for Enugu East Senatorial District election, the poll was postponed to March 11 then 18. However, INEC announced the outcome of the February 25 presidential and National Assembly poll, indicating that Shekarau triumphed on the platform of NNPP.
Consequently, the two former governors and senators have become a new talking point in the national interrogation of the competence and capacity of INEC under Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, to do the right things as an independent electoral umpire.
Recently INEC expressed its decision to appeal the judgment of an Abuja Federal High Court, which ruled that voters could cast their ballot on the basis of their temporal voting slip, which was a precursor to the Permanent Voter Card (PVC).
Although INEC’s plan to appeal against the Federal High Court ruling has thrown up concerns as to whether the Commission is protecting public or narrow interest, the twin cases of Nnamani and Shekarau rubs off negatively.
Shortly after his exit from NNPP in August 2022, Senator Shekarau disclosed that he had written to INEC intimating them of his defection and withdrawal from the Senatorial race.
Similarly, during an elaborate ceremony at his expansive residence in Kano City, Shekarau told the audience, including the presidential candidate and running mate of PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, that he wrote the NNPP leadership about his intention to quit. He had stated: “I and thousands of my followers have defected to the People Democratic Party, and are now bona fide members of the PDP. I have formally written to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that I am no longer a senatorial candidate under the NNPP.”
Yet, despite the open confession and defection to PDP, INEC retained Shekarau’s name in its final list of candidates for the 2023 senatorial poll for Kano Central District on NNPP platform.
But, citing provisions of the 2022 Electoral Act, the commission’s Legal Department in Kano, through its head, Suleiman Tahir, said Shekarau did not fulfill the necessary requirements for his name to be expunged from the list of contestants.
“The new electoral law said once your name was initially displayed, before displaying the final list, a candidate will write INEC officially, attach his photos, notifying INEC (of (his) withdrawal from the contest.
“Or, in the event someone dies. These are the only two instances one can withdraw once his name was initially displayed. Mr Shekarau did not do any of the above,” Tahir told reporters during an interaction on the matter.
Although it sounds lazy and depicts laissez-faire approach to its duties and responsibilities, INEC sustained its impression that there was no official communication from Shekarau and NNPP about the candidate’s withdrawal from the Kano Central Senatorial contest.
On February 28, 2023, the Commission’s ineptitude and lack of vigilance bore fruit: Shekarau was returned as winner of the senatorial contest that he did not participate.
INEC’s returning officer for Kano Central, Tijjani Darma, declared that the incumbent Senator, Shekarau, scored 456, 787 votes to defeat Abdulkarim Abdulsalam of APC and Laila Buhari of PDP, who polled 168, 677 and 55, 237 ballots respectively.
As part of the ensuing mess caused by INEC, the NNPP’s polling agent, Shehu Usman, countered the declaration by Darma. Usman contended that there was a court order on INEC to accept the name of Mr. Hanga as the right candidate for the election.
But, the agent of APC, Yusuf Atta, joined issue with Usman, arguing that following Shekarau’s withdrawal, INEC should declare the APC candidate, Abdulsalam, who scored the second highest number of valid votes cast.
Darma’s disposition that the NNPP and APC should approach the election tribunal when constituted came as the high point of INEC’s dereliction of duty and repudiation of its independence as electoral umpire.
Shekarau had through his media aide, Sule Yau Sule, declared that he was not interested in going to receive the certificate of return, stressing that he had nothing to do with the senatorial contest after quitting NNPP.
Nonetheless, blaming INEC for the mess, NNPP national chairman, Prof. Rufai Alkali, wonder why the commission should approach the court to appeal a Federal High Court ruling on a matter between two political parties.
Alkali stated: “I know there is a place of morality in the court of public opinion. We are at the Supreme Court on the issue of Shekarau. We are not supposed to talk on this.
“Shekarau accepted to join our party, we accepted him, he got a ticket to run for the Senate seat in Kano Central, but he later wrote to our chairman that he has resigned from the party.
“Another primary was conducted and Sani Hanga emerged, but INEC did not accept his name, we went to court and won the case, they (INEC) went to Supreme Court. INEC is not a political party, why go to the Supreme Court?”
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court had last Friday held that Rufai Hanga is the rightful senatorial candidate of NNPP for Kano Central Senatorial District, even as the court invalidated Shekarau’s candidacy on the grounds of his defection to PDP.
According to the judgment read by Justice Emmanuel Agim, the five-member panel of Supreme Court Justices held that INEC’s appeal lacked merit and substance.
But, in a swift response to the apex court judgment, Kano State APC chairman, Alhaji Abdullahi Abbas, rejected the notion that the Supreme Court declared Hanga as winner of the Kano Central Senatorial contest.
In a statement, Abbas said it amounts to a misrepresentation of the judgment to say that the apex court declared Hanga winner. Part of the statement read: “The attention of APC was drawn to the misleading news publication/report widely circulated on several mass media, print and social media platforms, alleging that the Supreme Court had declared and returned Senator Rufa’i Sani Hanga as the winner of the 2023 General Election for the member of the Senate representing Kano Central Senatorial District of Kano State…
“For the avoidance of doubt and to set the record straight as well as properly informing the general public about the clear facts and circumstances, the subject matter of the civil action before the Federal High Court, Abuja Division (Coram: Honourable Justice Z.B. Abubakar) in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/1632/2022, NNPP. v. INEC, which cumulated in the Supreme Court’s decision delivered today, had absolutely nothing to do with the declaration and return of Senator Rufa’i Sani Hanga as the winner of the 2023 General Election for the member of the Senate representing Kano Central Senatorial District of Kano State.
“Furthermore, and importantly so, neither Senator Ibrahim Shekarau nor Senator Rufa’i Sani Hanga were parties to the case which was the subject of the Supreme Court’s Judgment and it is an elementary principle of law that Judgment cannot be delivered in favour of a person who is not a party to a suit or appeal.
“Senator Rufa’i Sani Hanga, who was never a candidate in the just concluded election cannot be declared and returned as the winner of the said election. Doing so, will amount to an affront to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the Electoral Act, 2022.
“By the law, INEC has already declared Senator Ibrahim Shekarau as the winner of the 2023 General Election and as such cannot make a second declaration and return of another person as the winner of the same election.
“APC and its candidate, has in line with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022, written to INEC appealing to it to review its decision on the declaration and return of Senator Ibrahim Shekarau, who was not qualified to contest as at the time of the conduct of the election.
“However, INEC having failed to exercise its powers of review under Section 65 (1) of the Electoral Act, 2022, despite the appeal from us, the party and its candidate had directed its team of lawyers to approach the National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal for redress, so to reclaim the mandate of the party lawfully entitled to it and its candidate by the majority of the lawful vote cast at the election.”
Perhaps, in what appears as a reawakening to its duties and responsibilities, INEC decided to assert its authority and independence in the spat between PDP and its candidate for Enugu East Senatorial District poll.
In a bid to enforce party discipline, the PDP embarked on an afterthought by seeking the withdrawal of Senator Nnamani from the senatorial contest. The party wants to punish the candidate for working against its presidential contender, Atiku, in the general elections.
On his part, Nnamani claims that he acted on the mood of the nation and in line with the party’s constitution, which stipulates the zoning of the presidential seat between the North and South.
INEC insists that the disagreement between PDP and its candidate is such that could only be settled through its internal disciplinary mechanism, stressing that political parties can no longer substitute candidates already nominated, whose names were published on the final list.
In a statement after INEC published the final list of candidates, its Commissioner for Information and Voter Education, Mr. Festus Okoye, said only dead candidates and those whose nomination are voided by the courts can be substituted.
While stressing that the window for withdrawal and substitution of candidates had closed after the publication of the final list of candidates, Okoye acknowledged that only NNPP had approached it to replace Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, who defected to PDP.
Okoye warned that INEC would not succumb to attempts to distract it with belated requests for substitution of candidates, noting: “The period for the withdrawal and substitution of candidates has elapsed and the Commission has published the final list of candidates standing nominated for national and state elections.
“At this point in time, a candidate can only get on the list if the duly and validly nominated candidate dies. Any form of withdrawal on grounds of voluntary withdrawal or incapacitation can no longer take place.”
Based on INEC’s stance, PDP’s attempt to withdraw from next Saturday’s rescheduled Enugu East Senatorial election, hits a brick wall. The question that follows is whether the party has power to restrain Nnamani from receiving the certificate of return of he wins or ask parties to proceed to the Election Petition Tribunal.
Riled by the attempt by PDP to frustrate his participation in the poll, Nnamani, who like Shekarau, is a member of the current Senate, has written INEC.
While chiding PDP for withdrawing from next Saturday’s rescheduled Enugu East Senatorial poll, the former Enugu State governor declared that the Electoral Act 2022 stands as a better guide for electoral issues.He said PDP lacks the locus to abort his candidacy, insisting, “My candidature (for Enugu East Senatorial race) is irrevocable,” because his people and constituents have endorsed him.
His words: “I have been properly cleared by INEC to contest next Saturday’s polls. Besides, the PDP NWC cannot unilaterally remove me from the contest, because my purported expulsion is already subject of litigation pending before the Federal High Court in suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/163/2023 seeking to set aside the said expulsion from the party.”
Further, the Senator noted that he had in a letter through his counsel Rickey Tarfa SAN notified the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu, that nothing has warranted him to withdraw from the race.
While assuring his constituents and supporters that his candidature for the election is irrevocable, Nnamani, who incurred PDP’s wrath by opening supporting the presidential candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, said it was too late in the day to stop him.
He remarked that through his counsel, Tarfa, he is already seeking an order of injunction against INEC from recognizing and acting upon the purported expulsion by the NWC.
The Senator stated: “It is also important for the commission to note and be well guided that by the virtue of section 33 of the electoral Act, a political party cannot on its own arbitrarily remove or change its candidate whose name has been submitted and published by the commission for an election, except in the event of death or withdrawal by the candidate.
“Section 33 of the Electoral Act, 2022, provides that ‘A political party shall not be allowed to change or substitute its candidate whose name has been submitted under section 29 of the electoral Act, except in the case of death or withdrawal by the candidate, provided that in the case of such withdrawal or death of a candidate, the political party affected shall within 14 days of the occurrence of the event, hold a fresh primary election to produce and submit a fresh candidate to INEC for the election.
“Clearly, flowing from the above provisions, the powers of a political party to solely remove or change its candidate following the submission and publication of his name by the Commission is restricted only to instances of withdrawal or death of the candidate which is not applicable in the present circumstance.
“Accordingly, we must humbly urge the Commission to discountenance the request of the NWC of the PDP to removal or change of our client as a candidate of the PDP for the 2023 general elections for the Enugu East Senatorial District following his alleged expulsion from the party.
“We trust that the Commission will be properly advised by the terms of our letter herein in taking a position that fosters the rule of law among the parties herein, and especially not to undermine the powers and authority of the court.”
Despite improvement in the Electoral Act 2022, it is obvious by the day that INEC has to remain focused and dispassionate not to fall for tricks of politicians and parties. The electoral body must be neutral and not to pick and choose what rules to apply.