The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), yesterday, denied doctoring and backdating documents to accommodate nominations of Ahmad Lawan and Godswill Akpabio as senatorial candidates for the 2023 general elections. INEC also said it is yet to recognise “any of the two personalities as a senatorial candidate.”
Lawan, who is the current Senate President and Akpabio had both contested in the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential primary, which was won by Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Both have, however, chosen to pick up Senate tickets for Yobe North and Akwa Ibom North West senatorial districts respectively, sparking controversy over the legality of such a move since most Senate primaries were conducted before the presidential primary.
An online medium had earlier suggested that the two embattled politicians had got waivers to be named as their party’s candidate for the election, alleging that the Commission succumbed to pressure from the ruling APC to doctor and backdate the certified true copy of reports to accommodate the duo, but INEC, in a statement signed by its National Commissioner, Festus Okoye, said the matter is still in court.
“The forms of the two personalities in question were not published by the Commission,” INEC said.
“The decision of the Commission triggered legal action, which are 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 sub-judice.”
There have been controversy 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, the 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.”
LEGAL minds also weighed in on the matter yesterday. According to Yomi Alliyu (SAN), it is not a matter of succumbing to pressure, but acting in consonant with the law, especially the Electoral Act, 2022, and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
He said: “So far as the Electoral Act is concerned, it is inter-party nomination that is prohibited. Once you are nominated by your party or contested a primary thereat, you cannot go to any other party to contest their primary for any election or be nominated for any contestable election for that election year.
“However, horizontal and vertical participation is allowed if it is intra-party, so long as there is vacancy created by death or withdrawal of a candidate who won the primary.
“The unusual situation is when the party finds out that the person who won their primary and nominated for election is patently unqualified for the particular election for lack of requisite qualification, which may make the party liable on conviction for as much as N10 million fine!
“In conclusion, INEC would have to follow the law, otherwise APC would be deemed to have presented no candidate, thereby, creating a walkover situation in favour of the runner up at the election.”
Barrister Abubakar Sani said INEC has a duty to act in accordance with the law at all times. If it doesn’t, any person who is affected can challenge its actions.
“INEC cannot approbate and reprobate. Does any law permit it to change its mind after publicly acknowledging a person as duly elected as a party’s candidate? That is the question. To the best of my knowledge, no such law exists. It lacks any legal or moral basis.”
For Stephen Azubuike, if there’s any pressure INEC should succumb to, it is the pressure to strictly abide by the Electoral Act and the Constitution that created it as an independent body. The alleged backdating of official records to accommodate Lawan and Akpabio, contrary to its earlier disposition, is distasteful and it is good INEC has come out to discountenance it.
MEANWHILE, stakeholders in the electoral process have faulted INEC’s decision not to conduct by-elections into three Senate seats, which became vacant about four months ago following resignation of the occupants. The Commission was yet to conduct by-elections into the Senate seats in Nasarawa, Borno and Zamfara states, while constituents lament non-representation in the National Assembly.
The vacancies were declared following the emergence of Senators Abdullahi Adamu and Abubakar Kyari as the national chairman and deputy national chairman (North) of the APC respectively on March 26. While Adamu represented Nasarawa West Senatorial District, Kyari represented Borno North until their resignation on April 12.
Also, Senator Muhammad Hassan Nasiha of Zamfara Central Senatorial District, on March 1, resigned after he was named as the deputy governor of Zamfara State sequel to the removal of Mahdi Aliyu-Gusau.
The lawmaker representing Oron constituency in the House of Representatives, Nse Ekpenyong, died on April 25, his seat is also vacant.
A human rights activist and constitutional lawyer, Dr. Mike Ozekhome (SAN) and some Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) said the denial of the senatorial districts representation amounted to great injustice and infringement on their legitimate rights.
Ozekhome said: “It’s inexcusable, egregious and politically unwise. Senators are direct representatives of the people, hence three senatorial zones are created per state by the Constitution. There are 109 Senators in Nigeria.
“They are also important in attracting constituency projects to their constituents and also in stabilising their political parties in terms of voting numbers, whether in achieving one-third or two-third majority votes.”
The Senior Programme Officer, Centre for Democracy and Development, Austin Aigbe, said INEC may have been too occupied with the 2023 elections.
According to him, while it was true that INEC has the responsibility to conduct elections to fill the vacancies occasioned by resignation and/or death within 30 days following the notification from the head of parliament, “it is also true that INEC seems to be more than ever focused on the 2023 general elections.”
He said: “This is a constitutional matter, INEC must conduct these polls if it can confirm receipts from the President of the Senate. Whereas, the public already know about the resignation of the aforementioned, it doesn’t automatically mean that INEC is informed.
“I, therefore, will want to charge INEC to confirm receipt of the notification from the Senate President. The National Assembly’s tenure ends in June 2023, there is still a long way to go for the people of the affected senatorial districts, without a senatorial representative at the Senate.”
The Hallowmace Foundation is already interrogating INEC over vacant seats at the National Assembly and some state Houses of Assembly. The foundation said it is at a loss as to why INEC is shirking from its duties, wondering whether it is becoming so overwhelmed that the need to conduct by-election to fill such vacancies has been brushed aside.
Executive Director of the foundation, Sunny Anderson Osiebe, in a statement, expressed worry that some constituencies have existed for months without any representative, a case he likens to disenfranchisement of the constituents.
He urged the electoral umpire to strive to fill the vacancies as the tenure of the ninth Assembly subsists till June next year.