As political parties participating in this year’s elections have started to openly disobey the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), a prominent Lagos lawyer and pro-democracy activist, Femi Falana SAN, has said that the electoral agency cannot ban parties from campaigning following the dramatic shift of the Presidential and National Assembly elections to February 23.
INEC had said that parties were not allowed to campaign afresh after the period of campaign ended last Thursday.
But the parties do not appear to be obeying the directive that they should stop campaigns after the postponement of last Saturday’s elections. INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, had while giving reasons for the postponement of the elections on Saturday, said campaigns had ended on Thursday.
The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)and the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), do not seem to be obeying the order. They have said that they will continue their campaigns.
APC factional National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, and a Director in the Atiku Campaign Organisation, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, were quoted by the Hausa Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation as saying the electoral laws allowed for campaigns to go on until 24 hours before polls.
According to Kwankwaso, ‘’nobody asked that the elections should be delayed. So, since the elections have been postponed, they (INEC) should allow everybody to campaign. Everybody knows that what the electoral law says is that campaigns can continue until 24 hours to the elections so, since the elections have been postponed by one week, political parties should continue with their campaigns.’’
Kwankwaso, who said he was certain nobody was happy with INEC’s decision to postpone the elections, prayed that such would not repeat itself on Saturday. Giving fillip to their position, the PDP said they took the decision to re-open its campaigns after due consideration of the provision of the Electoral Act.
National Publicity Secretary of the party, Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement, said the PDP rejected what he called the wrongful administrative prohibition of open campaigns by INEC. ‘’Our position is predicated on the clear provision of Section 99 (1) of the Electoral Act, which stipulated that “for the purposes of this Act, the period of campaigning in public by every political party shall commence 90 days before polling day and end 24 hours prior to that day.
‘’The clear import of this provision, in the current situation, is that given the postponement of the elections to February 23, the 24 hours requirement for closure of all public campaigns falls on the midnight of February 21.’’
The BBC quoted Oshiomhole as saying that the electoral law allowed for campaigns until 24 hours before the commencement of polls. ‘’INEC cannot go contrary to what the law says. Everyone knows that campaigns can only be suspended 24 hours to an election, I will continue with campaigns on Sunday (yesterday) because if we don’t campaign, people will not come out and vote.
‘’We will tell the people what happened has happened. Let them come out and vote for the President (Muhammadu Buhari). For one week, if we don’t talk, people will forget; we will campaign.’’
Apparently rattled by the parties’ defiance, INEC has said that they will take a final decision on whether or not political parties could resume campaigns for the elections this Monday.
Chief Press Secretary to INEC Chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, who disclosed this, said the meeting of the commission’s management will determine whether the electoral body would shift its ground on its earlier decision on campaigns or not. ‘’On the issue of campaigns, the commission will meet tomorrow (Monday) and take a decision on the matter. On the issue of Zamfara State APC candidates appearing on the ballot papers, I have no comments on that at the moment.’’
Already, CUPP has asked their members to shun INEC’s directive and resume campaigns ahead of the Saturday’s elections. Their National Spokesman, Imo Ugochinyere, claimed in a statement that Yakubu’s position was unconstitutional, and argued that since the presidential election had been moved to Saturday, political parties were at liberty to resume campaigns till midnight on Thursday.
Ugochinyere,is therefore, asking members of CUPP to resume campaigns and mobilise voters for the presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar.
In the mean time, Falana in a statement said with respect, INEC had not paid attention to Section 99 of the Electoral Act which provided that the period of campaigning in public by political parties shall end 24 hours before polling day.
According to him, ‘’since elections have been shifted the period of the campaign has also shifted and will end 24 hours to the new polling day. Therefore, the limitation of campaign imposed by INEC should be reversed without any delay. Furthermore, INEC should comply with all valid and subsisting court orders with respect to the candidates sponsored by political parties for the general elections. Otherwise, the courts may annul some of the elections conducted by INEC on grounds of exclusion of qualified candidates.’’
Falana also said that INEC did not have any cogent reason to have postponed the election based on logistics problem alone: ‘’By virtue of section 26 of the Electoral Act, an election may be postponed if a serious breach of peace or violence is likely to occur or on account of a natural disaster or other emergencies. To prevent any abuse of power the reasons for postponement of any election must be cogent and verifiable.
‘’Furthermore, section 105 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria provides that if the Federation is at war in which the territory of the country is physically involved and the President considers that it is not practicable to hold elections the national assembly may pass a resolution to postpone the election. And such postponement shall not be more than six months at any one time.
‘’Therefore, any postponement of elections on account of logistical or operational reasons cannot be justified under the Electoral Act or the Constitution. Since general elections had been postponed on two previous occasions due to lack of adequate preparations the Independent National Electoral Commission ought to have prevented the shifting of the 2019 general election.
‘’Even though all the political parties have blamed INEC for the postponement some of them contributed to the national shame and embarrassment. Owing to the decision of political leaders to select and impose candidates on their parties in utter violation of section 87 of the Electoral Act many aggrieved candidates rushed to court for legal redress.’’
Continuing, Falana said not less than 600 pre-election cases were filed and were pending in the various courts while not less 40 orders had directed INEC to accept the names of candidates who won the primaries but were short-changed, pointing out that the resort to litigation due to the impunity of majority of political parties contributed to the unwarranted delay in the preparations of INEC for the general elections.
‘’It is interesting to note that both APC and PDP have traded their usual blames over the postponement of the general election by the INEC. But apart from INEC, both parties ought to apologise to Nigerians for their deliberate refusal to implement the far-reaching recommendations of the Electoral Reforms Panels headed by Retired Justice Mohammed Uwais, Sheik Ahmed Lemu and Dr Ken Nnamani which were set up by the Yaradua, Jonathan and Buhari regimes respectively.
‘’Each of the panels had recommended the unbundling of INEC for effective performance. For instance, as INEC lacks the capacity to prosecute electoral offenders an electoral offences commission/ tribunal was recommended for the enforcement of laws to address all forms of electoral offences and consequently stem the incidence of electoral violence’’, the Lagos lawyer said.
While saying that even the panels had recommended that the posts of the chairman and other members of the INEC be advertised in order to make them independent of the Executive, but that in a bid to sustain the status quo of electoral fraud, these recommendations and others had been rejected by the PDP and APC-led Federal Government, he added, ‘’the shameful postponement of the 2019 general election would not have occurred if the Federal Government had unbundled the INEC and ensured the practice of internal democracy in the political parties. It is public knowledge that both APC and PDP have not committed themselves to electoral reforms. Hence, they have conveniently forgotten that the late President Umaru Yar’Adua had admitted that the 2007 general election which produced his regime was highly flawed.
‘’Since the system will continue to produce flawed elections all democratic forces should mount sufficient pressure on the Federal Government to implement the recommendations of the aforesaid electoral reform panels, once the 2019 rescheduled elections are concluded.’’