< 2023: No law for placeholders in lieu of running mates — INEC – Asphericnews
Sun. Jul 3rd, 2022

2023: No law for placeholders in lieu of running mates — INEC

INEC

Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

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The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has dismissed the concept of “placeholder” for vice-presidential candidates as illegal, saying it “has no place in Nigeria’s constitutional and legal framework.”

To beat the June 17 deadline for submission of presidential and vice presidential candidates, some parties submitted names of vice-presidential candidates who they described as placeholders.

The ruling All progressives Congress, APC, and the Labour Party, LP, are caught in the web of placeholder running mates

In the APC, Kabiru Masari, the party’s Welfare Secretary was named as the running mate to Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.

Some APC leaders said Masari is a “placeholder”, adding that a final candidate would be named.

Indeed, sources told Vanguard, last night, that Masari had signed a withdrawal form and would not constitute a problem when told to do so.

However, National Chairman of the APC, Senator Abdullahi Adamau, said the party has not breached any law in nominating its vice presidential candidate, saying it took its decision after “careful” legal consultations.

Former Borno State governor, Senator Kashim Shettima; Kano State governor, Umar Ganduje; and Plateau State governor, Simon Lalong, are said to be top among those being considered as Tinubu’s running mate.

In like manner, Dr Doyin Okupe announced that he would be “standing in as the vice-presidential candidate” of Mr. Peter Obi, the Labour party standard bearer.

The LP is in talks with Senator Musa Kwankwaso of New Nigeria Peoples Party, NNPP; and former INEC chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega of the Peoples Redemption Party, PRP, among others, for an alliance.

If that happens, Okupe would give way to another person as LP vice presidential candidate. Parties have up to July 17 to substitute candidates.

‘A Nigerian invention’

Speaking on the issue in a chat with Arise TV, yesterday, Dr Festus Okoye, the Commissioner for Information and Voter Education of INEC, said the “placeholder is a unique Nigerian invention” for which there is no legal provision, adding that the electoral umpire could only replace a candidate if the person writes a “sworn affidavit stating that he is withdrawing from the race within the time frame provided by the law.”

INEC spoke as a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja ordered it not to end the ongoing voters’ registration on June 30 as planned.

The court order got the endorsement of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and Social Democratic Party, SDP, with INEC saying it was yet to receive a certified court order.

Said Okoye: “The constitution makes it very clear that you cannot run alone as a presidential candidate. You must nominate an associate to run with you for that position.

“As far as INEC is concerned, the presidential candidates have submitted their associates to run with them in the presidential election.

“As far as we are concerned, there is no form submitted by the presidential candidates where they said ‘we are submitting this person’s name as a place or space holder. The issue of space or place holder is a unique Nigerian invention that has no place in our constitutional and legal framework.

“Political parties’ candidates have submitted names of associates to run with them, and that is the position of the law as at today and nothing has changed.

“For there to be a substitution of a candidate, the vice-presidential candidate must write to INEC, with a sworn affidavit stating that he is withdrawing from the race within the time-frame provided by the law. That’s the only way there can be substitution of candidates.”

Court stops INEC from ending voters’ registration June 30

Meanwhile, the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja yesterday stopped INEC from going ahead with its plan to end the ongoing voters’ registration exercise on June 30.

The court order followed an ex-parte application filed by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, and185 concerned Nigerians.

Justice Mobolaji Olajuwon, who granted the order, fixed June 29 to hear the substantive suit marked FHC/L/CS/1034/2022, which was initially filed at the Lagos Division of the Court but later transferred to Abuja.

Specifically, SERAP, which is a non-governmental organization, had alongside185 other plaintiffs, approached the court, praying it to, among other things, “declare as unconstitutional, illegal, and incompatible with international standards, the failure of the electoral body to extend the deadline for voter registration to allow eligible Nigerians to exercise their right.”

The plaintiffs further sought an order, “restraining INEC, its agents, privies, assigns, or any other person(s) claiming through it from discontinuing the continuous voters’ registration exercise from the 30th June, 2022, or any other date pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.”

The plaintiffs contended that INEC, having extended the deadline for political parties to conduct their primaries by six days, from June 3 to June 9, it ought to also grant the same consideration to Nigerians by extending the online pre-registration exercise it ended on May 30 as well as the Continuous Voter Registration, CVR, it fixed to end on June 30.

They, therefore, urged the court to determine, “Whether the failure of INEC to extend the deadline for voter registration, is not a violation of Nigerian Constitution, 1999, as amended, the Electoral Act, and international standards.

They sought “a declaration that the failure of INEC to extend the deadline for voter registration is a violation of eligible Nigerians’ rights to participate freely in their own government, equality and equal protection; and “an order of mandamus to direct and compel INEC to extend voter registration by a minimum of three months and take effective measures to ensure that eligible Nigerians are able to register to exercise their right to vote in the 2023 general elections.”

In an affidavit that was attached in support of the suit, the plaintiff, averred that allowing INEC to enforce “unrealistic voter registration deadline while extending the deadline for party primaries”, would deny and abridge the constitutional and international human rights of eligible voters in the country.

“INEC mandates ought to be exercised in a fair, just and non-discriminatory manner. The extension of voter registration would ensure that Nigerian voters are treated equally and fairly. The future of Nigeria’s democracy depends on it.

‘Voters are critical stakeholders’

“Voters are also critical stakeholders in the electoral process. Treating all eligible Nigerian voters fairly would advance the people’s right to vote and to participate in their own government.

“INEC must not only be independent and impartial in the exercise of its constitutional and statutory responsibilities, but must also be seen to be independent and impartial.

“Extending the voter registration exercise would also bolster voter confidence in the electoral process.

One of the people’s most sacred rights is the right to vote. The commission has a constitutional and statutory responsibility to ensure the effective exercise of the right of all eligible voters to participate in their own government.

“Extending the deadline for party primaries without providing adequate time and opportunity for eligible voters to register and participate in the 2023 general elections would amount to an unfair and discriminatory treatment of Nigerian voters, and violate other human rights.

“Extending the voter registration deadline would provide more time for eligible voters, including young people, the elderly, people living with disability, as well as those resident in states facing security challenges and living in IDP camps to participate in the 2023 elections…

“The Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended) provides in Section 14(1)(c) that, ‘the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.

“Section 9(6) of the Electoral Act 2022 provides that ‘the registration of voters, updating and revision of the Register of Voters under this section shall not stop not later than 90 days before any election covered by this Act.

“Similarly, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance guarantee the right to political participation.

“These human rights treaties also require state parties including Nigeria to ensure the independence and impartiality of national electoral bodies responsible for the management of elections, as well as to promote the establishment of the necessary conditions to foster citizen participation,”the plaintiffs added.

INEC must asset its independence —PDP

Responding to the issues, the PDP charged INEC to assert its independence by ensuring that the full weight of the law was brought to bear on parties that had introduced the illegal “place holder” candidates into the nation’s political lexicon.

National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Debo Ologunagba, in a telephone interview with Vanguard, explained that actual voting on election day is a culmination of a process which begins with the announcement of a time table/timelines for activities by INEC to the nomination of candidates by parties and all other activities in between.

The PDP spokesperson expressed sadness that the ruling APC had been allowed to force INEC into bending over backwards to accommodate its growing acts of impunity with a lack of respect for INEC time-lines for scheduled activities.

This, he said, should not be allowed to continue because the nation’s electoral process must be allowed to grow.

He said: “Placeholders is a new lexicon introduced into our electoral process by the APC.

I recall that when the issue came up on Saturday, my friend and brother, Felix Morka, the APC National Publicity Secretary said that nobody can stampede the party into naming a candidate. I said the impunity which the party and this regime are known for is irresponsible. If INEC has come up with its guidelines and time-table based on the rule of law, the APC believes it can truncate it without repercussions.

“The greatest challenge we have in this country is that institutions are abused by people who claim to be in authority who ought to be the custodians of these laws. These people go in at will to violate that process because the APC is a lawless party, this should not be allowed in the interest of our democracy.

“The INEC set its schedule of activities in order to plan as provided for in the Electoral Act as passed by the National Assembly so that it can have sufficient time to set things right.

“Elections is about processes but because the APC cannot operate when there is an orderly process, they go all out to disrupt the process.

“They started by forcing the process of party primaries to be choked up.

We must have a system in place where any party that does not obey the processes set up by INEC must be sanctioned.”

Speaking on the issue of the extension of the voter registration period, Ologunagba said although he was yet to study the court judgment, “the PDP as a law-abiding party will support any lawful act that will provide an opportunity for more Nigerians to participate in the electoral process.

‘’Democracy is about popular participation. Our party will support any lawful action that will enable more participation in the democratic process.

APC followed careful legal advice — Adamu

However, National Chairman of the APC, Senator Abdullahi Adamau, said the party has not breached any law in nominating its vice presidential candidate, saying it took its decision after “careful” legal consultations.

Addressing State House correspondents after accompanying Ekit State Governor-Elect, Mr Abiodun Oyebanji, on a visit to President Muhammadu Buhari, Adamu said APC was comfortable with what it had done.

On speculations that Kabir Masari may not want to step down if he is indeed standing in as Tinubu’s running mate, Adamu said such speculations should be dismissed because “we are not in the speculative world. We are governed by the laws of the land. There’s nothing our presidential candidate has done with regards to returning his forms that is not within the confines of the law of the land.”

He continued: “Everything we have done so far, we did very carefully with legal consultation and we are cocksure, we are not going to have the kind of speculation that you are professing at this point in time. We are very comfortable with what we have done.”

SDP lauds court’s ruling on voter registration, faults INEC stand on the placeholder

On its part, Social Democratic Party, SDP, commended the ruling of a Federal High Court ordering INEC from stopping voters’ registration on June 30; and faulted the electoral umpire for declaring its non-recognition of placeholder in vice-presidential position as recently done by Labour Party.

National Publicity Secretary of the party, Rufus Aiyenigba, in a chat with Vanguard, said by stopping INEC from discontinuing the voter registration exercise, the judiciary has enabled participatory democracy to go on unhindered.

He said: “What the court has done is good for our democracy.

Voter registration should remain a continuous exercise because every day, someone turns 18 years and once anyone attains that age, it is his or her responsibility to register to vote.

“There is no need to stop the exercise as INEC had planned to do. That would have amounted to a denial of the civil rights of eligible Nigerians of voting age to participate in the political process.”

Read Also: INEC Reacts To Parties Calls For Adjustment Of 2023 Elections timetable

The party chided INEC over its stand on the placeholder.

“There is provision for withdrawal of candidates by political parties. That is why a withdrawal form is attached to the main forms. A party may decide to replace a candidate, for instance, if it discovers that a candidate is unfit for the position, medically or otherwise. INEC should stop confusing people over issues that are quite simple.”

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