The Unending Controversies over INEC’s Substitution of PDP Candidate

0

Onyebuchi Ezigbo
Recently the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) came up with a decision to replace the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the November 26, 2016 governorship election. In its final list of governorship candidates for the Ondo gubernatorial election, the commission recognized the candidate of the Senator Ali Modu Sheriff-led faction of the PDP, Jimoh Ibrahim, and dropped Mr. Eyitayo Jegede, the governorship candidate produced by the other PDP faction led by Senator Ahmed Makarfi. Jegede, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, whose name was originally listed by INEC is the favoured candidate of the incumbent governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko. While Jegede emerged as the PDP’s candidate from a primary election process duly monitored by INEC, the same commission declined to monitor the primary election organized by the Sheriff PDP faction to elect Jimoh Ibrahim.

INEC which held a long closed-door meeting to approve the list of governorship candidates for the election, resolved to substitute the name of Eyitayo Jegede for Ibrahim in adherence to an order of the Federal High Court in Abuja.

The Spokesman to the INEC Chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi while explaining the decision of the commission in an interview said that Ibrahim’s name had to be prefixed ‘Court Order” to indicate that it came through a court order and that it is also subject to a possible change if there is a superior court ruling on the matter. Before the verdict of the commission there was an air of apprehension and anxiety yesterday among supporters of rival factional governorship candidates of the PDP as all awaited the release of the list of approved candidates by INEC. According to INEC, the replacement of the PDP candidate, Jegede with Ibrahim was in adherence to the ruling of a Federal High Court in Abuja presided over by Justice Okon Abang.

The court had ordered INEC to accept Jimoh Ibrahim as the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the governorship election in Ondo State. Justice Okon Abang also gave the order in a ruling on an application for the enforcement of his earlier judgment delivered on June 29 this year. In its the June 29 ruling, Justice Abang had ordered INEC to only accept the names of the candidates sent by the faction of the Ondo State Executive Committee of the PDP led by Biyi Poroye and Ademola Genty, which had the backing of the Senator Sheriff-led National Working Committee.
Poroye and Genty, who applied to the court for themselves and on behalf of the Ondo State chapter of the PDP, said the post-judgment application was informed by INEC’s refusal to accept their candidate, as directed by the court in its June 29 judgment. In the same vein, the Abuja division of the Federal High Court had also refused an application brought by the governorship candidate of the Ahmed Makarfi-led faction seeking permission to appeal the court’s earlier decision.

The INEC’s decision to act on the orders of the Abuja court after initial hesitation led to speculations that the commission may not have acted alone but probably under the influence of external but powerful forces. Since that controversial verdict of INEC, many theories have emerged about how possibly the commission may have been either cajoled or pressurized into jettisoning the original position of its legal team and to go ahead to recognize Jimoh Ibrahim as the candidate of the PDP. There were several versions as to what may have transpired on the matter. For instance, some persons have said that after receiving a copy of the Justice Abang’s judgement, INEC referred it to it’s legal department to study and evaluate. According this version, the INEC legal team after going through the ruling, felt that the order was not fundamentally different from what happened during a similar dispute over the authentic candidate of the PDP for the Edo state governorship election.

The legal team, it was said recommended the maintenance of the status quo and retention of Jegede, hinging their position on the fact that Jegege emerged from the PDP’s governorship primary election monitored by the commission. Those in support of this version had alleged that certain influential politicians in the All Progressives Congress (APC) were behind the deal to get Jegede substituted so that both him and the incumbent Governor, Mimiko can get out the way to enable the APC’s governorship candidate, Rotimi Akeredolu, have an easy run. In their postulations, they alleged that Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai, Power Minister Babatunde Fashola and Minister of Mines and Steel Development Kayode Fayemi had worked with a top official in INEC to set aside the recommendations of the commission’s legal team and to base its action on the court order. As wild as this version of the story may seem, a new allegation by one of the contenders in the Ondo state gubernatorial election and the candidate of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), Chief Olusola Oke, is giving it credibility. Oke was reported to have alleged that Governors Ibikunle Amosun, Nasir El-Rufai and Abubakar Badru, as well as former governor Fashola were plotting to stop him from contesting the poll.

According to the Director-General of the Olusola Oke Campaign Organisation, Bola Ilori, who addressed a news conference in Akure last Tuesday. the move is to create an advantage for Rotimi Akeredolu, the APC governorship candidate in the forthcoming election. “This plot to stop Chief Oke from contesting the election is simply to clear the way for their protégé, Rotimi Akeredolu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who is also vying for the Ondo State governorship position. The plan of these people is to prevent Olusola Oke from contesting the election because their candidate, Akeredolu, is not in contention, having lost relevance with the people. Thus, they have resorted to lots of underhand tactics to stop him. Also, they have tried several times to compromise the INEC in Ondo State without success.

There is yet another version about how INEC arrived at its decision on the PDP’s candidate, which alluded to the fact that the commission may have fallen to the arm-twisting tactics employed by the businessman-turned politician. Their argument was that Jimoh Ibrahim’s allegation that an official of the INEC demanded a bribe of one million dollars from him in order to accept the court ruling and recognize him as the candidate of the PDP may have swayed the commission’s decision in his favour.

What may have added to the suspicion over the substitution of the PDP candidate in the Ondo governorship election is the fact that the commission has failed to provide convincing reasons for its action. Unlike the commission which would normally give reasons for any position it took with regard to electoral matter, it has chosen to remain mum. Despite assurances by the commission that it will come up with the reasons for it action penultimate week, nothing had been said in that direction, at least for now. This has left everyone in the dark, including the aggrieved stakeholders, who have not relented in their agitation for justice to be done. Perhaps, the courts will give that justice and fast too.
pix: Mahmood Yakubu.jpg