The Burden of Presidential Nomination Form

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Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Segun James report that Nigerians were jolted when a group presented the leadership of the All Progressives Congress with a cheque to enable President Muhammadu Buhari purchase the party’s presidential nomination form

The Nigerian political scene recently witnessed the emergence of a group that is shrouded in mystery. The arrival of the assemblage which goes by the bogus name, Nigeria Consolidation Ambassadors Network (NCAN) brings back memories of similar spurious clusters which usually gain prominence during the period of high stake political campaign in the country.

On the surface, the NCAN could be categorised along with the mass of other support groups angling for President Muhammadu Buhari’s reelection. While the others were jostling for recognition, the National Coordinator of the NCAN, Mr. Sanusi Musa, a previously unknown personality took a decisive action that turned all attention on him. Though, it may not be considered a coup de grace like the action of the Association for Better Nigeria (ABN) which was one of the vehicles used to scuttle the June 12, 1993 Presidential Election, the exploit of the NCAN has already created far-reaching ripples on the constantly turbulent political waters of Nigeria.

The fanfare with which the NCAN issued N45.5 million to procure the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential nomination and expression of interest forms for President Muhammadu Buhari earned, perhaps, an unexpected hostile response from Nigerians.

Presenting the cheque for the amount to the leadership of APC, Musa said his group was out to assist Buhari, who had earlier complained that the cost of the forms were above his salary. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had revealed that Buhari earns N1.75 million monthly. Assuming his salary remained intact in the last three years, he would have saved N63 million.

THISDAY Board of Editors, rights groups and other stakeholders who rose in condemnation of the action of the NCAN, have also urged Buhari to reject the offer, citing the fact that it contravenes the Electoral Act. The contentious part of the act states: “A presidential aspirant in a Nigerian election will pay no more than N10 million as a nomination fee during the political primary process.”

The two leading political parties in Nigeria have obeyed this provision of the electoral act more in the breach. From inception, nomination of the APC has been on the high side. For the 2015 election, the party sold its presidential form for N27 million. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP), on the other hand has recently pegged its presidential nomination form at N12 million, which is a reduction from the N22 million that it cost to acquire the same form in 2015. This gives the impression that a party in government, understandably, has more at stake.

The NCAN gesture to Buhari has been widely criticised as unlawful with many opponents asking the president to turn down the offer. They said that the action of the group and the acceptance of the offer by the president is a clear contravention of the Electoral Act 2010.

Civil society groups and opposition parties were united in condemning the offer too. The groups, including Centre for Transparency Advocacy, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) and Afenifere as well as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and African Democratic Congress (ADC), said the NCAN gesture was a violation of S91(9) of Electoral Act 2010 as amended and asked the president to reject it.

The presidency, however, refused to take issues with the critics yesterday, asking THISDAY to approach the president’s campaign managers for comments.

“The president’s campaign organisation is the most appropriate body to react to this type of matter,” said Femi Adesina, the Special Adviser to the president on Media and Publicity.

The Director of Strategic Communication of the Buhari Campaign Organisation, Mr. Festus Keyamo (SAN), could not be reached as he was said to have travelled out of the country.

The PDP, for instance, said if Buhari proceeds to accept the offer, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should apply the sanction stipulated in S91 (10) (a) of the electoral law.

“The PDP urges the INEC to note that the purchase of the N45 million form by the group directly violates section 91 (9) of the Electoral Act, which provides that “no individual or other entity shall donate more than One million naira (N1,000,000) to any candidate,” the party said in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan.

According to him, “Since President Buhari has not publicly disowned the purchase of the form by the group, the PDP charges INEC to hold him culpable and make him to face the appropriate sanctions for the violation of electoral laws.”

Arguing that there is a world of difference between an aspirant and a candidate, the APC disagreed that there had been any constitutional or legal infraction by the action of NCAN.

Yenagoa-based lawyer, Mr. Doueyi Fiderikumo posited that the President did not contravene the provisions of S91. He said the Act will only apply after the president had secured his party’s ticket and is presented as the party’s candidate.

According to him, Section 91 of the Act does not apply to the party’s primaries which are strictly the internal affairs of the party.

He said that what was contemplated in the law are the elections that were regulated by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for positions such as President, Vice President, Governor, Deputy Governor Senate, House of Representatives and State House of Assembly which are recognised by the constitution and by-elections into these positions as conducted by the INEC.

Fiderikumo insisted that both NCAN and the President did nothing wrong as purchase of nomination form is strictly a party affair.

“It will only be illegal if it was for the purpose of running for election. No law has been broken for the following reason: First Section 91(9) cannot be interpreted in isolation. To understand whether this section applies to primary election for nomination of candidates of political parties, we have to look at other subsections of S91 – subsections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.

“If you look at these provisions, it is looking at predetermined election – presidential, governorship, national and state assembly elections. It has nothing to do with primary election.”

Fiderikumo opined that, “You cannot be a candidate for election into these offices except where you have secured your party’s ticket after having won the party’s primary. So, you will notice in the first place that S91 actually prohibits INEC election. S91 has nothing to do with party primaries.”

As the legality and the morality of the president’s action continues to rage, his party, the APC in a statement by its acting National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yekini Nabene, said that it would amount to rushing to quick conclusion based on erroneous legal grounds for anyone to fault the NCAN.

“Aside from the fact that there is a world of difference between an aspirant and a candidate in the eyes of the law, there has been no contravention of the Electoral Act 2010 (As Amended)”.

Nabene explained, “The Nigeria Consolidation Ambassadors Network was responsible for the purchase of the presidential forms for President Buhari and has indicated that it acted as a collection medium to aggregate micro contributions from thousands of Nigerians keen to ensure his re-election.

“While we restate that as a political party, the APC acted in compliance with the dictates of the law, we also acknowledge that this singular act by thousands of Nigerians severely jolted the ranks of opposition politicians and their paid agents in the media hence their desperate attempt to tar such a noble gesture with the brush of illegality.

“This is especially the case considering the loud silence when former Vice President Atiku Abubakar enjoyed the same gesture from his supporters to purchase the PDP Nomination and Expression of Interest Forms for the 2019 presidential election.”

But other lawyers countered this position, arguing that candidacy starts with aspiration. “Election is a process that starts with the selection of aspirants. So, the nomination process is part of the election because there can’t be a candidate by law without a selection process,” a lawyer said, asking, “Are they saying that an aspirant can gather illicit funds and use it later when he becomes a candidate?”

Another lawyer said APC’s argument was hairsplitting. “The point is that in 2015 when Buhari had more than enough friends to pick up the forms for him, he chose the option of a loan. Has the situation changed now?” he asked.

The pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, said the president should shun the forms, arguing that his claim that he could not afford them was hypocritical, adding that it was a rehash of similar attitude before the 2015 election.

The group’s spokesman, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, warned that Buhari might be sued for violating the Electoral Act. Odumakin stressed that it was typical of Buhari’s administration to take Nigerians for granted. He ecalled that Buhari said he took loan to buy his 2015 nomination form, but he is yet to inform the nation if he has indeed finished paying the loan.

He said that the action of the president was contrary to the provision of Electoral Act 2010 as amended, which pegs individual and group contributions to election expenses of a candidate to N1million.

“You say you are fighting corruption, but this is corruption. This is a clear contravention of the Electoral Act. It is all hypocrisy,” Odumakin insisted.

The National Publicity Secretary of PANDEF, Chief Anabs Sara-Igbe, said the organisation is a pressure group that does not dabble into partisan politics except that which has to do with issues relating to restructuring the country, fiscal federalism and the Niger Delta.

Sara-Igbe, however, said that if the president has violated the laws, those who feel aggrieved have the right to seek redress in the court of law.

“They should approach the court for interpretation of the Electoral Act, if they feel aggrieved; but they are also free to advise the president to do the needful. Everybody is free to advise the president,” he said.

The African Democratic Congress (ADC) similarly called on the president to reject the forms, challenging him to question the source of the money used in buying the forms.

The party said, “Buhari would make a mockery of his anti- corruption war and his ‘Mr. Integrity’ posture if he failed to investigate the source of the fund. After all, he is the no nonsense anticorruption fighter who in the last three years tried to rid the country off all vice; but little did they know that the innocuous public relations gambit will attract so much criticism from the people and the media.”

If his 2014 lamentation drew the sympathy of Nigerians, his 2018 show has not. Instead, it has drawn the ire and outrage of people who feels the President may be taking them for fools.

QUICK FACTS

*The 2010 Electoral Act abolished arbitrary fees for nomination forms fixed by political parties. Thus, a presidential aspirant in a Nigerian election will pay no more than N10 million as a nomination fee during the political primary process.

*The APC has fixed its presidential nomination form at N45 million

*The PDP nomination form costs N12 million (it cost N22 million in 2015)

*Both the APC and the PDP have violated the provision of the Electoral Act

*Nigeria Consolidation Ambassadors Network (NCAN) recently presented President Buhari with for N45 million to buy the APC presidential form

*NCAN said it amassed funds from members of the public who want Buhari to return as president

*Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, a presidential aspirant on the PDP platform was also reported to have resorted to crowd-funding to pay for his form

*Buhari earns N1.75 million monthly. Assuming he his salary remained intact in the last three years, he would have save N63 million.

*Section 91 (9) of the Electoral Act provides that ‘no individual or other entity shall donate more than One Million Naira

* Buhari claimed that he took a loan in 2015 to enable him buy the APC presidential nomination form at N27 million