The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) appears to have contradicted itself and also jettisoned the position of the Supreme Court that only the national chairmen of political parties can submit candidates’ names for elections. And this has fuelled legal disagreements and upset the nomination process for candidates.
Currently, the party nomination process is under threat from a rash of ex-parte orders, interlocutory injunctions, and court judgements. Across all the political parties, but particularly the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), aggrieved aspirants have inundated the judiciary with all sorts of complaints.
With the courts ever so willing to entertain every political case and grant frivolous orders, judges seem to have become the greatest threat to the democratic process.
On September 8, at a meeting he held with national chairmen of political parties in Abuja, INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, warned the 91 political parties that the commission would not receive communication from any organ of a party, except the chairman and the National Executive Committee of the party. He noted then that in the past, state chapters and the national bodies of parties had sent different names of candidates for the same offices.
Yakubu, however, said the Supreme Court had ruled that the national body of a political party was the one charged with the duty of communicating with INEC.
He said, “The supremacy of the National Executive Council to inform the commission of dates, venues and membership of committees to handle the conduct of primaries is key. The Supreme Court has ruled that only NEC can submit the list of candidates to INEC.
“We will not accept nomination or even invitation for the conduct of primaries from the branches. It is only the national executive of political parties that can contact us. It has happened before and it led to serious litigation.
“The chairmen should stand firm. Only you can submit the names of candidates for election and only you can advise the commission on when you will conduct primaries. Otherwise, we will end up with conflicting information.”
Yakubu urged the party chairmen to ensure that primaries were free and fair, adding that the number of electoral cases in court were too many.
But on October 31, less than two months after the meeting with the national chairmen of political parties, the INEC chairman overruled himself and jettisoned the precedent already established by the Supreme Court citing decisions of some high courts. On that day, INEC wrote a letter to the national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Uche Secondus, recognising the list of candidates for the 2019 general elections submitted to it by the Mr Adebayo Dayo-led State Executive Committee of the party in Ogun State.
In the letter, the commission also stated that it had received the list of candidates for the governorship, National Assembly and State House of Assembly elections from the committee.
The Dayo-led committee is loyal to the senator representing Ogun East Senatorial District in the National Assembly, Senator Buruji Kashamu.
In the letter to Secondus dated October 25, 2018, signed by the acting secretary to the commission, Mr Okechukwu Ndeche, the commission stated that the decision was based on the various Federal High Court cases on the true position of the State Executive Committee of the party. He said the commission would abide by them until they were set aside by higher courts.
The letter read, “Consequently, the commission hereby notes the decisions of the Federal High Court in the above-referred cases and will publish the lists of candidates submitted by the Adebayo Dayo-led State Executive Committee of Ogun State pursuant to the Orders of the Federal High Court until they are set aside.”
INEC said its decision was based on three cases, all high court decisions.
The letter added, “The Federal High Court in the matters ordered the commission to recognise Adebayo Dayo-led State Executive Committee of the PDP in Ogun State and receive a list of candidates for the 2019 governorship, National Assembly and State House of Assembly elections from the said committee.
“Recall that the commission vide a letter dated 12th April, 2018, informed your party of the commission’s compliance with the judgements of the Federal High Court in Suit Nos. FHC/L/CFS/636/2016 -Engr. Adebayo Dayo & Anor vs INEC & 5 Ors. and FHC/L/CS/1856/2017Alhaji Adewole Adeyanju, (Member, PDP National Working committee) and 6 Ors. vs INEC and 30 Ors. , which affirmed the decision of the Federal High Court in Suit Nos. FHC/L/CFS/636/2016, which is subsisting until it is set aside.
“Further to the above decision, the Federal High Court, Abeokuta Division, on 2nd October, 2018, in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CFS/636/2016 Engr. Adebayo Dayo (State Chairman) and 8 Ors. vs INEC & 3 Ors., also ordered the commission to recognise Adebayo Dayo-led State Executive Committee of the PDP in Ogun State and receive a list of candidates for the 2019 governorship, National Assembly and State House of Assembly elections from the said committee.
“Consequently, the commission hereby notes the decisions of the Federal High Court in the above-referred cases and will publish the lists of candidates submitted by the Adebayo Dayo-led State Executive Committee of Ogun State pursuant to the orders of the Federal High Court until they are set aside.”
Another state where the court has been dragged into the political arena is Imo. Two governorship primaries were conducted in the state by the All Progressives Congress (APC). The first was won by Hope Uzodinma while the second was won by Uche Nwosu. However, the party’s national executive chose to submit the name of Uzodinma to INEC as the party governorship candidate for the state. Nwosu kicked and filed a suit at the federal high court.
On November 7, Justice M.T. Salihu of the Federal High Court, Owerri, in the Imo State capital, issued an order restraining both the electoral body and the APC from publishing the name of any candidate until the hearing of the substantive matter on November 12.
Perhaps, to ensure that APC has a candidate, INEC published Uzodinma’s name as the APC candidate. Had INEC complied with the order, APC, perhaps would not have a governorship candidate in Imo. This is because, no one knows when the court will give final judgement. When it does, it may become too late to comply with the order.
Not INEC’s Fault
INEC has always complained about conflicting judgements from the courts, especially the high courts and the different divisions of the Court of Appeal. No doubt, the courts have continued to make the work of INEC very difficult. At a point the commission sought the help of the Chief Justice of Nigeria to get out of the quagmire.
At the meeting with national chairmen of political parties, Yakubu raised the issue of undue interference by the courts.
Observers believe that it is wrong to blame INEC for accepting the list of candidates sent to it by one of the factions in Ogun State. A judge issued the order and in the absence of an order from a higher court, the commission is duty bound to comply.
According to him, some court cases which emanated from the conduct of 2014 primaries were still in court. He stated that cases in court had drained the resources of the commission.
He said, “Litigation arising from party primaries are of a pre-election nature and are thus not time bound, unlike post-election cases which are time bound- 180 days at the tribunal, 60 days at the Appeal Court and 60 days at the Supreme Court.
“Today, we are still grappling with litigation cases that arose from primaries that held in December 2014. Only two months ago, the commission issued a certificate of return to a candidate that was declared winner of a party primary of 2014.”
In one of the cases involving the PDP in Ogun State, a judge of a high court ignored the precedents already set by the Supreme Court that only the national executives of political parties could nominate candidates and submit same to INEC. Refusal to follow precedent established by the Supreme Court is a violation of the code of conduct for judicial officers.
However, the National Judicial Council will not act unless a petition is sent to it against an erring judge. That has to change. The NJC’s rules of procedure should be amended to confer power on the council to deal with any judge that brings the judiciary to ridicule without waiting for a petition.
Is It Really the Fault of the Courts?
It is the inability of political parties to manage their internal affairs that is at the root of the problem. Many of the disputes the parties take to the courts border on issues they can resolve within themselves. The APC’s case in Zamfara State is instructive.
Due to internal wrangling, the party was unable to present a governorship candidate within the time frame allowed by INEC. Now the party is in court asking the Federal High Court, Abuja, to grant an order of perpetual injunction against INEC.
The order being sought was to restrain INEC from giving effect to the contents of its letter with reference number lNEC/SEC/654/1/330, dated October 9 and issued in respect of the 2019 general elections.
The said letter contained an administrative decision taken by INEC, barring Zamfara APC from fielding any candidate in the 2019 general elections for failing to conduct party primaries within the stipulated time.
Whatever order the court gives, the judiciary is likely to take the blame. Before the party went to court. A Zamfara State High Court had issued an interim order restraining the party and INEC from disqualifying the party’s candidates from the state for the 2019 elections.
Justice Mukhtar Yushau gave the order following a suit filed by three executive members of the party in the state – the Chairman of the party in Gusau Local Government Area, Babangida Abdullahi, his counterpart in Tsafe Local Government Area, Kabiru Chafe, and Sanusi Dan-Alhahi.
In the suit, they challenged the powers of the national leadership of the APC and INEC to disqualify the candidates from contesting for various elective positions in the 2019 elections.
The plaintiffs filed the application on behalf of 24 other candidates on October 8, 2018, through their counsel, Muhammad Sani Katu.
In his ruling on the suit, Justice Yushau, issued an order of interim injunction ordering the APC, the party’s North-west zonal chairman and INEC to maintain the status quo as at the time the plaintiffs filed the suit on October 8, 2018.
In Rivers State, despite the intervention of the Supreme Court, the warring APC factions have chosen to adopt their own interpretation of a ruling by the apex court.
The Supreme Court had on October 22 set aside the decision of the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt Division, which permitted the conduct of congresses by the APC. The order of the Appeal Court issued on June 21, 2018 against the ruling of a Rivers State High Court was voided by the apex court on the grounds that the appellate court acted in bad faith.
Since the warring factions would not agree, the situation in Rivers APC will have to await a final ruling by the Supreme Court whenever the court is presented with the opportunity to determine the issues between the parties.
The crisis rocking the APC has not eluded the Delta State chapter of the party.
Already a Federal High Court sitting in Asaba had issued a contempt notice on the national chairman of the party , Adams Oshiomhole, for disobeying its order not to submit list of Delta APC candidates to INEC and on the chairman of INEC for disobeying its order not to receive and publish such candidates’ names from Delta State for the 2019 general elections until the resolution of the case.
The court noted that despite its order dated October 17, 2018, Oshiomhole still went ahead to submit names of purported NASS candidates from Delta APC to INEC and that INEC also went ahead to receive and publish such names even when the order directed both parties in the case not to do so but to maintain “status quo.”
Politicians rushing to courts whenever they disagree with their political parties is not new. Indeed, it has become a recurrent issue. It is also their rights to go to courts. However, judges must be vigilant and thread cautiously so that politicians do not use them to frustrate the democratic process.
Judges should not allow themselves to be used by unscrupulous politicians who want the rule bent to aid their cause.
In order to save the judiciary from further embarrassment, there is a need for the leadership of the judiciary to be proactive. It can develop and adopt new rules for handling political cases.