Chuks Okocha in Abuja
Aggrieved supporters of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) yesterday stormed the headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Abuja to protest the alleged disqualification of the governorship candidate of the party for the November 16 governorship election in Kogi State, Mrs. Natasha Hadiza Akpoti, from contesting the election.
The peaceful protesters gathered at the INEC office in Zambezi crescent, Mataima, Abuja, as early 8a.m., carrying placards with various inscriptions.
Some of the inscriptions on their placards read: ‘Natasha must contest, we won’t accept anything else’; ‘Natasha is Kogi’s hope’; ‘Say no to intimidation, Natasha is our choice;’ ‘We are for peace’; and ‘It is Natasha or nobody else’, among others.
Yesterday’s protest was like that of the one that greeted the disqualification of the Allied Peoples Movement (APM) deputy governorship candidate, where the party protested against the disqualification of Awombo Bala for being underage aged. He was 27 years
It was gathered that the person whose name SDP initially submitted as it governorship running mate for the governorship election, Mr. Muhammad Bashiru Yakubu, is less than 35 years of age as prescribed by the electoral law, following which the party thus sought to replace him with Khalid Adam.
The letter written by SDP to INEC to that effect last Monday, which was the deadline set for replacement of names of candidates, was reportedly turned down by the Prof Mahmood Yakubu-led Commission.
The development, which impliedly means that SDP will not field candidate for the election, it was gathered, was the reason why the protesters stormed the INEC office yesterday.
The SDP protesters, who were also joined by some leaders of the Young Progressive Party (YPP) and Allied Peoples Movement (APM) vowed not to vacate the INEC premises until their issue was addressed formally.
Attempts by security personnel attached to the INEC headquarters, made up of mobile and regular policemen as well as operatives of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), to disperse the protesters, however, proved abortive as they (the protesters) stood their ground.
While speaking with journalists at the venue, the SDP governorship candidate, Akpoti, declared that they will not sit back and allow INEC to disenfranchise them.
According to her, “I am a Nigerian. We will not sit back and allow INEC to disenfranchise us and derail our democracy.”
She expressed dismay as to why the Commission was making it difficult for SDP to make a replacement within the stipulated period set by the same INEC.
The National Chairman of the YPP, Mr. Bishop Amakree, while also speaking at the venue, stated that the judiciary should be allowed to interpret the law, stressing that it is not for INEC to do so.
He said: “It is the judiciary that will interpret the law, because it is not INEC duty to interpret the law for us.
“We are contesting this governorship election in Kogi and Bayelsa States by the special grace of God, and we will win.
“INEC will be put into shame in Kogi and Bayelsa States.”
The SDP candidate and two others, who were later allowed into the INEC office to meet some officials of the Commission, were still holding talks with the commission at the time of filing this report.
Reacting, INEC National Commissioner in charge of Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye, said the political party that nominated an under-aged person has rendered the nomination invalid as the nomination is a joint ticket.
Okoye told THISDAY that any party that contradicts the constitutional provisions for the nomination will not be given a chance of substitution as the nomination is invalid in the first place.
He repeated what he told THISDAY that “If there was a nomination, and one of the candidates nominated with his own hand writing wrote a letter by him, addressed to the political party that nominated him and withdraw from the race, then the political party that nominated him can substitute him. Other than that, the only way any political party can carry out substitution is if the candidate nominated dies or is incapacitated, otherwise, there is nothing to substitute because it is joint ticket.”