A new correction to the Electoral Act has forestalled the possibility of choosers challenging credentials submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission by campaigners, The PUNCH has learnt.
The proposed law, if inked by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), will allow only those who shared in the party primary to challenge in court, the academy instruments, the birth instrument and other credentials of aco-contestant.
Presently, Section 31 (5) of the Electoral Act reads, “ Any person who has reasonable grounds to believe that any information given by a seeker in the affidavit or any document submitted by that seeker is false may file a suit at the Federal High Court, High Court of a State or the FCT (Federal Capital Territory) against such a person seeking a protestation that the information contained in the affidavit is false.”
However the new correction reads, “ Any applicant who shared in the primaries of his political party who has reasonable grounds to believe that any information given by his political party’s seeker in the affidavit or any document submitted by that seeker in relation to his indigenous conditions to dispute the election is false, may file a suit at the Federal High Court against that seeker seeking a protestation that the information contained in the affidavit is false.”
Presently, all Nigerians are allowed to challenge the credentials of campaigners of any political party. This has been reaffirmed by several court judgments.
For case, in the case of Lawrence v PDP & Ors (2017), the Supreme Court in a judgment read by Justice Walter Onnoghen said, “ From the vittles of Section 31 (5) of the Electoral Act, 2010, as amended supra, it isn’t in mistrustfulness that it confers locus standi on‘any person’whether a member of a political party or not to bring the governance of the High Court in agreement with the said vittles and the court has the needful vires to hear and determine his case.”
Agreeing with the judgment, Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun said, “ Section 31 (5) of the Electoral Act, 2010, as amended, empowers any person with reasonable grounds to believe that any information given by a seeker is false to launch an action before any of the High Courts to seek a protestation that similar information is false.”
In 2019, the PDP and its guardianship seeker in Bayelsa State, Douye Diri; filed a suit against the guardianship seeker of the All Revolutionaries Congress, David Lyon; and his handling mate, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, seeking their disqualification because of the questionable academy instrument of Degi-Eremienyo.
The Supreme Court agreed with the PDP and disqualified the APC despite the fact that the APC had formerly been declared winner of the election by INEC.
Should this new correction to the Electoral Act be inked into law, the Bayelsa script may not be possible.
A mortal rights counsel,Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN), told one of our reporters in a converse that the correction shouldn’t be allowed to stand.
Adegboruwa said such an correction was contrary to the Freedom of Information Act and the spirit of translucency indeed as he argued that the Supreme Court had at several times guaranteed the rights of Nigerians to challenge the qualifications of campaigners.
He added, “ I believe that the people seeking to enthrall public office seek to enthrall a position of trust and to that extent, once you have ventured into a contest for a position of public trust, your life is open and there’s nothing to hide again.
“ I suppose there are numerous Supreme Court judgements that have stated that it isn’t only those who are fighting for a particular office that can question the credentials of a seeker. So, it’s formerly settled in law that the locus to challenge the qualification of any seeker whether academic or else is open to anybody who has reason to believe that a seeker has not told the verity.
“ I suppose it’s too late for the National Assembly to feint those seeking office. That new provision will be challenged and I do n’t suppose it can see the light of day.”
Also in a converse with our pressman, activist,Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), argued that the provision, if allowed to gauge through, would be a nullity.
Falana stated, “ That provision will be illegal because anybody can demand from INEC under the FoI Act the form submitted by anybody and once you have that, you can go to court?
“ That provision can not remove my right to go to court. You can indeed report to the police or indeed make the person by yourself. There’s a provision for that in the Administration of Criminal Justice Act. This new correction won’t help them.
“ A lot of them have forged instruments and that’s why they’re doing it but it can not help them. Indeed the constitution says anyone who presents to INEC a forged instrument has committed an offence. So, they can not help themselves.”
A former INEC Director for Voter Education and Hype, Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, argued that the new provision would allow the wrong persons to win choices.
“ As the law stands, if any seeker fills Form CF 004 for his particular particulars, anybody can go to court, train a case and say such a person isn’t good. In the new correction, they’ve limited to only those who queried the primaries with that person is good.
“ But it allows the wrong people to gauge through and come tagged officers. These are issues that we need to look at. This is one of the unattractive aspects of the bill,” Osaze-Uzzi stated.
Sectional unconstitutional – CSO
The Convener, Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Republic and Constitution, Ariyo- Dare Atoye described the section as unconstitutional.
He added that besides, any party who fails to address unqualified campaigners would surely face the consequences.
Atoye said, “ If there’s a provision in the Electoral Act that says that choosers can not sue, that’s provision is unconstitutional. Still, such a section shouldn’t be a source of solicitude for Nigerians, because it’s alway the responsibility of the political parties to address applicants and campaigners, the public has the responsibility to bounce or not to bounce an applicants they suppose they’ve concern about. and if a party has run the threat of contending a seeker with unqualified credentials should suffer from such an abnormality either from within or by a grueling party.
It’ll place liabilities on politicians – Group
The Director, Center for Translucency Advocacy, Faith Nwadishi, said the section of the bill, if inked, would place further liabilities on politicians who she described as lazy.
She said, “ The process formerly is clumsy and the bar is formerly intruding up the entire process, these are substantiallypre-election matters and if they aren’t allocated off snappily, let it be the responsibility of those who are querying that election. In fact the politicians have come too lazy in our electoral process, they’re the bones who should do the most work, they’re the biggest devisee. What I suppose the bill would do is to give further responsibility of scrutiny to the rivals.
“ As it’s now, the citizen can draw the attention of whoever is querying and let whoever is interested to take the matter to court, they should also insure a thorough check on those querying so that at the end of the day their votes would not be wasted like in Bayelsa.”
It isn’t popular – IPAC
On his part, the National Treasurer,Inter-Party Advisory Council, Obidike Okolo, in an interview with The PUNCH said the provision wasn’t popular.
He said, “ That provision, if passed isn’t popular because it doesn’t connotedemocracy.However, anybody who’s a Nigerian should be suitable to challenge similar information given because the person who’s presenting similar information or instrument isn’t going to serve just those who queried primaries with him, If a person presents instrument. He’s going to serve the generality of Nigerians, especially indeed more when the person is giving similar information under pledge.
“ So, it’s like perjury and at the end of the day if you give false information and if you commit perjury, it’s crime against the state.
“ The state is a representative of the people and it’s actually a crime against the Nigerian people. So, why should n’t Nigerians be entitled to challenge any information if they feel notoriety has given false information? So, we don’t support that kind of law and that aspect should be canceled, that’s our opinion.”