BusinessDay

2023: How APC primaries draw negative ripple effects

…as fate of aggrieved party senators hangs in balance …INEC insists no going back

The 2023 primaries of the major political parties including the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) have continued to draw negative ripple effects at the backdrop of alleged injustice and lack of fairness.

The ruling APC has embarked on fence-mending to ward off defection from the party and possible implosion, resulting from the acrimonious primaries.

Section 84(1) of the Electoral Act 2022 as amended, mandates political parties to “hold primaries for all aspirants to all elective positions which shall be monitored by the Commission.”

The Act goes further in Section 84(3) to insist that “A political party shall not impose nomination qualification or disqualification criteria, measures, or conditions on any aspirant or candidate, for any election in its Constitution, guidelines or rules for nomination of candidates for elections, except as prescribed under sections 65, 66, 106, 107, 131, 137, 177 and 187 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended.”

Similarly, Section 84(5)(c) (i &ii) also mandate parties to hold special congresses in respect of Senatorial, House of Representatives and States House of Assembly contests, in “Senatorial District, federal constituency and State Assembly Constituency respectively, with delegates voting for aspirants of their choice in designated centres on specific dates, and that “the aspirant with the highest number of votes cast at the end of voting shall be declared the winner of the primaries of the party and the aspirant’s name shall be forwarded to the Commission as candidate of the party.”

Clarifications over the reason for the substitution of names, sought from the leadership of the APC, could not yield the desired fruit.

For instance, the presumed winner of the Yobe North Senatorial seat under the APC, Bashir Machina, denied handing over his mandate to Ahmad Lawan.

Machina had insisted that he would not surrender the ticket to Lawan.

Lawan had contested for the APC presidential ticket but lost to Bola Tinubu at the primary election.

Soon after he lost the Presidential primary, Lawan was said to have mounted pressure on the party and Machina to allow him return to the Senate.

Machina, while fielding questions on a current affairs programme on Channels Television, declared that he was under “pressure” to surrender his mandate to Lawan.

According to him, “There wasn’t any clear-cut person or message directly that says I should step down but from the headquarters of my party (APC), recently I was informed that if I was still in the race, I should write formally to inform the party that I am.”

At the expiration of the Friday June 27th, 2022 deadline for the submission of names of Presidential and National Assembly candidates, Machina’s name was substituted with that of Ahmad Lawan as the “Senatorial candidate” for the Yobe North.

There was however, no records of Machina’s withdrawal from the Senatorial race as required as required by the Electoral Act.

When asked to clarify why he unilaterally dropped Machina’s name in preference for Lawan’s, Abdullahi Adamu, national chairman of the APC responded, “Don’t get yourself in the court of law. Is it that you were told or they are saying it?”

When reminded that as leader of the party, he should give the public the right perspective, Adamu again said: “I don’t have time for negativities. I don’t just have time for that. If you face me with positives, I have time for all of that. I will stand here and answer all of your questions.

”I cannot respond to every speculation particularly when they are negative, especially when they are from mischief makers.”

But in another interview after the release of the INEC’s reports, Adamu had insisted that Ahmad Lawan “remains the candidate recognised by the party as far as Yobe North senatorial district was concerned.”

Reacting to the development, an Abuja-based legal practitioner, David Ityonyiman, said that when people try to circumvent the process, the only hope for the common man should be the regulatory body

“We feel very much concerned about what is going on in our political process as well as who becomes the next President of Nigeria. This is why we keep urging INEC to remain a credible umpire as a regulatory body,” Ityonyiman said.

He however commended the roles played by INEC so far and urged it not to relent.

“As far as Nigerians are concerned, INEC remains our hope for a free, fair and credible election in 2023. They must remain resolute,” he said

In a related development, the fate of aggrieved senators of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is still hanging as the promise of President Muhammadu Buhari to look into their grievances with a view to addressing them may not translate to having the lawmakers on the ballot for 2023 general election.

Many APC lawmakers are angry that the governors of their states frustrated them from getting return tickets back to the National Assembly, a development which caused the defection of seven APC senators to opposition parties with insinuation that about 20 were planning to dump the ruling party.

The Chief Whip of the Senate, Orji Uzor Kalu, in a desperate approach to address a further defection from the party, had led 22 aggrieved senators to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari in Aso Rock Villa.

Buhari had also assured the aggrieved senators of the party’s plan to address their grievances particularly as it concerns the just concluded primaries.

The President assured them that he would continue to address the challenges through the party’s machinery and to exercise restraint, promising that justice will be done.

He said: “I thank you for the decision to approach me with your concerns over the future of the party and for pursuing a solution approach for the challenges thrown up by the recent election-related activities, particularly the primaries.

“As the leader of the party, one of my primary roles is to ensure that our culture of internal democracy and dispute resolution is strengthened by creating the opportunity for members to ventilate their opinions, views and grievances at different levels.

Read also: 2023: Buhari moves to halt defection of more APC lawmakers

“I have noted your grievances, particularly as it concerns the just concluded processes. The cost to the nation, the threat to the majority of positions held by our party in the legislative chambers and the likely consequence to the electoral fortune of the party as we approach the general elections. We must not allow these dire threats to come to pass.”

The President further said: “I must acknowledge that in every contest there must be a level playing ground, just as there would be grievances at the end. That is the test of our democratic credentials, systems and practices.

“I have since the conclusion of the process been inundated with various reports and complaints. In keeping with our ethos therefore, I shall continue to address the insuring challenges and grievances through the party machinery while paying keen attention to the outcomes.

“I must also remind you of the primary primacy of justice in all our actions if justice is denied its outcome is usually unpleasant, this is because you the members keep the party running. I should add that as part of the policy of using the party machinery for effective resolutions of conflict, the chairman and some members of the national working committee visited the National Assembly recently to dialogue with our legislators.”

However, there seems to be end of road for the aggrieved lawmakers in the APC as the party has already submitted the names of senatorial candidates to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

The only window left is if the President and the party exploit the provision of Section 31 of the Electoral Act 2022 to enable the aggrieved lawmakers to be on the ballot for the 2023 general election.

Section 31 of the Electoral Act, 2022 provides that: “A candidate may withdraw his or her candidature by notice in writing signed by him and delivered personally by the candidate to the political party that nominated him for the election and the political party shall convey such withdrawal to the Commission not later than 90 days to the election.”

But again, Festus Okoye, INEC national commissioner in charge of publicity, had hinted that such arrangement may not be that easy.

Okoye had said: “There is a provision in the Electoral Act for withdrawal of candidates validly nominated and the law provides that a political party cannot substitute a candidate that has been validly nominated except in two instances; if the nominated candidate dies or if the nominated candidate withdraws from the race.

“And in terms of withdrawal, the nominated candidate shall – in his own writing – write a letter to the political party that nominated him, indicating that he has withdrawn from the race and that must also be accompanied by an affidavit duly sworn to by the said candidate.

“Then the political party that nominated the candidate will now forward same to the Independent National Electoral Commission saying that our candidate has withdrawn, or our vice-presidential candidate has withdrawn, and these are the documents of withdrawal and this is the person we are using to replace.

“But as of today, the political parties nominated their candidates so the issue of withdrawal is at the absolute discretion of the duly nominated candidate and no one else.”

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