BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE & JOHNBOSCO AGBAKWURU
WILL the All Progressives Congress (APC) be registered as a political party tomorrow or will the leaders be asked to return to the drawing board and come up with a new name and other paraphernalia?
These are some of the questions that are expected to be answered tomorrow by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Going by the provision of Section 84 (4) of the Electoral Act 2010, the All Progressives Congress should have started functioning as a political party since July 10, 2013, which was exactly 30 days the leaders submitted a formal request for merger of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) and Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). The request was dated June 5 but the INEC received it on June 10.
Section 84 (4) of the Act says: “On receipt of the request for merger of political parties, the Commission shall consider the request and, if the parties have fulfilled the requirements of the Constitution and this Act, approve the proposed merger and communicate its decision to the parties concerned before the expiration of 30 days from the date of the receipt of the formal request- provided that if the Commission fails to communicate its decision within 30 days the merger shall be deemed to be effective.”
However, APC is yet to start functioning as a political party for a number of reasons. The INEC wrote the chairmen of the merging parties on June 12 forwarding 35 copies of the commission’s Form PA 1 for completion and return along with 35 copies each of APC’s proposed constitution, manifesto and affidavit in support of claims in Form PA 1.
The political association submitted the requested documents on July 1. INEC stated in its June 12 letter that it would commence the processing of the request after receiving the demanded documents. In essence, the electoral umpire, by its statement, is expected to verify the documents and come up with a decision within 30 days, a timeline that will elapse at 12 midnight today.
Although, the INEC timeline is at variance with the provision of the Electoral Act, which is 30 days from the date of the receipt of the formal request not 30 days from the date 35 copies of certain documents are submitted to INEC, APC cannot operate without INEC’s confirmation.
Aside INEC’s nod, APC, which has vowed to snatch presidential power from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2015, may to have to wait longer to realize its quest. Reason: there are calls on INEC not register All Progressives Congress on account of a pending litigation challenging the acronym “APC.”
Another political association, which shares the same acronym, the African People’s Congress has commenced an action at the Federal High Court, Abuja in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/224/2013 challenging INEC’s refusal to register it as a political party, and one of the reliefs it is seeking before the court is an order prohibiting the registration of any other association known as and called African Peoples Congress or having the acronym, APC, as a political p arty pending the determination of the suit.
INEC‘ll register APC if it meets registration requirements
However, Mr. Kayode Idowu, chief press secretary to the INEC National Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega reportedly said that the commission would register the merger APC if it met the requirements.
“The Independent National Electoral Commission conducts its operations based strictly on its existing guidelines and rules. “Every application that meets the prescribed rules and conditions set by the constitution, gets registered, and any that does not meet the prescribed rules, does not get registered,” he said.
Factional APC opposes registration of merger APC
As the battle for the ownership of APC franchise linger, the African Peoples Congress, one of the associations laying claim to the APC acronym has told the INEC that the plan to register the merger APC would be an effort in futility.
National Legal Adviser of African Peoples Congress, Mr. Kingsley Nnadi who accused INEC of being bent on registering the rival APC said even after the African Peoples Congress had gone to court challenging the refusal of the commission to register it, which he claimed first applied for registration after ‘fulfilling’ all the necessary requirements.
Nnadi said that INEC being aware of the pending matter in court and having entered appearance for the case was not supposed to continue with the process of registering the All Progressives Congress.
His words: “INEC is bent on registering the All Progressives Congress even when our matter is in court. They are not supposed to do anything until further determination of the matter. We are the first that applied to INEC with the APC acronym and INEC refused to register us with the claim that we did not furnish them with the addresses of national officers which we did.
“We are optimistic that the court will do justice to our matter that is why we did not bother to apply for an injunction restraining INEC from registering anybody with the acronym. Whoever is registered apart from us the original owners of the acronym, the court will void it and it will amount to building on quick sand which will not last.”
The rival APC legal adviser further argued, “When there is a pendency of a matter, in law, you are not supposed to do anything that will destroy the subject matter. Now that INEC is bent on registering them, the commission is touching the subject matter which is before the court.
“INEC is aware of the matter, it has been served and it has entered appearance. Common law knowledge should tell them (INEC) that they are not supposed to touch the matter. Jega said there is no injunction restraining him, but when you are aware of a matter, you don’t need an injunction, but we are not bothered,” he stated.
INEC has no reason not to register APC – ACN
Reacting to the issue, weekend, the ACN said that the merger APC had met all the requirements to consummate its merger; hence the electoral umpire had no defensible reason not to approve the merger.
In a statement issued in Lagos by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party said in spite of recent media reports concerning the antics of some negative forces within INEC over APC’s registration, the emerging party’s leadership had no doubt that in the end the electoral body would do what was right in accordance with the law.
It therefore dismissed as a mere speculation the report that INEC was planning to write a letter to the proponents of APC to find another name because of a court case instituted by a political association over the APC acronym.
‘’We are convinced that INEC has no discernible reason to write such a letter to us. In the first instance, there exists no court injunction anywhere restraining the commission from registering APC. There could be many court cases, but until there is a court order, no one can pre-empt what a court will do and act on that basis.
‘’Again, we have met all the stipulated requirements. INEC has also inspected our proposed headquarters in Abuja and sighted all our interim officers. The merger process may be novel, but we have played according to the rules and we expect nothing less from INEC,’’ the ACN said.
Why rival APC went to court
At the peak of the crisis of identity rocking the All Progressives Congress and African Peoples Congress the INEC, after a long silence, came up with a definitive position that was meant to seal the African Peoples Congress.
In a letter to the group, the commission rejected its bid for registration on the ground that it breached Section 222 (a) of the 1999 Nigeria Constitution as amended.
In the letter duly signed by the Secretary to the commission, Abdulahi Kaugama and dated March 21, 2013, INEC also noted that the Form PA 1 the association submitted did not contain the addresses of the association’s national officers.
The letter: INEC/DPPM&L/APC/490/V.1/76, read in part: “Your application for registration as a political party dated 28th February, 2013 refers. The Commission has observed that your association is in breach of Section 222 (a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) which stipulates as follows: “No association by whatever name called shall function as a political party unless; the names and addresses of its national officers are registered with the Independent National Electoral Commission; A close observation of your submitted form PA 1 established that it does not contain the addresses of your national officers as stipulated in the provisions above. Consequently, the commission shall not register the proposed African Peoples Congress (APC) as a political party.”
With this, the African Peoples Congress was left with no option than the law courts.
Responding to the issue, a lawyer, Mr. Kelvin Okoro, said he would fight for the association free of charge at the law court because the matter portended grave danger to the nation’s democracy.
His words: “We singled out the African People’s Congress case because it is a litmus test for democracy in Nigeria. African People’s Congress has fulfilled all legal requirements as stipulated in Section 222 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Section 78 of the Electoral Act.
“As such, they should be given the legal power to operate as a political party, notwithstanding whose onus is affected and we expect INEC to do what the law expects them to do. We are not trying to pre-empt INEC but we are saying that in the event that INEC fails to do what the law expects them to do, our services would be given pro bono (free),” he assured.