By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Henry Umoru, Ikechukwu Nnochiri, Kingsley Fanwo, Levinus Nwabughiogu & Omeiza Ajayi
ABUJA—The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, yesterday, invited the All Progressives Congress, APC, to forward a replacement for Prince Abubakar Audu, its dead candidate in the inconclusive Kogi State governorship election, thereby throwing up fresh legal and political firestorm in the state.
The INEC decision followed a pronouncement to that effect by the Minister of Justice, Mallam Abubakar Malami. While the APC welcomed the decision, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP demanded Malami’s resignation as it described the decision as an affront to democracy laced with mines to torpedo the democratic choice of the people in Kogi State.
Meanwhile, APC, ahead of the December 5 supplementary polls to conclude the governorship election, has proposed fresh primaries to throw up a replacement for late Audu. At press time, yesterday, the APC hierarchy in Abuja and Lokoja were still undecided on the mode of the potential primary contest.
There was also a cloud on whether it would be restricted to only those who bought the initial forms or opened up to new entrants, a possibility that could draw in Audu’s running mate, Rep. James Faleke and Alhaji Isah Jibrin Echocho who recently defected from the PDP after a stormy political battle with the incumbent governor, Captain Idris Wada.
The seeming constitutional crisis in Kogi State was opened after last Saturday’s governorship election was declared inconclusive upon the fact that the difference in votes between the late Audu and Wada was smaller than the number of registered voters in the 91 polling units where the votes were cancelled. Audu died Sunday before the election could be concluded, throwing up a legal storm on the fate of the election.
Justice Minister on Kogi election
Malami, speaking at a seminar organised by the Nigerian Law Reform Commission on the reform of the National Environmental Standards and Regulation Enforcement Agency (Establishment) Act , said the Kogi gubernatorial election must be concluded within the next 14 days.
Specifically, the AGF said his position on the matter was fortified by a combined reading and application of Section 221 of the 1999 Constitution and Section 33 of the Electoral Act.
However, he failed to state whether or not the deputy governorship candidate of the APC, Mr. Abiodun Faleke, should be the proper person to replace Audu for the purpose of the run-off poll.
He said: “The issue is very straightforward. Fundamentally, Section 33 of the Electoral Act is very clear that in case of death, the right for substitution by a political party is sustained by the provisions of Section 33 of the Electoral Act.
“And if you have a community reading of that section with Section 221 of the constitution it clearly indicates that the right to vote is the right of a political party and the party, in this case, the APC has participated in the conduct of the election. It is, therefore, apparent that the combined community reading of the two provisions does not leave any room for conjecture.
“APC as a party is entitled to substitution by the clear provisions of Section 33 of the Electoral Act. Also, Section 221 of the Constitution is clear that the votes cast were cast in favour of the APC.
“Arising from that deduction, it does not require any legal interpretation. The interpretation is clear, APC will substitute, which right has been sustained by Section 33 of the Electoral Act. So be it.
“The supplementary election has to be conducted along the line”, the AGF added.
Weighing in on the way forward following its acknowledgment of a notice from the APC on the death of Audu, INEC in a statement issued by the secretary of the commission, Augusta Ogakwu, put all the political parties on notice that the supplementary polls would hold on December 5.
She added that the APC has also been offered a window of opportunity to pick a new candidate for the exercise.
The statement reads: “The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, conducted governorship election in Kogi State on 21st November 2015, which was declared inconclusive.
“On November 23, 2015, the All Progressives Congress, APC, notified the commission of the death of its governorship candidate in the election, Prince Abubakar Audu.
“The commission has after due consideration of the circumstances, decided as follows: To conclude the process by conducting election in the 91 affected polling units as announced by the Returning Officer;
“To allow the All Progressives Congress to fill the vacancy created by the death of its candidate;
“To conduct the supplementary election on December 5, 2015.
“Accordingly, notice is hereby given to all the 22 political parties participating in the Kogi Governorship Election that supplementary election in the 91 affected Polling Units shall hold on December 5, 2015”.
PDP slams INEC, AGF
The INEC statement was immediately strongly condemned by the PDP.
Immediately INEC issued the statement senior officials of the party in Lokoja huddled into a meeting to review the situation. At the end of their meeting, yesterday evening, party leaders refused to comment, saying the party in Abuja would speak for them.
The party, reacting through its National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh in a statement issued in Abuja demanded the resignation of Malami as Minister of Justice and Prof. Mahmud Yakubu as INEC chairman as the party alleged a conspiracy between the two to derail the democratic enterprise.
“The party is shocked that INEC, a supposedly independent electoral umpire could allow itself to succumb to the antics of the APC by following the unlawful directive of an obviously partisan AGF to substitute a candidate in the middle of the ballot process.
We are all aware that the two legal documents guiding INEC in the conduct of elections; the Constitution and the Electoral Act, have provisions for electoral exigencies as well as empower the electoral body to fully take responsibility for any of its actions or inaction without undue interference from any quarters whatsoever.
“We are, therefore, at a loss as to which sections of these two relevant laws, INEC and the AGF relied on in arriving at their bizarre decision to substitute a dead candidate in an on-going election even after the timelines for such has elapsed under all the rules.
INEC as a statutory body has the full complements of technical hands in its legal department to advise it appropriately and we wonder why it had to wait for directives from the AGF, an external party, if not for partisan and subjective interest.
Consequently, the PDP rejects in its entirety, this brazen move by the APC and INEC to circumvent the laws and ambush the yet-to-be concluded election by introducing a practice that is completely alien to the constitution and the electoral act.
“The clear implication of this action of the AGF and INEC is that the APC would be fielding two different governorship candidates in the on-going Kogi election, meaning that INEC would be transferring votes cast for late Prince Abubakar Audu to another candidate, scenarios that have no place in the constitution of the land.
“Whereas the PDP, in honour of the sanctity of human life and respect for the dead, had since Sunday refrained from making comments on the conduct of the election, we can no longer maintain such in the face of the bare-faced attack on our democracy.
“This INEC under the leadership of Prof. Mahmood Yakubu has shown itself as partisan, morally bankrupt and obviously incapable of conducting a credible election within our laws.
“In view of the foregoing, therefore, the PDP demands an immediate resignation of the INEC chairman, as the nation’s democracy cannot afford to be left in the hands of an electoral umpire that cannot exert its independence and the sanctity of the electoral process.
“In view of the developments regarding Kogi Governorship election, the National Working Committee of the PDP has summoned an emergency National Caucus meeting of the party on Wednesday, November 25, 2015 (today), to take a decision on this obvious threat to our democracy.
APC welcomes development
The APC on its part, however, welcomed the development even as it proposed a primary among interested contestants as a replacement for Audu.
It was learned, last night, that the APC National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, met behind closed doors with some of the aspirants who participated in the previous primaries yesterday. Audu’s running mate in the election was also invited to the meeting.
Speaking to newsmen yesterday, Odigie-Oyegun said: “We lost our candidate for the election in Kogi State on Sunday and since then, we have concentrated as a party on paying him the right respect that is due to a man of his calibre. Let me take this opportunity to express the very sincere condolence of the entire party nationwide to the family of Prince Abubakar Audu and to the people of Kogi State who have just gone through the rigours of an election, indicated their preference for Prince Abubakar Audu, only to lose him at the very moment of victory. We were represented at the funeral by almost the entire executive and that is now behind us. Now, matters of state must now come back to the fore.
“I want to underscore the fact that INEC is also apparently in agreement with the views of the Attorney-General because we have already received a letter from them formally asking us to find a replacement for the vacancy that has been created by the passing on of Prince Abubakar Audu, and that is what will now engage the APC from this moment on.”
Asked when the primary election was expected to hold, the chairman said all that was a matter of discussion with the party stakeholders
“We just got notification from INEC today. So, we will go into an emergency session to work out the modalities and nature of the primary. We are told that the supplementary election will be on December 5. When that will be or who will be is a matter of details. But it is going to be the preference of the electors and we will respect that. We are a democratic, law abiding party, and we are going to proceed accordingly.”
On the fate of Audu’s running mate, Faleke, Odigie-Oyegun decided that it was incumbent on the people to decide whether he would join in the primaries.
“I said it will be the preference of the electors on who the candidate that will replace Prince Abubakar Audu will be”, he said.
On a similar stance, the national chairman also refused to give details on whether it would sell fresh expression of interest forms or work with the former aspirants of the ticket.
Meanwhile, it emerged, yesterday, that Alhaji Echocho, who crossed over to the APC from the PDP after a futile bid to take the governorship ticket from Wada, was inclining into the contest.
Echocho had reportedly been backed by Senator Smart Adeyemi in the PDP primary and failing which, his supporters and those of Senator Adeyemi collaborated in the election to fight Wada.
On whether such new entrants would be allowed into the APC contest, Odigie-Oyegun was yet undecided saying: “So, we are going to do everything as straightforward and simple, but clearly above board in maintaining due process as much as possible. I cannot give you that answer now because we just got indication of the clear direction from INEC within the last few hours.”
The INEC stance on a fresh election was also flayed by the Progressive Peoples Congress.
Speaking to Vanguard, the Kogi State Chairman of the party, Mr. Simeon Ojonuba said the electoral body erred by arrogating importance to illegality. He said the party was prepared to contest the position of INEC in a competent court of jurisprudence if the commission fails to retrace its steps on the matter.
Ojonuba accused the electoral body of acting the script of a political party, saying the party would only favour an outright cancellation and rerun.