By Peter Duru, Makurdi
The Benue Youths Forum, BYF, has raised concern that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, office in Benue state is allegedly shielding and backing the illegality perpetrated by the Benue State All Progressives Congress, APC, in the conduct of its gubernatorial and other primaries.
The President of the BYF, Terrence Kuanum in a statement issued weekend in Makurdi alleged that the Benue APC had resorted to underhand tactics to remedy its skewed primaries to nominate candidates for the 2023 general elections which was carried out in total violation of the extant laws that provided the guide for the processes.
The statement read, “as you would recall, the Benue Youth Forum had thrown light on the fact that the Benue APC did not espouse fidelity to extant laws and regulations in its primaries in Benue State.
“The Forum produced certified true copies of INEC documents showing that the APC did not submit the register of its members in Vandeikya and Katsina Ala Local Governments to INEC in flagrant disregard of Section 77 of the Amended Electoral Act, 2022.
“The implication of this being that the suspended priest, Hyacinth Alia, the purported winner of the gubernatorial primaries has no legal footing to stand on as membership register is a sine qua non to eligibility to contest under a party’s platform.
“In the last couple of weeks, the Benue State political landscape has been dominated by activities of the 18 political parties towards nominating candidates for the 2023 general election as required by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
“Benue Youth Forum, BYF, as the umbrella body of all youth groups in the state has keenly monitored activities of the registered political parties and observed among other things that while some of the political parties conducted free, transparent and credible primary elections, others refused to comply with the regulations provided for the conduct of such exercises.
“We have also observed the growing interest of young people and women in politics and governance of the state. The decision of Governor Samuel Ortom to allocate nine slots to women as Local Government Chairmen is truly a plausible action.
“There is an additional number of young people who have won the tickets of their respective political parties to contest the 2023 elections. This is a healthy development that should be sustained.”
Speaking further on the party primaries, Kuanum said “it was observed that political parties such as the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, New Nigeria Peoples Party, NNPP, Labour Party, LP, held very credible and transparent primaries in line with provisions of the Electoral Act and also complied with INEC guidelines.
“As a youth body, our members who are also members of these political parties have not reported or complained of any irregularity. We commend the PDP, LP and NNPP for being democratic and law-abiding political parties.
“Our findings revealed that the All Progressives Congress, APC, did not conduct any party primaries in Benue State. First of all, the notice of party primaries by the DIRECT MODE was issued by the duo of Dr. Abdullahi Adamu and Sen. Iyiola Omisore, National Chairman and National Secretary respectively of the APC on the 25th, May, 2022.
“At this juncture, it is important to state that this notice is far short of the mandatory 21 days notice prescribed by Section 82 of the Electoral Act, 2022 (as amended).
“The paramountcy of compliance with the statutory timelines cannot be over emphasised. INEC, by established correspondences with the leadership of political parties, have stressed the implications of non compliance with prescribed timelines by the Commission’s staunch refusal to accord any form of recognition to breach of same.
“For the purpose of this correspondence, we shall limit such stance to 2 very recent instances. Firstly, by a letter dated the March 9, 2022, with reference number INEC/DEPM/APC/278/1/43, the Secretary to the Commission wrote the National Chairman of APC Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) drawing his attention to the fact that the APC’s earlier notice dated 8th March, 2022 with reference number APC/HNDQ/INEC/019/022/32 inviting INEC to monitor an emergency meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC) runs foul of the mandatory 21 days notice required for such meetings.
“Secondly, by a letter dated May 11, 2022 with refence number INEC/DEPM/PDP/286/1/75, the Secretary to the Commission wrote the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) drawing his attention to the fact that the one day notice for re-scheduled ward congress in Imo State fell short of the 7 days notice required for re-scheduled congresses by virtue of Article 1.2 of the INEC Regulations and Guidelines for Political Party Operations.
“This invariably nullified the PDP’s letter of May 9, 2022 intimating INEC of its intention to conduct the said ward congress in Imo on May 10, 2022.
“Having made far reaching observations on the illegality of the notices issued by the APC, it is expedient to move to the mode of primary which was earlier proposed by the APC to be by the INDIRECT MODE.
“Some of the delegates who are young people had already used their hard earned money to buy delegate forms and gone through the process of selling themselves to be elected as delegates. It was therefore frustrating when they received the notice of May 25, 2022 indicating the DIRECT MODE of primaries.
“When APC members in Benue finally decided to go back to their wards to participate in the direct primaries which requires the party to display the membership register and also allow registered party members to vote in the headquarters of the council ward, they waited without seeing the membership register being displayed. The APC members waited on the queues for many hours without anyone coming to conduct the election.
“In a few places where some party officials went to cover up for the charade, they were conducted without membership register; an indication that they were there just to allocate figures to some aspirants and not to really allow the people to choose their preferred candidates.
“In a comical twist, the APC proceeded to release a final result of votes for each aspirant showing that one Fr. Hyacinth Alia polled 526,807 votes. A copy of the final tally of votes dated the May 28, 2022 is hereto attached.”
According to Kuanum, “We can categorically state that the APC did not hold party primaries in Benue State for all elective offices in the 2023 general election.
“The shocking revelations of some of the governorship aspirants on the platform of the party as well the emergence of multiple winners of the purported House of Reps primary election in the Kwande/ Ushongo Federal Constituency, that of Gwer East /Gwer West House of Reps seat, the Benue North West Senatorial District Primaries and a host of others, with each acclaimed winner with his own result sheet further proves our findings that the APC did not hold any primaries in Benue State.
“Our findings agree with the report of the APC Appeal Panel where the Chairman of the team frowned at the sham in Benue, describing it as ‘yahoo yahoo results’ and called for outright cancellation of the purported primaries.
“Another twist was introduced in the cacaphony of confusion as another letter signed by the leadership of the APC and purportedly received by INEC on Thursday June 9, 2022 (the very last day for the conduct of primary elections) started making the rounds.
“The content of the letter was that the APC wants to “reconduct” the governorship primary election in 12 Local Government Areas and had set same for 8th June 8, 2022 to June 9, 2022.
“The letter stated that ‘This is arising from the disruption of the process at the earlier scheduled date;” the 12 Local Governments are Kwande, Buruku, Konshisha, Ogbadibo, Agatu, Ushongu, Ohimini, Oju, Okpokwu, Obi, Apa and Ado. A copy of the said letter is also hereto attached.
“It beats all logic, sense of geography and the reality of time when it is put to simple reasoning how the aspirants could be availed of the notice of primary on the same day, availed the register of members on the same day, given the time to process their agents and send to the party on the same day, mobilise the agents to the far flung 12 Local Governments on the same day and also mobilise their teeming supporters to vote on the same day while returns were compiled same day and Special Congress also held same day to ratify the winner in line with Section 84(4)(c) of the Electoral Act, 2022.
“What is astonishing is the willingness of the Administrative Secretary of INEC in Benue State to revel in unholy cahoot with the perpetrators of this charade. He completely discarded the established protocol of his superiors in INEC as established in the correspondences aforementioned written by the INEC’s Secretary to the leadership of the APC and PDP.
“Most importantly, it must be pointed out again that the Governorship primaries in Benue State had been held and returns made on the May 28, 2022 showing the votes purportedly polled by each aspirants.
“The six days extension by INEC is not for processes already concluded but for primaries that were yet to be conducted as at the time of the extention. This much was clearly pointed out in the attached press release by INEC on May 27, 2022 and signed by Mr. Festus Okoye in his capacity as the Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee.
“The press release is emphatic that the extension is ‘granted in respect of outstanding primaries only without prejudice to those already concluded by political parties. The Commission will not monitor already concluded primaries.’
“The conduct of the Adminsitrative Secretary of INEC in Benue State calls for investigation as it leaves much to be desired as even the 7 days notice for re-scheduled primaries was not complied with when the APC had the whole of 13 days between the May 28, 2022 when it returned Fr. Hyacinth Alia as the winner of its primaries and May 9, 2022 when the time table lapsed.
“Secondly, the Administrative Secretary is yet to avail stakeholders of any notification from INEC Headquarters authorising him to monitor the “re-scheduled” election.”
The BYF President called on INEC to be “truly independent and save our democracy by rejecting names of candidates APC sent to it from Benue State as the party clearly violated the 1999 Constitution, the Electoral Act and regulations set by the Commission.
“We demand the immediate resignation of the Administrative Secretary of INEC in Benue State for acts unbecoming of his otherwise high office. Allowing the Benue APC vote allocation to stand will amount to legalizing illegality.
“We assure all relevant institutions, stake holders and the general public that Benue is a law-obeying state which has no room for impunity and undemocratic practices.”
Reacting, the Public Relations Officer of INEC in Benue state, Mr. Terkaa Andyer said, “the fact is that the Administrative Secretary does not have the powers to send anyone to monitor any political party primaries or not. That directive normally comes from the headquarters. It is when Abuja gives directives that the state complies.
“The Administrative Secretary was not even around during the primaries but the directives came from the Headquarters that we should monitor and not the state.”
When asked if political parties that flout provisions of the Electoral Act as amended or INEC rules as it relates to the conduct of the party primaries do not face punitive measures, Mr. Andyer said “it is the prerogative of INEC to penalize or sanction them as it is appropriate.”