Wednesday, March 11, 2015

INEC, YDP and 2015 elections

The judgment of Justice Ahmed Mohammed of Abuja Federal High Court last Wednesday to the effect that Young Democratic Party, a hitherto political association, be accorded due rights and privileges of a political party came to many as a surprise. The learned judge had posited that the YDP was deemed registered when the Independent National Electoral Commission failed to inform its promoters of its decision not to register it as a political party within 30 days of receiving its application, as required under Section 78 (4) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended. INEC was said to have received the association’s application on April 1, 2014 but only notified the applicant of its decision not to register it on September 15, 2014. I am saddened by this news. I believe the electoral commission should have known better rather than delay the communication of the defect of the application of the political association to its founders within the 30 days stipulated by law.
At a press conference on March 5, the new party gave INEC two options namely: to either reprint its ballot papers and include the party with a view to accommodating the party’s candidates or shift the elections. “If INEC does not have the appropriation for logistics for reprinting of its ballot papers, then INEC ought to, within the constitutional provision, further reschedule the general elections so as to accommodate our party,” the party’s national publicity secretary submitted. Meanwhile, in compliance with sections 85 and 87 of the Electoral Act, the party said it had fixed its governorship/House of Assembly and Presidential and National Assembly primaries for March 26 and 27 respectively.
When I wrote about my disapproval of the poll shift on this column four weeks ago, I did not foresee this latest development. Had it been that the elections had held on February 14 and 28 as originally scheduled by INEC, this court judgment would not have had any impact whatsoever on the 2015 polls. However, the election postponement allowed the new party to make mockery of our electoral planning. Just imagine, INEC should shift the polls to accommodate its yet-to-be-nominated candidates or shift the polls! What would be the electoral fortune of this party even if INEC were to put it on the ballot? This is a party whose primaries are scheduled for March 26 and 27. That is on the eve of the national elections.
INEC did mess up on the issue at hand. If its staff in charge of party registration had done their job professionally, the country would not have been put in this precarious situation. Can the electoral management body afford to ignore the part’s boastful requests? What valid, legal options are available to the commission in handling this sensitive matter? I read that it is going to ask for stay of execution and appeal the high court decision. Good, but is that satisfactory? What if it goes on appeal, conducts the elections on March 28 and April 11 only for higher courts to later rule that the elections were null and void for unlawful exclusion of the candidates of the new party? We have had a similar situation in 2007 when the Supreme Court, without minding that INEC had printed about 65 million ballot papers, ordered that former Vice President Atiku Abubakar had been unlawfully excluded and that he should be on the ballot. That decision came five days to the 2007 presidential poll and INEC had to reprint the ballots. The commission therefore should learn from history.
It may be true that the YDP may be playing the political card of other vested partisan interests beyond its own as revealed by this newspaper in its last Saturday edition. However, if we must blame the hawk for wickedness, let’s also scold the mother hen for exposing her children to danger. If INEC had handled the administrative side of the party registration according to the dictates of the law, the YDP will not have any legal right to call for the postponement of the elections or reprint of about 70 million ballot papers.
It must be stated that the implications of INEC acceding to either of the requests made by the YDP are grave. Should the election management body agree to reprint the ballot papers, where will it get the funds to do that? Was that planned for? If the funds are even available, what about the procurement bottlenecks? The commission cannot reprint about 70 million ballot papers without getting due process certification from the Bureau of Public Procurement. Can this be done in the two weeks remaining to the national elections date? If it otherwise postpones the elections, will it be on the basis that it hopes to get supplementary budget to reprint the ballot papers from the government? The socio-economic and political costs any further poll shift will cause this country are better imagined than experienced.
Already tension is brewing in the country as the air of uncertainty pervades the country. The economy is haemorrhaging as investors’ confidence in Nigeria’s markets (trade, investment, financial) becomes shaky. Billions have been lost to capital flight at the Nigeria Stock Exchange while the naira continues to depreciate against international currencies such as the dollar, pound and euro.   Public confidence in INEC to deliver credible elections will dip should there be a further shift. More and more court injunctions may be procured by some political interests against some aspects of the electoral plans such as banning of the use of the Permanent Voter Cards and Smartcard Readers. There could also be heightened insecurity as a result of the raging insurgency.
We must not also forget that as a result of the deregistration of 28 political parties on December 6, 2012, some of these political parties went to court to seek revalidation of their recognition as registered political parties. In fact, in a suit filed by Fresh Democratic Party and its presidential candidate in the 2011 presidential election, Rev. Chris Okotie, a Federal High Court in Abuja presided by Justice Gabriel Kolawole on July 29, 2013 nullified the deregistration of political parties by INEC. The court also declared Section 78 (7) (ii) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, which says parties must win seats in the state and National Assembly elections as null and void. INEC has appealed this decision and should the Court of Appeal uphold the high court judgment and order the 28 deregistered political parties to also be on the ballot like the YDP, then INEC may have to reprint the ballot papers for the third time.
I do not know how INEC will handle the conundrum of the YDP’s request. Whichever way it does, this is an avoidable mess and someone or some persons within the commission must be made answerable for putting this country in this tight and unpleasant situation.
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