The conduct of the forthcoming governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states seems to hang on the impending decision of the Supreme Court on the 22 political parties recently de-registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The commission may have to shift the elections in the two states if the apex court rules that the electoral body has no powers to deregister the parties.
Besides, if INEC loses at the Supreme Court to the 22 parties, the tenure of Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State would have lapsed by the time the election takes place, and Obaseki will not contest as an incumbent.
Should any constitutional crisis arise in the circumstance, the Constitution stipulates that power be handed over to the Speaker of the State Assembly; a post now being laid claim to by two persons.
However, if the Supreme Court confirms INEC’s powers to deregister parties, the polls will go ahead as planned.
The Nation gathered that fears of what may happen at the Supreme Court have thrown INEC into a dilemma as any unfavourable judgment would affect preparations for the governorship elections.
Top officials of INEC have been looking at the two scenarios and available options for the agency.
Notwithstanding, the 22 deregistered parties have written the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, asking to be included on the ballot paper for the Edo and Ondo elections.
The apex court is expected to give its verdict on the conflicting judgments of the Court of Appeal on the deregistration of parties.
The commission had on February 6 deregistered 74 political parties for their inability to fulfill requirements for existence based on Section 225(a) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
It premised its decision on the constitutional power to register and regulate the activities of political parties.
In May, however, Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja cancelled the deregistration of National Unity Party (NUP), which filed the appeal, and 73 other political parties.
Taiwo said INEC was in breach of section 225(a) of the Nigeria Constitution.
On June 30, the Advanced Congress of Democrats (ACD), Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party (ANDP), Alliance of Social Democrats (ASD), Progressive People Alliance (PPA), United Patriots (UP) and 17 others asked the Court of Appeal to order INEC to relist them.
Also on July 29, the Abuja Division of the Appeal Court affirmed the powers of the INEC to deregister political parties.
The panel, led by Justice Mohammed Idris, held that INEC did not err in law in deregistering the NUP which filed the appeal.
But on August 10, 2020, in an appeal filed by Advanced Congress of Democrats (ACD) and 22 others, the Court of Appeal held that the deregistration of ACD and 22 others was ultra vires the powers of the Commission and ordered the Commission to reinstate them.
Based on the conflicting judgments, INEC approached the Supreme Court for what it described as the final resolution of whether it has power to deregister or not.
INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Mr. Festus Okoye, said: ”The Commission is therefore faced with two conflicting judgments from the Court of Appeal; one affirming the powers of the Commission to deregister political parties and the other setting aside the deregistration of ACD and 22 others.
“Faced with two conflicting judgments from the same court, the Commission is not in a position to pick and choose which one of them to obey.
“Consequently, the Commission will approach the Supreme Court for a final resolution of the issues raised in the two conflicting judgments.”
Some of the parties challenging their deregistration are Advanced Congress of Democrats (ACD), National Unity Party (NUP), Hope Democratic Party (HDP), Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP), Progressive People Alliance (PPA), Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party (ANDP), All Blending Progressive Party (ABP), and All Grand Alliance Party (AGAP). Some of the others are Better Nigeria Progressive Party (BNPP), Democratic People’s Congress (DPC), Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), Green Party of Nigeria (GPN), Alliance of Social Democrats (ASD), United Patriots (UP) Mega Party of Nigeria (MPN) and National Interest Party (NIP).
The plaintiffs also include Nigeria Democratic Congress Party (NDCP), People’s Party of Nigeria (PPN), People for Democratic Change (PDC), Peoples Coalition Party (PCP), and Red-build Nigeria Party (RBNP), Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), Restoration Party of Nigeria (RPN).
A well-placed source said the fate of the two elections (Edo and Ondo) is now tied to the decision of the Supreme Court.
The source said: “There are legal hurdles in the Supreme Court for INEC to scale through before it can conduct elections in Edo and Ondo states. These hurdles, which were brought about by 22 deregistered parties, are creating big headache for everybody.
“Both the National Unity Party and INEC are before the Supreme Court for the final determination of the powers to deregister political parties or not.
“If the powers of INEC to deregister are upheld, there will be no problem with the conduct of the two polls. If otherwise, INEC will have to go ahead to accommodate the 23 parties.
“It means the 22 parties must be given time to conduct primaries and follow through the nomination process, which cannot be less than 60 days. If the 22 parties have their way, INEC will have no choice but to shift the elections in the two states.
“Also, INEC would have to redesign and reprint ballot papers for the two elections, especially Edo governorship poll.
“And if INEC damns the consequences by going ahead to conduct the elections, the court may cancel the outcome.
The source said sections 30 and 31 of the Electoral Act 2010(As amended) have also put INEC in dilemma because the electoral commission must comply with the provision if the rights of the 22 parties are upheld by the Supreme Court.
The source said the nomination process by political parties is between 60 and 90 days.
He also said the parties must give 21 days’ notice to INEC to conduct primaries.
Sections 30 and 31 read: “The Commission shall, not later than 90 days before the day appointed for holding of an election under this Act, publish a notice in each state of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory (a) stating the date of the election; and (b) appointing the place at which nomination papers are to be delivered.
“The notice shall be published in each constituency in respect of which an election is to be held.
“In the case of a by-election, the commission shall, not later than 14 days before the date appointed for the election, publish a notice stating the date of the election.”
Section 31 reads: “Every political party shall not later than 60 days before the date appointed for a general election under the provisions of this Act, submit to the commission in the prescribed forms the list of the candidates the party proposes to sponsor at the elections.
“The list or information submitted by each candidate shall be accompanied by an affidavit sworn to by the candidate at the High Court of a state, indicating that he has fulfilled all the constitutional requirements for election into that office.
“The commission shall, within 7 days of the receipt of the personal particulars of the candidate, publish same in the constituency where the candidate intends to contest the election.”
Another source said any decision of the Supreme Court against INEC will affect the chances of Governor Obaseki contesting as an incumbent governor.
The source said there might be a constitutional crisis on who will be the Acting Governor of the state between the two lawmakers claiming to be the Speaker of the State House of Assembly.
The source added: “A judgment against INEC on Tuesday might lead to Governor Obaseki contesting for the office as an ordinary candidate and not as an incumbent governor.
“By the provision of Section 178 (1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution, the governor would have vacated office on November 12th before the poll is conducted.
“Section 178 (1) and (2) says: “An election to the office of Governor of a state shall be held on a date to be appointed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
“An election to the office of Governor of a state shall be held on a date not earlier than 150 days (Fourth Alteration of the 1999 Constitution) and not later than 30 days before the expiration of the term of office of the last holder of that office.
“From Section 178, the not later than 30 days’ time frame in the Constitution elapses on October 12th.”
A document by an expert on the implications of the Supreme Court judgment against INEC reads in part:
The Governor of Edo State was sworn in on 12th November, 2016. His tenure ends on 12th November, 2020. Section 180 (2) (a) of the 1999 Constitution as amended provides:
”Subject to the provisions of subsection (1) of this section, the Governor shall vacate his office at the expiration of period of four years commencing from the date when – (a) in the case of a person first elected as Governor under this Constitution, he took the Oath of Allegiance and oath of office”;
“The latest possible date for election for the Governor of Edo State including conduct of any run off or by-election following an inconclusive first ballot shall be 12th October, 2020.
“The Commission has already scheduled for the election to hold on 19th September, 2020 in line with its powers as donated in Section 178(1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
“The number of days between last possible date for election and date already scheduled for election will be 23 days. Implementing this judgment will warrant an alteration of the election timetable already scheduled to accommodate the 22 political parties.
“From 11th August, 2020 to 12th October, 2020 which is the last possible date for Edo election is only 62 days. It therefore means that it is constitutionally impossible for the Commission to conduct an election before 12th October, 2020 if it were to issue fresh notice.
“If a new notice were to be issued, the earliest time election can hold will be 10th November 2020 which is just two days to the date of termination of the current tenure of the governor.”
On the nomination of candidates by the 22 parties, the document added: “Section 35 of the Electoral act provides that not later than 45 days to the election, a candidate may withdraw his candidature.
“On final publication of list of nominated candidates (for possible pre-election litigation), Section 34 of the Electoral Act allows for at least 30 days for this publication before the date of election.
“From the foregoing, if this judgment is to stand, it is already impossible for INEC to hold the election on either the scheduled date of 19th September 2020 or last possible date 12th October, 2020 in Edo State and possibly Ondo State.
“It is also going to lead to another round of litigations and possibly nullification of the election if the judgment is implemented without the parties being allowed to participate in the election.”