o doubt, the Independent National Electoral Commission has the powers to monitor the organization and operation of political parties, including their finances, conventions, congresses and primaries.
Similarly, it is also the sole responsibility of political parties to nominate candidates for election. Both the constitution and the Electoral Act give different powers to both the political parties and the INEC.
Section 29 (1) of the Electoral Act 22 provides “Every political party shall, not later than 180 days before the date appointed for a general election under this Act, submit to the Commission, in the prescribed Forms, the list of the candidates the party proposes to sponsor at the elections, who must have emerged from valid primaries conducted by the political party.”
While section 84 (13) states that, “Where a political party fails to comply with the provisions of this Act in the conduct of its primaries, its candidate for election shall not be included in the election for the particular position in issue.”
However, exercising these powers have not been devoid of frictions between INEC and political parties. The dispute between Akwa Ibom chapter of All Progressives Congress and the INEC as represented by its Resident Electoral Commissioner in Akwa Ibom State – Mike Igini, is case in point.
What is not in doubt is the fact that it is the responsibility of political parties to submit the list of their candidates to INEC.
Following a Federal High court judgment that declared Obong Stephen Ntukekpo the chairman of APC in Akwa Ibom State and confirmation by the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, the Resident Electoral Commissioner has contemptuously refused to recognize this judgments. He also refused to relate with him. The Secretary to the commission, Rose Oriaran-Anthony had to write to Mike Igini drawing his attention to the judgment of a Federal High Court declaring Ntukekpo as the chairman of the All Progressives Congress in Akwa Ibom and advising him to comply with the content of the judgment. Notwithstanding this letter, the resident electoral commissioner continues to deny the recognition to the APC leadership in the state.
Even if the resident electoral commissioner disagreed with the court judgment, he had no choice but to comply with it until an appellate court has set it aside. But in sheer disregard to the rule of law, the resident electoral commissioner continued to accord recognition to another faction of the APC.
He therefore chose to monitor primaries conducted by the faction not recognized by law. He would not have anything to do with the legally recognized leadership of the APC in Akwa Ibom. His office would not accept correspondences from the legitimate leadership. The party having give INEC statutory notices indicating schedules of its primaries, the can not compel INEC to exercise its statutory responsibility of monitoring the primaries. He didn’t stop there.
He granted interviews to newspapers and television stations in which he ridiculed a valid court judgment thereby sitting on an appeal on the judgment of the federal high court. In one of such interviews, Igini said that APC would not participate in the governorship and National Assembly election in Akwa Ibom because it does not have candidates.
This exactly is the crux of the crisis in Akwa Ibom. INEC cannot pick and choose which primaries to monitor. If INEC, out of disdain for the legitimate leadership of a political party chooses to monitor a primary conducted by an illegal faction, should the party be punished or accused of not conducting a valid primary? Put differently, what happens where a political party invites INEC to monitor its primaries and INEC declines? Should the political party be punished for INEC negligence and transgression? These and many more are the issues that the court will have to resolve in the Akwa Ibom case.
However, to err on the side of caution, it makes sense for INEC to allow the list of candidates sent by the APC to be on the ballot. If a court of law holds that the list should not have been accepted, then so be it. However, it will do an incalculable and irreversible injustice and damage to the APC if INEC does not allow the party to field candidates. Even if the court holds that the list should have been accepted, other parties might have been declared winner of the election.
Holding the balance of justice, is the least that is expected of an unbiased umpire. To do otherwise, is to give in to allegation that INEC is working for Peoples Democratic Party in Akwa Ibom. A stitch in time saves nine.