Political parties in the country are required by law to conduct internal primary elections to nominate candidates who would represent them at the general election.
As a result, disputes typically arise during this process.
Worrisome is the fact that while campaigns are on going, several pre-election suits are still pending in various courts nationwide.
What are the implications of pre election cases to the forthcoming elections.
The importance of pre-election matters cannot be over-emphasized as they are live issues which must be determined by the court even after the general election has been conducted and a candidate has been sworn in and the seat occupied.
Nomination or double nomination of a candidate; disqualification of a candidate; wrongful substitution or omission of a successful candidate’s name by the electoral body; complaints about the conduct of primaries, and false declaration on oath about particulars of a candidate have all been described by the law courts as pre-election matters.
Barely 70 days to the conduct of the 2023 general election, there are still pending pre-election litigations in several courts across the country.
JUDICIAL WAY OUT
Speaking at a special court session to mark the commencement of the Federal High Court legal year 2022/2023 in Abuja, the Chief Judge of the court, Justice John Tsoho said over 1,000 pre-election cases had been assigned to judges of the court to beat the statutory 180-day deadline for hearing and concluding pre-election matters.
Also, recently at a capacity building workshop for over 300 judges that are to handle disputes that would arise from the forthcoming elections, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu lamented that over 600 cases pending against the electoral body, relate to the conduct of primaries by political parties.
An Abuja based legal practitioner, Mr. Oladotun Hassan said it was not healthy for the electoral process that the Commission would be battling with pre-election matters, at a time it was supposed to be concerned with preparations for the necessary logistics of the imminent polls.
In June this year, political parties submitted the lists of their candidates contesting the 2023 elections to INEC.
Most of the pre-election cases arose as a result of moves by various political parties to substitute their candidates who contested elective positions.
The National Secretary of the Young Progressives Party, (YPP) Mr. Wale Martins contended that for anyone to emerge as a candidate based on the provisions of the Electoral Act, the person must have participated in a primary election.
“By the provisions of Section 33 of the 2022 Electoral Act, a political party cannot remove or substitute a candidate that emerged from a valid primary”.
In Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District for instance, the All Progressives Congress, (APC), (INEC) and Senator Godswill Akpabio were brought before a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja over move by the party to replace Udom Ekpoudom with the former governor.
Udom Ekpoudum, a retired Deputy Inspector General of Police contested and won the party’s senatorial primary for Akwa Ibom North West, conducted on May 28, 2022, by the INEC.
However, after losing his bid to pick the APC’s presidential primary election, Akpabio was later nominated by the party as it’s candidate.
Similarly, the President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan lost the APC presidential ticket to former governor of Lagos state, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu.
Last month, INEC’s national commissioner for voter education, Festus Okoye, who spoke with the media, said the commission had substituted over 120 names based on court orders.
A Public Affairs Analyst, Mr. Chukwuemeka Njoku advised INEC to avoid playing to the rules of political bigwigs but adhere strictly to the guidelines of the electoral act, 2022.
Also, a Constitutional lawyer, Mr. Maxwell Okpara said INEC has the right to conduct only one primary except the candidate who emerged from the primary decide to withdraw or step down from the race.
Two residents in Abuja Mr. Shehu Sule and Mr. Balogun Olaitan advised politicians to desist from bending the rules to suit their personal interests and called on the judiciary to refrain from entertaining suits that emanated from parallel primaries.
With numerous litigations in several courts, experts believe that there should be more room for improvement in the electoral act, INEC guidelines, and the Constitution, to ensure that political parties desist from the temptations of substituting validly elected candidates that would in-turn, make aggrieved persons overstretch the judiciary through series of litigations.
Writing by Ifeoma Nwovu; Editing by Chinasa Ossai