By Bright C. J. Okereke
Many are the afflictions of obvious and bareface acts of witch-hunting the innocent, perverting justice and denying a winner the crown of success.
It is a clear case of sabotage, reckless and severe abuse on the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the nation’s Electoral Act to declare a political party which sponsored no candidate in an election, as the winner. This is ridiculous!
Though, many stages are involved in the planning and conduct of an election and each phase links to the next; but the last two (2) stages; Collation and Declaration of election results, seem the most critical in the election process
And, the success of any election largely depends in the efficient handling of these two stages.
Mishandling of these vital stages can jeopardize public confidence on the electoral body and further creates confusion and obvious doubt on the credibility of the elections, so conducted.
There are situations, when the integrity of a well-run electoral process is severely compromised as a result of improper or inordinate handling of these two stages of collation and result declaration, just as was the case in the penultimate Saturday’s Imo North (Okigwe Zone) Senatoral bye election, where the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC), caused mishandled the most crucial lap of result declaration, by announcing a political party, which couldn’t sponsor or field any candidate for the election, as the winner against the spirit, intents and the letters of the law.
Though, the commission’s Returning Officer, for the election, further nailed, the All Progressive Congress (APC), by, not returning ‘anybody elected’ as the electoral act demands. An obvious confirmation that the party fielded no candidate for the said election.
Suprisingly, the election declaration format used by the Imo North bye election Returning Officer, is in large contrast with the Commission’s approved pattern which declares winning to a candidate, sponsored by a political party and returns the candidate elected rather than the party, worst still, one without a candidate.
Taking a critical review and analysis of a few elections result declaration statements by same Commission in comparison with that of Imo North; one observes the sharp differential that exposed the Commission’s interest and attempts to deliver a particular political party at all cost.
Reminiscing on the instances below shows how the INEC Returning Officer for Imo North goofed.
1.) Imo North Returning Officer, Hakeem Adikum announced as follows: –
“I hereby return the All Progressives Congress as the winner of the bye-election held in Imo North on Saturday, December 5.”
2.) His Lagos East counterpart announced as follows:-
“I, Prof. Oremosu Ademola, certify that I am the Returning Officer for the 2020 Lagos East Senatorial bye-election held INEC on the 5th day of December Year 2020. The election was contested.
“That Abiru Mukhail Adetokunbo of All Progressives Congress, having satisfied the requirements of the law and scored the highest number of votes is hereby declared the winner and returned elected.”
3.) “I, Prof. Ameh Akoh of the Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ikwo, Ebonyi State, hereby declare that Dr Stephen Odey of the PDP having scored the highest number of valid votes is hereby declared winner of the Cross River North senatorial by-election.
4.) Johnson Alalibo, the Chief returning officer of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for Edo State governorship election announced the result as follows:-
“Godwin Obaseki of the PDP, having satisfied the requirement of the law and scored the highest number of votes, is hereby declared the winner,”
According to the INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of its information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, while speaking on AIT’s Daily Sunrise Show of Monday, Dec 7, corroborated the position of the Imo Resident Electoral Commissioner, Prof Fracis Ezeonu, that, conflicting court orders disqualified the two (2) aspirants, yes! Aspirants, because none of the two, embattled fellows eventually became candidate of the party on the election day, as the duo were disqualified on Friday, December 4, 2020; the day preceding the election day (Saturday, Dec 5), by Courts of competent jurisdiction, causing the party (APC), to enter the Saturday’s election without a candidate.
The implications of the above developments is that, any vote cast in favour of APC is void and INEC would have preserved her integrity by announcing and returning Emmanuel Okewulonu, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), elected, as the second runner’s up.
The country’s constitution and the Electoral laws are clear on cases like that.
For instance, Section 31, of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), provides that “every political party shall not later than 60days before the date appointed for the general election, submit to the Commission in the prescribed forms, the list of the candidates, the political party proposes to sponsor at the elections…”
The above section, therefore stipulates that a political party can only sponsor a candidate for an elections and not to stand-in for elections. As such, if any political party goes into an election without a candidate, the political party, by law, did not participate in the said election.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), should quickly redeem its dropping image by declaring the second runner’s up, Chief Emmanuel Okewulonu, the winner of the contest and return him returned elected rather than passing the buck to the judiciary.