Aisha Alhassan: Is She the Favoured Daughter of the Electoral Act?, By Jibrin Ibrahim



 If this judgement stands, it would be a big boast to internal party democracy because party bosses would then have a strong disincentive not to substitute the names of people who have validly won their party primaries.

On Saturday, the Taraba State Governorship Elections Petition Tribunal nullified the victory of Governor Darius Dickson Ishaku of the PDP in the April 11, 2015 election and declared his opponent from the APC, Hajiya Aisha Jummai Alhassan the winner. The tribunal ruled that Darius Dickson Ishaku was not sponsored by any political party to run in the election as required by law. In consequence, in a unanimous decision, the tribunal ordered the APC candidate to be sworn-in as governor, having scored the second highest lawful votes cast in the election.
The tribunal was of the view that the purported nomination of the sacked governor by the PDP had breached Section 85 of the Electoral Act 2010 because there was no notification to INEC on the conduct of its December 8, 2014 party primary, 21 days before the event. Their position is that the PDP did not have a candidate in the governorship election and that the votes counted for Ishaku were therefore ‘wasted votes.’ The tribunal held that it was a fundamental law in Nigeria that a candidate for an elective position must be dully nominated and sponsored by a registered political party before the candidature of such candidate can be legally valid. Their conclusion therefore was that since Darius Ishaku was not sponsored by any known registered political party, he cannot lay claim to votes cast for any political party.
INEC made a bold attempt in 2011 to disqualify candidates who had not won their primaries but the courts for the most part supported the illegalities carried out by the political parties. It was therefore the courts that facilitated the tradition of disregarding due process mechanism in candidate nomination. This judgement would therefore be an important break through for democracy if it stands.
Immediately after the release of the judgement, Mr. Ishaku held a news conference in Jalingo and announced that he would appeal the verdict. Of course he would remain governor until the determination of the appeal following which he would vacate the office or remain if he wins. The question for Aisha Alhassan is whether she is the favoured daughter of the Electoral Act. The Act is clear in Section 87 b (ii) that someone is a candidate for governor only if the person is “the aspirant with the highest number of votes at the end of the voting (and) shall be declared winner of the primaries” and the name of the person shall be forwarded to INEC. This law has been systematically breached and the reality on the ground is that most political parties tend to submit names of people who had not won their primaries, and in many cases had not even contested. If this judgement stands, it would be a big boast to internal party democracy because party bosses would then have a strong disincentive not to substitute the names of people who have validly won their party primaries.
The parties have been able to systematically violate the Electoral Act with impunity because of the provision of Section 31 of the same Act. It states that “Every political party shall… submit to the Commission in the prescribed forms the list of the candidates the party proposes to sponsor at the elections, provided that the Commission shall not reject or disqualify candidates for any reason whatsoever”. It was this provision that made it impossible for INEC to implement the provision that all candidates must have participated and won their primaries. INEC made a bold attempt in 2011 to disqualify candidates who had not won their primaries but the courts for the most part supported the illegalities carried out by the political parties. It was therefore the courts that facilitated the tradition of disregarding due process mechanism in candidate nomination. This judgement would therefore be an important break through for democracy if it stands.
As the integrity of our electoral process improves due to the dual emergence of improved performance by INEC and more mandate protection vigilance from citizens, improving internal party democracy would provide a fillip to the democratic process.
It would be recalled that the Taraba elections were characterised by irregularities and INEC had to order fresh elections in parts of the State. The other issue in the close fought election was the possible emergence of an elected female governor, which would be a historic event in the country. Back to the Electoral Act, some lawyers have argued that in the event of a declaration that a candidate that won was not a valid candidate, the tribunal should call for new elections rather than declare the person that came second as winner. The case is therefore complicated and we will have to await the appeal process to determine jurisprudence on this matter.
Meanwhile, it is important that the new Commission in INEC should immediately take up the issue of revising the Electoral Act to remove all ambiguities. It is important for the consolidation of democracy that parties learn to organise free and fair primaries and respect their outcomes. By so doing, those who emerge from the process would be the most popular within the parties and therefore the people with the highest possibilities of winning their elections. The most serious threat to Nigerian democracy is the imposition of candidates by godfathers, who steal the mandate of party members and determine outcomes. People who have emerged because godfathers had imposed them owe their loyalty to the said godfathers and not the people. As the integrity of our electoral process improves due to the dual emergence of improved performance by INEC and more mandate protection vigilance from citizens, improving internal party democracy would provide a fillip to the democratic process. The courts too have their role to play in correctly interpreting the law to ensure that those who did not pass the popularity test in party primaries do not parade themselves as legitimate members of the corridors of power.

- Premium Times 

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