No shifting primaries deadline, INEC tells APC, PDP, others

…Says no going back on June 3 deadline

…Why APC attached withdrawal letters to nomination forms

...Unwilling aspirants may be disqualified

…We can’t force aspirants to agree on consensus — C/River APC chairman

By Clifford Ndujihe, Omeiza Ajayi & Ike Uchechukwu, LAGOS

The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, yesterday, warned political parties pressuring it to extend the June 3 deadline to have a rethink because it will not be done.

Reaffirming its commitment to adhering to its 2023 election timetable, INEC also warned political parties of the implications of flouting electoral timelines, adding that “political parties must submit to the commission the list of candidates, who must have emerged from valid primaries.”

Vanguard had on Thursday reported moves by some strategists of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, to seek ways of getting the electoral umpire to adjust the timetable in its favour.

APC’s timetable and schedule of activities entail a series of activities that will culminate in its presidential convention, which will hold on the eve of INEC’s deadline, from May 30 to June 1.

The commission had given a June 3 deadline for political parties to conclude their primary elections.

The INEC warning came as fresh details on why the APC attached withdrawal letters to nomination forms sold to aspirants, emerged.

INEC’s National Commissioner in charge of the Information and Voter Education Committee, Barr. Festus Okoye, in a statement, yesterday, recalled that on February 26, 2022, the commission released the timetable and schedule of activities for the 2023 general election.

The timetable provides for parties to conduct their primaries for the nomination of candidates from April 4 to June 3, 2022.

He said in compliance with Section 82(1) of the Electoral Act 2022, all 18 political parties have served the required notices indicating the dates for their conventions, congresses, and primaries for the purpose of nominating candidates for various elective offices as specified in the Constitution and the Electoral Act.

According to him, some of the parties have commenced the process for which the commission has deployed staff to monitor the exercise as required by law.

“Given the importance of the exercise to the emergence of candidates for the various elective positions for the 2023 general election, it is imperative to remind political parties that they have one month from today to conclude their primaries.

‘’The deadline remains Friday, June 3, 2022. While urging the parties to ensure a rancour-free and transparent exercise, the Commission reiterates that the deadline is firm and fixed.

“Nominations for Presidential and National Assembly elections shall be submitted through the INEC web portal from 10th to 17th June 2022, while governorship and State Houses of Assembly nominations shall be submitted between 1st and 15th July 2022.

“Political parties are further reminded that they must submit to the commission the list of candidates who must have emerged from valid primaries.

“The commission will continue to work with political parties to ensure fidelity to the constitution, the Electoral Act, and the timelines for all the activities contained in the timetable and schedule of activities for the 2023 general election,” Okoye added.

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Why APC attached withdrawal letters to nomination forms

Also yesterday,  APC downplayed the backlash generated by the discovery of a withdrawal form attached to the nomination forms of aspirants.

A top official of the party told Vanguard that the form was to ensure uniformity in the manner of withdrawal by aspirants from contests.

He said:  “The letter of voluntary withdrawal is for documentary purposes and to also provide a uniform template for aspirants wishing to withdraw from the race for any of the elective offices.

“It is not about consensus. Section 84(9) of the Electoral Act 2022 (as amended) states that; ‘A political party that adopts a consensus candidate shall secure the written consent of all cleared aspirants for the position, indicating their voluntary withdrawal from the race and their endorsement of the consensus candidate.’

“Now, if you look at the law, it says such aspirant who is withdrawing in the case of a consensus must signify who he or she is stepping down for. We don’t have that space in our withdrawal form.

“The form is not mandatory to be filled. The experience of the party in the last national convention was clumsy as many of those who wanted to step down didn’t know what or how to write their letters. Some of them didn’t know what was required of them. The party decided to have a uniform template for those who may want to withdraw from the race.

“Some aspirants may even want to withdraw at the convention venue midway into the exercise. So, are you going to retrieve their forms and ask them to go to the Commissioner for Oaths and make such a declaration of their withdrawal?

‘’All they will need to do at that point is to write, by their own hands, stating their withdrawal for any consensus candidate.’’

Other reasons

However, other sources disclosed that “achieving a seamless consensus” is the main reason for the withdrawal letters to avoid a repeat of what happened at the national convention last March.

At the convention, many aspirants unwillingly stepped down after much pressure. One of the aspirants refused to step down, forcing the party to conduct an election for the office, which is in line with Section 84 (9)(b) of the Electoral Act.

The section states: “Where a political party is unable to secure the written consent of all cleared aspirants for the purpose of a consensus candidate, it shall revert to the choice of direct or indirect primaries for the nomination of candidates for the aforesaid elective positions.”

Said the source: “Some principal stakeholders of the party want our presidential candidate to emerge by consensus, to reduce the rancour and disharmony that will arise from indirect primaries. The move is to avoid the situation of going for primaries. To actualise the move aspirants who refuse to sign the withdrawal forms may be disqualified.”

According to reports, some of the aspirants are consulting their lawyers on the issue to avoid falling into booby traps.

No fewer than seven presidential aspirants have obtained the APC N100 million nomination and expression of interest forms. At press time, none of them has returned the forms.

Among those who had collected the forms are Chief Emeka Nwajiuba, Senator Rochas Okorocha, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Governor  Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Dr Tunde Bakare, Senator Ken Nnamani, Mr Rotimi Amechi and Governor Atiku Abubakar Badaru of Jigawa State.

We can’t force aspirants to agree on a consensus —C/River APC chairman

Meanwhile, the chairman of the APC in Cross River State, Alphonsus Eba, has said the party will not force any aspirant to agree on a consensus candidate, especially in the governorship election or stop anyone from picking the nomination forms.

Eba further disclosed that the party is working towards pruning the number of governorship aspirants in the state, which currently stands at 16 to four, citing “economic factor” as a reason for the move.

He made this position known yesterday while responding to questions from journalists during a media briefing at the APC party secretariat in Calabar.

Eba, who spoke shortly after the party leadership Inaugurated a seven-man committee, headed by former Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, alongside Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, and High Chief Edem Duke, among others, to drive the process of pruning the number of aspirants from 16 to four, explained that of the four, two would come from Central and two from the Southern Senatorial zones of the state.

He said: The decision to prune the number of individuals aspiring for the seat of the governor to four is to prevent party men from throwing away money, given the economic reality and the four would subsequently be presented to the state caucus who will take the final decision.

“The essence of this interaction is to make a corrigendum against all reports geared toward putting us in a bad light. We are democrats. Our processes will remain very civil and democratic…

“Pruning down the aspirants won’t be by compulsion. If they refuse to back down, then the 16 will go into the field. We will never force anyone to agree on a consensus. We are not going to force anybody to agree with us. We will allow those who refused to listen to us to go ahead with their plan. The party has not zoned the governorship seat to any senatorial district.”


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