Posted by By FRANCIS AWOWOLE-BROWNE, Abuja on
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Tuesday foreclosed the possibility of Vice President Atiku Abubakar contesting the April 21 presidential election.
• You’re looking for trouble, says VP
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Tuesday foreclosed the possibility of Vice President Atiku Abubakar contesting the April 21 presidential election. According to the electoral body, the vice president, who is the Action Congress (AC) presidential standard bearer, would not make the list of cleared candidates it will release.
INEC Commissioner and Head of the Information Committee, Philip Umeadi, a lawyer, told newsmen at a media parley in Abuja that as far as the commission was concerned, Atiku remained indicted just as some others and therefore, stands barred by the constitution from contesting the election.
Exculpating INEC from the plight of the embattled vice president, Umeadi insisted that the onus is on Atiku to get reprieve from the court, promising that INEC would obey any court order to that effect.
He lamented that the position of INEC had been misconstrued by the people who are made to believe that the commission had a hidden agenda, noting with regret that the media appeared to have a mindset on the situation.
"No matter what," he assured, "the commission will conduct a free and fair election next April."
The INEC commissioner argued that those indicted and whose names were cleared by the commission had got orders of the court, which compelled INEC not to exclude them from the elections, adding that otherwise all those who were indicted by the Administrative Panel of Inquiry stand excluded as provided for by the constitution.
On why the commission is appealing the court ruling that it had no power to disqualify candidates for elections, Umeadi maintained that it had no interest whatsoever other than for clear interpretation of the role of INEC when the court said that INEC, as a body, could screen and verify claims but cannot disqualify candidates.
Said he: "The court ruling was just an affirmation of our position and stand that we can’t disqualify. It is the constitution and the court that can disqualify. Ours is just to give effect to the constitutional provision of eligibility and otherwise of a candidate. We actually appealed the ruling because of Section 32 (5) of the Electoral Act, which says that the candidature of a person can be contested in court when discovered he made false claims.
"We then want to know what happens when a person makes true claims about himself and he is not qualified to contest and wants to. The Act did not say what would happen in that situation. For instance, if a person is a foreigner who should not contest and he says so, but wants to contest or he is underage and he declares his true age and he is indeed, underage and wants to contest. Since he didn’t lie about his age, he can’t be said to have perjured and yet by the qualifications stipulated for the position he is eyeing, he is ineligible. The Act did not say what would happen in such circumstance. That is why we appealed, not because of any person or interest.
"In the case of Alhaji Atiku, he didn’t lie. He said he had been indicted and he came with a court judgment on a suit challenging the indictment of one of those indicted and was granted leave to enforce his fundamental rights. This is a fundamental rights issue. It is personal. You can only approach to grant you leave to enforce your rights. Another person cannot do it for you. It is your right.
"The said judgment will not avail the vice president. We don’t have any problem with him.
We have tried to match the judgment with the provisions of the law and see if it can avail him, but it cannot.
"It is left for the vice president to go to court and obtain leave and should the court ask that we include his name to contest, we will not blink an eyelid before doing so. Others have gone to court to do this and their names were cleared."
Umeadi stated that Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu of Abia State and presidential standard bearer of the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) falls into this category, explaining why his name will be in the list of cleared presidential candidates.
He said that the same thing applied to Governor Ali Modu Sheriff of Borno State, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau of Kano as well as former governor of Kogi State, Prince Abubakar Audu, who he claimed went to court and obtained orders compelling INEC not to exclude them from being cleared on the basis of their indictment.
In all the instances, Umeadi said, the commission had never dealt with candidates but their parties in case of non-clearance and substitution.
"On receipt of the report of indictment, we informed the parties to substitute the candidates. We wrote all of them, including AC, PPA PDP and co," he said.
He explained that many issues in which INEC was not a party were being woven around the commission just to disparage it.
"You see two candidates from the same party obtaining different injunctions and orders to stop their nominations and INEC would be blamed for obeying the one communicated to it. We have some cases like that currently being investigated by the security and many also are subject of litigation," he said.
On the apprehension of the people that barely a month to the election, the INEC had not released and published the voters’ register, Umeadi dismissed the fears as unfounded, saying that the commission had since released the register and even forwarded it to all the political parties in soft copies, via diskette.
However, the vice president has warned that Nigeria is heading for anarchy if the INEC does not stop flouting court orders on the issue of disqualification of candidates for next month’s elections.
In a statement by the Atiku Campaign Organization, the vice president argues that INEC’s position was a clear affront on the judiciary as, "a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja had resolved all the issues on the powers of INEC to disqualify candidates from the election."
The statement said: "The court judgment is unequivocal about the powers to disqualify candidates in the election. This mischief about the constitution rather than INEC disqualifying candidates is dangerous and unprecedented in the annals of election administration in the country. The constitution expressly grants the power to disqualify candidates to the courts and the Abuja High Court judgment expressly stated this.
"Justice Babs Kuewumi addressed this issue in his judgment by submitting that ‘Section 137 (for president) and 182 (for governor) of the constitution also contains provisions that ab-initio disqualifies an intending candidate aspiring to the office of president and governor respectively. However, none of these provisions in my view empower the defendant (INEC) to issue an order disqualifying a candidate.’
"Commenting specifically on where lies the power of disqualifying candidates for the election, Justice Kuewumi, in granting the sixth relief sought by the AC and Vice President Atiku Abubakar when he stated as follows: ‘The power to disqualify any candidate sponsored by any political party, including the 1st plaintiff (AC) from contesting any election is vested in the courts as provided for in Section 32(5) of the Electoral Act 2006 and in any other legislation that is validly enacted in that behalf.’
"The judgment is therefore, clear, unequivocal and specific about who has the powers to disqualify candidates for the election. The mischief that it is the constitution and not INEC, which purportedly disqualifies Vice President Abubakar from the election, is therefore, a strange imputation into the Nigerian legal system that is clearly an invitation to anarchy. Or is INEC inviting aggrieved candidates to sue the constitution?
"We note that INEC has indeed, gone to the Appeal Court to challenge the High Court judgment. It is a waste of taxpayers’ money for INEC, a publicly funded commission, to be seeking further clarification on a matter so clear and obvious.
"We affirm our position that it is only the courts that can disqualify a candidate from the election as clearly stated in the constitution and affirmed by the court. INEC now claims the court judgment did not expressly mention the vice president. We must then ask if the constitution that Iwu says disqualifies the vice president expressly mentions Atiku anywhere in the entire text.
"INEC, as an independent arbiter and referee in the election, should have no interest in the qualification of any candidate. What then is INEC’s interest in filing an appeal against a declaratory judgment?"
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