Former Independent National Electoral Commission directors and Senior Advocates of Nigeria have warned that political parties may face crises over their nomination of placeholders as running mates to their respective candidates ahead of the 2023 presidential election.
The ex-officials of the electoral umpire, who spoke to The PUNCH in different interviews on Monday, cautioned that parties and their candidates might lose their presidential bids, should the placeholder refuse to withdraw for the substantive vice-presidential candidates.
Another issue raised by the ex-INEC officials was that the parties and their candidates might forfeit their tickets should a proxy running mate, who was not qualified to be vice-president, refuse to withdraw from the race.
Ahead of the deadline set by INEC, several political parties had by 6.pm on Friday submitted names of interim running mates to their respective presidential candidates.
Among them is the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who picked Kabiru Masari, as his ad hoc running mate. The Labour Party submitted the name of the Director-General of Peter Obi Campaign Organisation, Dr Doyin Okupe, as the interim vice-presidential candidate of the party.
All political parties have 30 days to withdraw the names of such running mates and substitute them with substantives ones.
But the former top INEC officials and senior lawyers expressed reservations over the arrangement.
Dazang warns parties
A former Director of Voter Education and Publicity, INEC, Nick Dazang, noted that the candidates were only trying to take advantage of the window provided by the Electoral Act within which substitutions could be made.
According to him, the presidential candidates are considering running mates that will give ethnoreligious balance to their ticket, have electoral value and whose nomination would attract voters.
Dazang said, “I think the arrangement now is between them and those surrogates. We have seen a situation where, for example, in Yobe someone was reported to have (allegedly) held a position in trust for the Senate President and has refused to withdraw for him. (Bashir Machina, who won the Yobe North senatorial primary, in an interview with The PUNCH on Monday, said the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, did not contest the primary nor did he (Machina) agree to step down for him.).
“I also think they are also taking advantage of the fact that at the end of the day, it is the political parties that submit the names of candidates. Even if you win at the primary and you emerge as the candidate, it is the party – either the chairman or secretary – that will submit your name officially to INEC.
“So, it is an arrangement between them (candidates) and the party hierarchy but as we have seen, it can backfire. When it does, the candidates will have to carry the can. If it does not work, then they would have to carry on with the way they have submitted the names. But if they can get other candidates that they feel are more suitable, they can prevail on the surrogate candidates to withdraw and that is allowed.”
Dazang also commented on what would happen to the ticket if the proxy running mate was not qualified to be vice-president. He cited the example of the legal logjam in the last governorship election in Bayelsa State.
The Supreme Court had on February 13, 2020, nullified the election of the candidate of the APC, Mr David Lyon, and his running mate, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, on the eve of their inauguration over irregularities in the latter’s certificates.
While the INEC declared Lyon and Degi-Eremienyo winners of the November 16, 2019 election, the apex court had declared the APC candidate, Senator Douye Diri, and his running mate, Senator Lawrence Ewrujakpor, as duly elected governor and deputy governor, respectively.
Dazang noted, “It is not a single ticket, it is a joint ticket. So, we expect that the candidates would have done their homework by making sure that even the people they are presenting tentatively or as surrogates are people who have the prerequisite qualification in the first instance so that in the event they are unable to get another (replacement) candidate to run with them on the ticket, they can run along with the surrogates.”
“The interested parties can go to court and challenge it. Note that the qualification for that office is minimal…it is a school certificate. I don’t see how any of them will nominate someone who does not have that requisite qualification in the first instance. I expect them to be more careful and circumspect than we are assuming.
“The issue is that at the end of the day if they fail, they will have to carry the can because the guidelines, the timetable and schedule of activities are predicated on the Constitution and the Electoral Act; they are set in stone, you cannot change them. If within that timeframe they are not able to either get suitable candidates or get the proxies they have put in place to withdraw, then it means they have to run with these proxies on their tickets.”
A former Director of Voter Education and Publicity, INEC, Oluwole Osaze-Uzi, stated that the law does not recognise a surrogate or placeholder, adding that “the law only recognises candidates” who must be qualified for the respective positions.
He also stated that “if a candidate – the one you call surrogate – refuses to withdraw, nothing can be done.”
According to Osaze-Uzi, a vice-presidential candidate can only be replaced when he withdraws and a party notifies INEC within the time stipulated by the Act and the commission.
He added, “If the candidate who is called a surrogate or placeholder is not qualified in the first place, then the party has not submitted the name of a candidate. If the person was not qualified, so he or she cannot be substituted. You cannot build something on anything.
“The foundation is that if a qualified candidate was first submitted and the candidate has now withdrawn from the race within the time stipulated, the party now nominates somebody else to take the place.”
When asked if a candidate could continue with the race where the running mate had been disqualified, Osaze-Uzi stated, “No, it is a joint ticket.”
When asked if the APC presidential standard-bearer had secured a written undertaking or an affidavit from Masari that he would step down for a substantive running mate, the media adviser to Tinubu, Mr Tunde Rahman, declined to comment on the issue.
He simply said that the former Lagos State governor had fulfilled the electoral requirements in submitting his forms to the electoral agency.
He stated, “I don’t want to go into that matter (placeholder controversy). All I know is that His Excellency has duly completed his nomination form and has submitted, and even submitted two days ahead of schedule. Before submitting, he fulfilled all the requirements, including picking a running mate.
“And I can also tell you that, if following ongoing consultations with the President, Northern Governors Forum, the party leadership and all stakeholders, and if in the opinion of His Excellency, Asiwaju and his running mate; if they decide that they need to tinker with the pair, with the running mate, they would do so and they would let all Nigerians know. However, this thing would be done within the confines of INEC guidelines and the electoral law. That’s all I can tell you on this matter.”
Masari, in an SMS sent to one of our correspondents, stated, “Nobody gave me any condition but when they come out with a substantive VP nomination I will withdraw my name .”
The LP presidential standard-bearer, Peter Obi, could not be reached for comments as calls to his media adviser, Mr Valentine Obienyem, rang out. He had yet to respond to a text message requesting his comment as of the time of filing this report.
Also, the surrogate running mate to Obi, Doyin Okupe, did not respond to calls on Monday; and he had yet to reply to an SMS seeking to know if he signed an undertaking to step down for another candidate.
But The Spokesman for Peter Obi Support Network, Mr Sani Saeed Altukry, said Okupe’s name would be withdrawn as soon as the discussions with other major opposition parties were concluded.
He said although he was not aware if any withdrawal affidavit was signed, he disclosed that Okupe stepped in as Obi’s running mate to beat the deadline given by the INEC to submit the names of candidates and their running mates.
He said a strong northerner would be unveiled as Peter Obi’s running mate.
Speaking on the controversy, INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman of the Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, said running mates could only be substituted by any political party by writing the commission, and attaching an affidavit.
Okoye, who spoke during an interview on Arise TV, monitored by The PUNCH on Monday, said, “As far as we are concerned, there’s no form submitted by the presidential candidates where they said ‘we’re submitting this person’s name as a space or placeholder’.
“The issue of a space or placeholder is a unique invention that has no place in our constitutional and legal framework. The law says that as a presidential candidate, you must nominate an associate to run with you. And as far as the Independent National Electoral Commission is concerned, the presidential candidates have submitted their associates to run with them in the presidential election.
“Political parties’ candidates have submitted names of associates to run with them, and that is the position of the law as of today and nothing has changed,”
“For there to be a substitution of a candidate, the vice-presidential candidate must write to the INEC, with an affidavit stating that he is withdrawing from the race within the time frame provided by the law, as that is the only way there can be a substitution of candidates.”
Commenting on the issue, the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Osun State, Prof Abdulganniy Raji, said, “Being a part of the umpire, I will not say I see danger or I didn’t any see danger (in party submitting place holders instead of running mate).
“I will rather abide by the constitutional provisions, the extant laws. The Electoral Act makes provisions for the procedure of how to nominate and there are also provisions for the substitution of the names, either in case of death or withdrawal by any candidate, whether the substantive candidate or the running mate.”
But an ex-INEC National Commissioner, Prof Lai Olurode, in a chat with one of our correspondents, said the use of placeholder posed no danger.
Olurode said Electoral Act allows for the replacement of names once that was being done within the window provided by the law.
He said, “The new Electoral Act allows that, except that there are days within which you must submit names of your real candidate otherwise, you will forfeit the opportunity.”
A senior advocate, Adegoke Rasheed, said choosing a placeholder had implications should the person fail to step down.
He said neither the INEC nor the court could make such a person relinquish the position, adding that a placeholder could only be withdrawn if he died or voluntarily withdrew.
He said, “Using a placeholder has an implication. The electoral act requires that before a candidate can be replaced or substituted he withdraws or resigns voluntarily; the age of substituting by fiat is gone. I want to believe that such a placeholder will yield to the party’s decision.
“The INEC can’t wade into this, it is an intra-party issue. The court of law cannot help in the matter, in fact going to court by such a political party will lead to the party invalidating his candidature. There’s no provision for a placeholder in the law but a party can do it, it doesn’t constitute an infringement of the law. Except if he dies or withdraws or resigns a placeholder can’t be replaced.”
Another SAN, Rotimi Jacobs, said political parties had just taken advantage of the silence of the Electoral Act on the issue of vice-presidential and deputy-governorship candidate substitution.
He said, “The political parties are just taking advantage of the provision of the Electoral Act: Section 33 permits the candidates to withdraw or an account of death, may be substituted. The political party will conduct another primary election. Or if he voluntarily withdraws, the political party that is affected must within 14 days conduct fresh primary elections to produce another candidate.
“However, in the case of vice-presidents and deputy governors, they don’t conduct primary for them, so the political parties see that as an opening that they can change the names anytime without conducting any primaries.
“That is what they are using but the Electoral Act itself is silent on it. I believe it is the primary that brings in the presidential and governorship candidate but when conducting that nobody talks about the vice-president or the deputy governorship elections.
Another SAN, Lekan Ojo, warned that if parties did not handle the nomination of a placeholder well, it could boomerang. He said, “If they are careless not to take necessary precautions, the placeholders can sit tight and refuse to relinquish it. That is the implication. “
Meanwhile, some lawyers have contended that the law permits presidential candidates to present surrogate running mates to INEC and replace them with substantive ones later.
The Head of the Legal Directorate of the Tinubu Campaign Organisation, Babatunde Ogala, SAN, stated that the Electoral Act 2022 allows a political party to change its candidates up to when it is three months to an election.
Ogala, a former Legal Adviser of the All Progressives Congress, however, declined to confirm if it was part of the political game or if Tinubu had taken a final decision on his running mate.
Another SAN, Wole Olanipekun, stated that nothing was legally wrong with the placeholding of vice-presidential candidates to beat an election timeline.
All efforts made to reach the APC National Publicity Secretary Felix Morka, failed. As of the time of filing this report, he has yet to return the calls of our correspondent nor attend to the messages sent to his Whatsapp.
Asked why the party submitted the name of a placeholder, National Chairman of the Labour Party, Julius Abure, told our correspondent that it was not an unusual practice in the electoral process.