Extended primaries’ deadline as metaphor for INEC’s eroded independence Extended. For several weeks, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) held off pressure from political parties to tinker with the schedule of activities that it laid out in the 2023 election timetable.
But as it battled to shrug off the pressure, the political elite that is always ready to go the extra mile to feather its nest, no matter how selfish the action may appear kept on pressing harder. Alas! The electoral umpire last Friday caved in and granted a six-day extension period for the conduct of party primaries by political parties. The commission had earlier given political parties June 3 to conclude their primaries.
As the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) sustained the pressure on the electoral umpire, some of the 18 registered political parties maintained that they need the extension of time to sort out many things to get right, the process of selecting their candidates for the 2023 presidential election.
At the forefront of the campaign to extend the deadline was the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), which immediately moved its primary to June 6, 7, and 8. The exercise was initially scheduled for May 29 and 30.
Conversely, the leading opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), went ahead with its primary, despite the days of grace meant to help parties to fine-tune their strategies among others.
“The commission has decided to allow the request of the political parties since the six-day period does not conflict with the next scheduled activity, which is the submission of the list of nominated candidates, or any of the subsequent timelines, which remain sacrosanct,” Festus Okoye, the INEC National Electoral Commissioner for Information and Voter Education stated while explaining the rationale behind the extension.
Okoye added: “Political parties are therefore advised to ensure that their primaries are free of rancour to meet the timelines for the remaining activities embodied in the timetable and schedule of activities for the 2023 general election.”
As allegation that the electoral umpire was pressured to extend the deadline by political parties, chief of which is the APC, the commission insisted that nothing of such happened.
Okoye, who made the commission’s position known while speaking on Talk Radio, a magazine programme on Inspiration FM, yesterday morning, said that the commission only acceded to a plea by political parties, through the IPAC, and was never pressured to act in a manner that it was not inclined to.
Since the extension was granted, the INEC has come under intense heat with groups and individuals accusing it of being fickle-minded as against being firm.
While some groups described the development as a very “worrisome” experience, others see it as a variant of erosion of the independence of the commission, hence the need for everyone to be on alert.
One of those that are not mincing words in concluding that INEC bowed to pressure from the ruling APC is an ex-national commissioner of the commission, Prof. Lai Olurode, who added that the development amounted to an erosion of INEC’s so-called independence
“INEC’s timeline wasn’t released yesterday. It is obvious that the parties aren’t ready, or are ill-prepared for primaries. The internal party has been challenging for political parties in Nigeria. An average Nigerian will naturally conclude that political greed is the issue driving the shift in date, as well as a lack of internal party democracy,” Olurode said.
“INEC cannot deny that it was under pressure by the government party. If the pressure had been from the PDP, or any of the small parties, or a coalition of them, would INEC have deployed its discretion the way it had? Very doubtful! The party in power has wielded its big stick and INEC had, sadly, bowed to pressure. This is dangerous for credible elections in 2023. This step cast aspersions on the extent to which INEC is a separate sphere from the state realm. Indeed, INEC ought not to have behaved as if it were an appendage of the state or a unit under the Presidency. This is sad for Nigeria’s fledgling and tottering democratisation process.”
The university teacher continued: “It is indeed a reversal of what INEC under Prof. Attahiru Jega, had amassed as electoral assets. INEC has been dented for allowing itself to be used by what is certainly a weakness in political party administration, and desperate efforts at imposition. I do not doubt that steps in the electoral process are open to further compromises, and a shift in election dates. Nigerians would become more sceptical and justifiably so about INEC’s determination to live in fulfillment of its words.
“We must keep a watch over INEC, and compel it to respect its words. This reversal in date would have disadvantaged the leading opposition party that believed in INEC’s honour to respect its timeline and is about rounding up its primaries. Nigerians should not take INEC’s autonomy as given,” he concluded.
Peeved by INEC’s action, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), yesterday, threatened to take legal actions against the INEC if it fails to extend the deadline for voters’ registration, as it did for the party primaries.
SERAP issued the threat in a statement on its verified Twitter handle while reacting to the extension of the deadline for the party primary elections to June 9.
The Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), while expressing its displeasure with the step taken by INEC, said that it was disheartening that the action was taken at a time when Nigerians are beginning to have confidence in the electoral umpire.
The Chairman of the group, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, in a statement, said that some powerful forces were “trying to undermine and pressurise it (INEC) into doing their biddings.
“A lot of political parties have made efforts in conducting their primaries, and if the ruling party is still uncertain about the day to conduct its presidential primary election, that shouldn’t be the basis for the extension,” the TMG chair said.
The group also condemned vote-buying incidents in the political parties’ primaries across the country saying, “any financial inducements on delegates were tantamount to the mortgaging of the country’s future.
“We are appalled by the incidents of vote-buying and sundry financial inducements on the delegates in the ongoing political party primaries across the country… delegates should note that they don’t have to go to the extent of mortgaging Nigeria’s future on the altar of ephemeral financial gratifications. They should think of Nigeria first before any other considerations.
“Our observers reported that aspirants’ agents were largely involved in coordinating vote-buying for various persons seeking political offices, which is unfortunate,” the group said.
It added: “It should be noted that the influence of money in an election has far-reaching implications in Nigerian politics because any politician that spends to be voted for will surely work towards recouping the money at the end of the day, and it is still the voters that will be at the receiving end.
In breaking with the other 18 political parties, including the ruling APC, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), yesterday, went ahead with its presidential primary election.
The party in a statement, on Saturday, by its national publicity secretary, Debo Ologunagba, said that the “party remains focused and will not be distracted by the shenanigans and underhand dealings of the rudderless, deceitful and manipulative All Progressives Congress (APC), which is desperate to orchestrate uncertainties, derail the electoral process and subvert the will of the people in the 2023 general elections.
“The APC is fighting a lost battle as its resort to manipulations and underhand dealings can never sway Nigerians in their determination to vote out the APC in 2023 and commence the rebuilding of our nation on the platform of the PDP.”