Amid the raging crisis rocking the Edo State chapter of the All Progressives Congress over the mode of primary to be used in the conduct of its June 22 governorship primary, the Independent National Electoral Commission has said it will only honour the mode of primary submitted to it by the national chairman of the party.
The INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, told Sunday PUNCH in Abuja that the commission’s rules, regulations and laws allowed it to only relate with the national chairman and national secretary of political parties.
He stressed that regardless of what was happening in state branches of parties, the commission would only recognise the date, venue and mode of primary submitted to it by the two national officers.
The two factions of APC in the state had been at each other’s throat over the mode of primary to be adopted to pick the party’s candidate for the September 19 governorship election.
The National Chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole, said to be in the same camp with the factional chairman of the party in the state, David Imuse, had insisted that the party would use direct primary to select its candidate.
Oshiomhole, believed to be opposed to the reelection of Governor Godwin Obaseki, had also gone ahead to write INEC via a letter dated May 19, 2020, stating that the party had chosen direct primary for the selection of its candidate for the election.
But the state chairman of the party, Anselm Ojezua, said to be supporting Obaseki, had said the party’s State Working Committee chose indirect primary. He explained that the National Executive Council of the party had said each state was at liberty to adopt any method of preference. Ojezua accused the NWC, headed by Oshiomhole, of imposing the direct primary on the state as a means to oust Obaseki from the race.
Meanwhile, to counter the letter written by Oshiomhole to INEC that the party would do direct primary, the governor, in a gazette signed on May 28 and published on Friday, banned political gatherings that could make direct primary possible in the state. Obaseki insisted that by virtue of the gazette, only direct primary could be held in the state and in only one location.
However, following the altercation and rising tension over which mode of primary INEC would recognise for the APC in the state, Okoye told Sunday PUNCH that the law only allowed the commission to relate with the national chairman and national secretary when it pertained to party primaries.
He said, “INEC does not deal with state branches of political parties in matters relating to or connected with the conduct of party primaries. Section 85(1) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) makes it mandatory for political parties intending to nominate candidates for elective offices to give the commission 21 days’ notice of its intention to conduct party primaries.
“In our rules and regulations, the letter to this effect is signed by the National Chairman and National Secretary of political parties indicating the date, time and venue for the conduct of party primaries and the mode of the primaries.
“The mode of primaries to be adopted by political parties is a function of their constitution, the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) and the regulations and guidelines issued by INEC.
“So, we don’t have business with state branches of political parties because our rules, regulations and laws say we should relate with the national chairman and the national secretary in terms of fixing party primaries, whether direct or indirect.
“The commission will not dictate to political parties the mode of primaries to adopt as it is a purely legal and party affair. What is certain is that the commission will monitor the primaries and provide protective equipment for its staff that will be involved in the process.”
Out of the 18 political parties in the country, Okoye said 15 parties had indicated their intention to conduct primaries, out of which 14 opted for indirect primary while only the APC opted for direct primary.
He said, “Fifteen political parties have indicated their intention to conduct primary and out of that, 14 said they would conduct indirect primary, while the APC said it would conduct direct primary. It’s the business of political parties what mode of primary they want to adopt, so long as they follow their own constitution.”
Asked if the outcome of any of the court cases over the APC’s mode of primary changed anything about the forthcoming primary, Okoye said, “We don’t speculate; we obey judgements of courts of competent jurisdiction.”
Already, INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, on Friday during the first virtual consultative meeting of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security, expressed fears about looming acrimony in the primaries of the political parties in Edo and Ondo states. Ondo governorship election is scheduled to hold on October 10 2020.
Yakubu had said, “The primaries for the nomination of candidates for the Edo governorship election have commenced. As you are aware, the conduct of primaries by political parties tends to be very acrimonious. The acrimony is carried forward into the electioneering campaigns and Election Day activities. Already, there are warning signals.”
Direct primary can’t hold in my state, Obaseki insists
Meanwhile, Obaseki has insisted that there would be no direct primary in the state, stressing that only indirect primary could hold in the state in accordance with the rule gazetted in newspapers on Friday.
The new rule partly reads, “That in respect of political gatherings for the purpose of conducting primaries for any of the parties desiring to field candidates in the forthcoming gubernatorial election, gatherings of more than 20 persons may be allowed, subject to the written approval of the Governor, if such gatherings do not exceed 5,000 persons; hold in Benin City and in a single facility with a large seating capacity of not less than 10,000 persons; are provided with adequate health, safety and sanitary facilities and are COVID-19 response compliant with social distancing policy, hand-washing and proper use of face masks fully observed.”
The governor, who spoke through his Special Adviser on Media and Communication Strategy, Mr Crusoe Osagie, told one of our correspondents on Saturday, “The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 has said in its briefings that states should manage the pandemic through measures unique to their states. On the basis of that, we have deployed this measure in Edo State, the rule has been gazetted and so direct primaries cannot hold here as far as that regulation is concerned. So, it has to be indirect, in order to be working in line with the extant rule in the state.
“The only mode of primary that is permissible according to that law is indirect primaries, and we believe it is correct to do so because for that option, it is just one location and you can deploy all agencies of government responsible for ensuring compliance with the protocols.
“The location is so large that you could have a space for about 15,000 people but it would be occupied by about 3,000 people. There will be enough social distancing and spacing in that one location as opposed to having that primary election in 192 wards across 18 local governments and you could have about 200 to 300 persons at each ward. That would be a recipe for disaster in this period of COVID-19.
“Our experts did an epidemiological study in March and a curve was drawn. That curve indicated that we would reach the climax on June 28. That was long before APC released the timetable for primary election in March and it fixed it for June 22.”
When reminded that the national chairman of the party already wrote to INEC that the party would use direct mode of primary, Osagie said, “He can write, and the fact that he wrote doesn’t mean that is what is going to happen. The rules have to be followed.
“Don’t forget that the first responsibility of the governor is to protect the lives and property of the people.”
INEC suspends PVC, CVR till after Edo, Ondo elections
INEC also said it had suspended the collection of permanent voter cards and the continuous voter registration exercise in Edo and Ondo states because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Okoye added, “The commission is working hard to procure PPE and things required to conduct the elections in safety as the health of our people is fundamental to the conduct of the elections. The commission will therefore take a decision on when to resume nationwide collection of PVCs but certainly it will be after the conduct of these elections.
“So, CVR and the collection of PVCs are suspended till the two elections are concluded. Proceeding with both will entail enormous challenges in the context of COVID-19 pandemic.”
He noted that the commission had not fixed the deadline for the submission of the voter register and delegates list by political parties. He, however, cautioned that parties were required to stick to the mode of primary submitted to the commission.
“The commission expects all political parties nominating candidates to comply with the submission of the register of their members,” he added.
Commission gives reasons why elections can’t be postponed
Okoye also said the commission had not discussed and was not likely to discuss the issue of postponing the two end-of-tenure governorship elections due to constitutionally circumscribed timeframe and schedule.
He said while Section 178(1) of the constitution gives the commission the power to fix dates for governorship elections, Section 178(2) stipulates that the election should be held not earlier than 150 days and not later than 30 days before the expiration of the term of office of the last holder of the office.
Obaseki’s tenure will expire on November 11, 2020 while the tenure of his counterpart in Ondo State will expire on February 23, 2021.
“The dates set out in section 178(2) of the constitution are sacrosanct. The commission is not vested with the power to vary the dates or rewrite them or postpone the election to a date outside the constitutionally prescribed period,” he added.
We chose direct primary to avoid crisis –APC
The National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Lanre Issa-Onilu, has explained that lessons drawn from mistakes made during the 2018 governorship primary in Rivers State influenced the decision of its NWC to choose direct primary in Edo State. He added that the COVID-19 pandemic also played a role in the party’s decision.
He added, “Even if there was no crisis in Edo, the direct primary will still be the safest mode for this election for us to avoid any booby trap from past shocking experiences.
“The last time we did primary in Edo, it was direct primary. We don’t have to start something new.”
He said if the party had held direct primary in Rivers State, it would have avoided what befell it after. “The same foundation has been laid for a repeat of this situation in Edo State with a disputed executive and they are in court with multiple cases. It is in the best interest of our party to do that which cannot be affected by any litigation,” he added.
He said it would not make much sense now to bring together over 5,000 delegates into a single venue which the indirect method would require.
Asked why the NWC chose the direct mode contrary to the choice made by the state chapter of the party, he said, “The courtesy to allow the local players make input is part of our way of ensuring the smooth participation of everyone. At the end of the day, the buck stops at our desk to ensure that we do what is in the best interest of the party. As it is now, direct primary is what is best for the party in Edo.”
We have strategy to win Edo gov election, says PDP
The National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Prince Uche Secondus, has said the party has the strategy that will enable it to win the Edo governorship election.
He said a committee was being set up to harmonise different strategies to enable them to win the election.
Secondus, who spoke with one of our correspondents, said his party was popular in the state and would capitalise on the crisis rocking the APC to build on the performance of the PDP in the last general election.
He said, “We have the strategy that will give us victory in the election. We are already putting good heads together to harmonise the many strategies we have on the election.
“Out of the three senators from the state, we have two and we have four out of the nine members of the House of Representatives. Yet, the state had a sitting governor who was a member of the APC then. At that time, there was no crisis or division within the APC. Now, the centre cannot hold as both the national chairman and the governor do not see eye-to-eye.”
He said the party had set up a five-member committee headed by the Governor of Adamawa State, Ahmadu Fintiri, to handle the election of three ad hoc ward delegates in the 192 wards in the state. Other committee members are Governor Douye Diri of Bayelsa State; Mrs Mobolaji Lamuye, Chukwwuma Onyema and Senator Samuel Anyanwu.
The exercise holds in the state on Tuesday.
APC, Obaseki’s lawyers storm court Monday
The legal battle between Obaseki and Oshiomhole over the mode of primary begins on Monday (tomorrow) at the Federal High Court, Benin.
The court sitting in Benin had on Tuesday last week adjourned legal arguments on the ex parte motion seeking to prevent the NWC and Oshiomhole from using direct primaries to elect the governorship candidate of the party till Monday.
In a suit filed by the factional state deputy chairman of the party, Pastor Kenneth Asemokhai, and a governorship aspirant of the party, Matthew Iduoriyekemwen, the duo are seeking to restrain the APC from adopting the direct mode of primaries. Also joined in the suit is INEC.
The presiding Judge, Justice Mohammed Umar, declined to grant the ex parte motion. He gave the defendants three days to file their papers to show why the injunction should not be granted and adjourned the case till Monday (tomorrow).
By Oyetunji Abioye, John Alechenu, Friday Olokor, Tunde Ajaja and Sola Shittu