On May 9, 2022, Hon. Justice Mary Peter-Odili, a renowned Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria leading other members of the panel; Hon. Justice Kudirat M. O Kekere-Ekun, Hon. Justice Mohammed Lawal Garba, Hon. Justice Ibrahim Mohammed Musa Saulawa and Hon. Justice Emmanuel Akomaye Agim gave a consequential order in the above suit between Chief Jude Okeke & All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) & 3Ors; and in Page 13 paragraph 1 of the Judgment they declared Chief Edozie Njoku, the authentic National Chairman of APGA.
Not only did the Justices corroborate the lead Judgment of Mary-Odili, but, they separately gave their independent Judgments that Chief Edozie Njoku is the authentic National Chairman of APGA.
Despite the Supreme Court Judgment, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been unable to accord Chief Edozie Njoku recognition. APGA as a party has written four letters to INEC, seeking for recognition, in line with the Supreme Court Judgment, without any response. This is four months and the 2023 General Election is at the corner.
Instructively, there is the temptation for the international community to look at the above subject as an internal affair of the Nigerian politics. However, this should not be so. Rather, they should take cognizance of the effect of the possible breakdown of the Nigerian State on the Africa continent and the world in general.
For a continent that reluctantly accepted democracy, after decades of military rule, its sustenance could be achieved by preserving Nigeria’s democracy. The African continent could be stabilized through mainstreaming and sustaining healthy collaboration and cooperation amongst institutions of government.
The advent of the 20th century established democracy as ‘the only game in town’. Consequently, the ‘third wave’ of democratization saw many countries, including Nigeria return to democratic rule in 1999.
As Nigeria prepares for another transitional election in 2023, it is important to interrogate the narratives and perspectives, trends and tendencies as they have pejorative impact on the coming election.
Notably, elections in the underdeveloped or developing countries are important to the international community; because they have great effect on the security of lives and properties and general wellbeing of the citizens.
Surely, the interconnectedness of the contemporary society and the intelligence cooperation and intelligence liaison amongst the security agencies throughout the world are the reasons why various embassies pay deep attention to trending issues in all countries. Hence, the breakdown of law and order in any society do not take swift turn. They often take gradual process and evolve.
Apparently, the intelligence communities track information, events and trends in every nation via Open Source Intelligence or by other means and analyze them, then settle for projections. This guides them in their Foreign Policy decisions; because crisis in any nation has the inclination to spiral and spill over and become a global phenomenon.
Perhaps, beyond being a contentious phenomenon, politics perfectly fits in as one of the most essentially contested concept; because it has the potentials to steer human destiny to any direction. This is so, because politics has great impact on policy formulation and its implementation.
It is an arena where sensitive decisions about the provision of basic amenities, educational policy, immigration and others are taken. It determines the Per Capita Income of the citizenry and how much they pay as tax. Surely, everything rises and falls on leadership.
Impressively, advanced countries like (America, United Kingdom, Canada, NewZeland and Australia) and renowned international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) commit huge funds towards the training of staff of Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs), especially in the Third World to ensure that they are properly equipped to conduct free, fair and credible elections. Free and fair elections are at the core of the development of any nation.
Furthermore, these nations ensure that the Constitution of all nations contain those basic Universal Rights that make it possible for citizens to elect their leaders without hindrance. This is the Gospel that democracy preaches.
Understandably, the stability of any nation is inseparably tied to the ability of the EMB as a regulatory agency to respect the rule of law and the court judgments. Once the people see the Electoral Body as a threat to democracy or as a compromised institution, naturally, it would be impossible for the people to have trust or confidence on any election result coming from them. It is this impression and perception that should compel the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to live above board at all times.
Similarly, EMBs are guided by law/guidelines which derive its powers from the constitution of the country. Therefore, INEC is bound to function within the frames of the law, because it was created by the law.
In a country like Nigeria where politics is played with raw fists and politicians crave for lawlessness through promoting acts that tend to whittle the indispensability of the Judiciary, the INEC as an institution should be seen obeying court Judgments, especially, when it is coming from the Supreme Court. This should be the Commission’s contribution towards stabilizing Nigeria’s democracy.
Suitably, INEC impartiality would ordinarily promote good governance, sound political participation and enhance the leadership selection process in Nigeria.
The question that the world should be asking is this; how prepared is INEC to face the forth coming general election, given its sensitive nature and the attention it has generated, within and outside Nigeria?
However, an avid observer of INEC preparations for 2023 General Elections must have observed that;
The Social Media space is replete with daily discoveries of thousands of INEC Permanent Voters Card (PVC) hidden in underground locations, or dumbed in dustbins and in the streets. The furor that this is generating throughout Nigeria may lead to low voter turnout on Election Day. Opinions are rife on this matter. While majority of Nigerians see the littered PVCs as a plot by INEC to disenfranchise a section of the country, others feel it maybe the fallout of the visit of the unknown gunmen at some INEC offices. Strangely, there is no record that INEC reported to the Police that unknown gunmen carted away with some INEC PVCs when they visited their office.
On July 14, 2022, Samson Adenekan of Premium Times wrote, ‘while many Nigerians on the social media platform accused INEC of complicity in order to disenfranchise Nigerians during the 2023 General Elections, some argued that the PVCs might have been stolen by gunmen, who attacked the Commission’s offices in the regions.’ Similarly, responding to this, Mr. Festus Okoye, INEC National Commissioner, Information and Voter Education talked tough saying ‘INEC is not taking the allegations lightly,’ adding that it has ‘commenced immediate investigation and anyone found culpable in this diabolical scheme clearly intended to disenfranchise Nigerians will be sanctioned under the law.’
But, there is a wild gulf between beautiful speeches and walking the talk. Since July 14, 2022, Nigerians have woken up to more embarrassing discoveries of PVCs littered here and there. Interestingly, Mr. Okoye is yet to make further update on this sensitive matter. An institution is as noble and honorable as the men presiding over its affairs. Undoubtedly Prof. Yakubu Mahmood, the INEC Chairman and Mr. Festus Okoye are honorable man.
However, agitations are already building up as Nigerians and renowned NGOs are curious to see the unraveling of those behind these PVCs that keep surfacing. As more PVCs keep filing the streets, on August 10, 2022, Sunday Isuwa and Tunde Oguntola of the Leadership Newspaper writing under the caption ‘INEC Exonerates Staff Over PVCs Dumped In Streets’ observed that ‘Concerned at the above incidences, political parties in Nigeria have called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to unravel the mystery behind the large quantity of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) being found in the streets and other places.’ Speaking to Leadership Newspaper, the Chairman, Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) which is the umbrella body of the political parties in the country, Yabagi Sani, said ‘the parties are worried at the trending videos, even as he stated that only INEC can explain to Nigerians what is really happening.’
In response to the worrisome situation, the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the INEC Chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, told Leadership Newspaper. ‘I have come across a number of unverified video clips circulating on the social media showing some cut-to-size plastic materials which are being described as Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs).
But these videos do not provide sufficient evidence to ascertain that the plastics found are indeed PVCs issued by INEC. Our PVCs have unique features, and the details on them can be verified on our national register of voters which is online.’
As far as Oyekanmi is concerned there is no cause for alarm because the materials found are mere plastics. This response is quite unfortunate and totally different from what Mr. Okoye said on July 14, 2022. So, in less than one month, INEC has come up with two vague responses. The replies from Oyekanmi and Okoye are red flags. They are unambiguous. It simply means that INEC is working so hard to railroad Nigerians into another circus show in the name of election; without, first, clearing the doubts and restoring the peoples’ confidence in the electoral process.
There are insinuations that INEC is planning to put Ahmed Lawan, the Senate President and Godswill Akpabio, former Minster of Niger Delta as Senatorial candidates for Yobe North and Akwa Ibom North West, respectively against the dictates of the Electoral Act 2022 as amended.
However, while Mr. Festus Okoye has denied this and assured the public that the Commission did not publish their names and is not planning so; the previous actions of the Commission on similar instances in the past leaves much to be desired.
Perhaps, it is has not dawned on INEC that their greatest asset and social currency as an EMB is credibility. As long as the Commission has continued to give the people reason to doubt them, by their inconsistency on serious and sensitive matters; the mutual suspicion which exists between them and Nigerians will continue.
Indeed, nothing threatens democracy other than those entrusted with the responsibility to preside over the affairs of democratic institutions. The inability of INEC to stay clear of politics in the exercise of its duty will derail the 2023 General Elections.
Today, INEC is enmeshed in a vortex and whirlwind of controversy over its unhealthy fraternity with forces that have vowed to mock the judiciary. INEC’s irresponsible attitude towards Court Judgments may blow sky-high our democracy, which was fought and procured at a great cost.
It is no longer news that the leadership scrimmage in the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) was resolved on May 9, 2022, with the Supreme Court declaring Chief Edozie Njoku as the authentic National Chairman of the Party.
On this matter two Judgments stand out;
(a) The Judgment from the Federal High Court Abuja Division by Hon. Justice A.R. Mohammed Division in Suit No: FHC/BAU/CS/10/2020.
(b) The Judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria delivered by Hon.
(c) Justice Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili, JSC in Suit No: SC/CV/686/2021.
The two Judgments are unequivocal that Chief Edozie Njoku is the National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). Despite these Judgments, Mahmood has continued to recognize Ozonkpu Victor Oye as against Supreme Court Judgment.
It is pertinent to state that the Judgment from the Federal High Court Abuja Division by Hon. Justice A.R. Mohammed Division in Suit No: FHC/BAU/CS/10/2020 was delivered on April 6, 2022; while the Judgment of the Supreme Court presided over by Hon. Justice Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili, JSC in Suit No: SC/CV/686/2021 was delivered on May 9, 2022. Similarly, other four Honorable Justices of the Supreme Court corroborated Odili’s lead Judgment.
On July 15, 2022, the Supreme Court released the Enrollment/Enforcement Order of the above Judgment and served INEC. Yet, Mahmood is hiding behind his fingers, whilst designing shameful and messy scheme to ensure Victor Oye stays afloat.
Nothing poses great danger to 2023 general election other than Mahmood. While Nigeria reeks under the load of foreign loans, INEC secured approval for over 305bn for 2023 general elections.
John Akubo, of the Guardian Newspaper on December 21, 2021 wrote ‘National Assembly Passes 2022 Budget Today as INEC seeks N305b for 2023 polls’. Despite this humongous amount that has been earmarked for the coming election, Mahmood’s self-conceitedness and posturing, by ignoring the Supreme Court Judgment of May 9, 2022, which settled the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) leadership tussle and declared Chief Edozie Njoku as the rightful National Chairman of the Party has the potentials to derail an election in which Nigeria has invested 305bn about $800m of tax payers money.
On August 20, 2022, there was a mild drama, when Mr. Festus Okoye stated that the Commission would collate election results manually. In less than 24 hours, various notable politicians and raised alarm that contemplating such would spell doom and damnation for the election. Although INEC has denied this, but, reacting to the comment credited to INEC, some presidential candidates of renowned political parties have referred to the plan saying that ‘INEC is Laying Foundation for Rigging 2023 Polls With Manual Collation of Results’
Is it not dangerous that the Commission will be making inflammable comments at this sensitive period? Is it possible that Festus Okoye was not speaking the mind of the Commission? It is possible that the Commission is actually contemplating manual collation, but merely testing the waters to see how Nigerians would react to it. This and many more are the reasons why trusting INEC has become a burden for Nigerians.
The US and UK embassy should beam its searchlight on INEC and activate its visa ban policy on public officers that collaborate with politicians to weaken electoral institutions. This has negative impact on the development of nations. To add to the list, they should expand the coast of punitive measures, by denying their children opportunity to study abroad. That way, their children would prevail on their parents to do the right thing as public servants.
One would have thought that with the approval of the 305bn budget for INEC, the Commission would have stayed focused and preserved itself from scandals. This should worry all the foreign agencies funding the Commission.
On daily basis, Victor Oye and his people boast of mind blowing monies that they have offered to INEC as bribe. They speak with reassured assurance that INEC will never give us recognition. While we do not believe them, it is quite worrisome that all they have said that INEC Chairman would do plays out like a rehearsed script.
Considering the role of the judiciary in the electoral process, it is scandalous and horrendous that Mahmood has practically suspended the Nigerian Constitution at INEC.
It is pertinent for the world to know that Nigeria is agog with various parties and interest groups gearing up for the coming elections. The young people of Nigeria have exhibited the kind of energy, commitment and passion never seen since the Fourth Republic (1999). Unfortunately, their passion and commitment do not mean anything to Mahmood.
There is every need for the international community to step forward and prevail on INEC to recognize the Supreme Court Judgment which declared Chief Edozie Njoku as the National Chairman of APGA. African democracy and its institutions could be strengthened and supported by ensuring that Court Judgments are respected and obeyed.
Okoro Chinedum Benedict
National Administrative Secretary,