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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. 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.

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