Labour Party reacts as PDP drags Peter Obi to Court

Mini-Explainer: The concept of a placeholder (inside)

Breaking: Labour Party picks Doyin Okupe as Peter Obi's running mate. [NPRESS]

Labour Party has reacted to a lawsuit seeking the disqualification of its Presidential candidate, Peter Obi, from the 2023 Presidential elections.

Nigeria’s main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic party, PDP filed a lawsuit against the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC to stop Obi and Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress from selecting new running mates.

The PDP also asked the court to rule that Tinubu and Obi cannot run for office unless they do so with their respective former running mates, Kabiru Masari and Doyin Okupe.

In the originating summons with suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1016/2022, the PDP is seeking an order barring the Independent National Electoral Commission from replacing the running mates of Tinubu and Obi. The first to seventh respondents in the case are INEC, APC, Tinubu, Masari, Labour Party, Obi, and Okupe.

The PDP asked the court to determine if by the combined interpretation of Section 142(1) of the constitution, Section 29(1), 31, and 33 of the Electoral Act 2022, and INEC’s timetable, Tinubu and Obi are bound by the submission of Masari and Okupe respectively as their running mates.

Speaking on the matter, Labour Party’s lawyer, Alex Ejesieme, confirmed the suit saying: “I have received the processes and we are filing a response already,” he said.

Both Obi and Tinubu, had announced 'placeholders' as their running mates; Okupe and Masari respectively.

"The controversy surrounding the concept of placeholder, which some presidential candidates of political parties has resorted to, could trigger a floodgate of litigations, especially since the Independent National Electoral Commission has described it as unknown to the country’s constitutional and legal framework, " Alex Enumah writes.

Section 142(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) clearly provides that the presidential candidate nominates his running mate from the same political party; nowhere did it and the Electoral Act provide for a placeholder.

While the Constitution and Electoral Act, do not provide for a placeholder, Section 31 of the Electoral Act 2022 allows a candidate to withdraw his/her nomination in writing, and such withdrawal must be communicated to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) by the political party not later than 90 days to the election.

Specifically, Section 33 of the Act then allows the political party to submit the name of a fresh candidate within 14 days of the withdrawal of the former candidate by conducting fresh primaries, or in the case of a vice presidential candidate or deputy governor, by selection.

By ensuring that the so-called placeholder signs an undated letter of withdrawal in advance, when APC and Labour Party then finally decide on their real vice presidential candidates, the provisions of Sections 31 and 33 of the Act can be set in motion as late as November 25, 2022, 90 days to the presidential election on February 25, 2023.

But INEC said the concept of “placeholder” for vice-presidential candidates “has no place in our constitutional and legal framework”.

INEC’s Commissioner for Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye, while reacting to the trend in a chat on ARISE NEWS Channel on Monday, July 11, 2022, said the placeholder is a unique Nigerian invention for which the commission’s law has no provision. He added that as far as the commission was 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’.

Okoye added that the commission can only replace a candidate if the person writes a “sworn affidavit stating that he is withdrawing from the race within the time frame provided by the law”.

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 place or space holder’. The issue of space or place holder is a unique Nigerian 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 INEC 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.”

Corroborating INEC’s view, constitutional lawyer, Mr. Inibehe Effiong, disclosed that the concept of a “placeholder” used by Tinubu and Obi, is unknown to the constitution and the Electoral Act. According to Effiong, when a name is submitted to INEC, the name’s bearer automatically and legally becomes the vice presidential candidate of the party simpliciter.

However, Section 31 of the Electoral Act, 2022 allows for withdrawal of candidacy. Unlike the position under the repealed 2010 Electoral Act where parties were allowed to substitute for “cogent and verifiable” reason, the new Act prohibits substitution; subject to two exceptions. By Section 33 of the Act, a political party shall not be allowed to change or substitute its candidate except by reason of death or withdrawal. Section 31 requires a candidate seeking to withdraw to do so in writing, and must deliver the withdrawal letter personally to the party,” he said.

The lawyer further noted that where a candidate has properly withdrawn in accordance with the law, the political party is required to inform INEC within 14 days and also conduct fresh primary to produce a fresh candidate and submit the name to INEC. This is a risky political arrangement. It is not rooted in law. The individuals so nominated are the vice presidential candidates of the APC and the Labour Party. However, Tinubu and Obi and their parties can substitute them if the above conditions are met by the placeholders.

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