LEGAL THREATS TO APRIL 2011 ELECTIONS

By NBF News
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Palpable fear on the fate of the April general elections gathered steam just before President Goodluck Jonathan's declaration of intent to run for the presidential position in September last year. Formidable opposition from the North over alleged bastardization of the zoning policy of the party unexpectedly snowballed into the court arena.

Alhaji Saqni Dutsina dragged the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) and the National Chairman, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo before an Abuja High Court contending that Nwodo championed the infringement of the PDP constitution in order to pave way for Jonathan to contest the presidential race on the party's platform.

In his ruling, the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory(FCT), Justice Lawal Hassan Gunu held that although article 72(c) of the 2009 PDP constitution as amended recognized the principle of zoning and rotation of party and elective offices, the power to nominate and sponsor candidates to an election is vested squarely on a political party.

The judge, simplicity said that the onus was on the party to respect its own constitution pleading that the court be absolved from the burden.

That was the icing on the cake, the ultimate back breaker. Since then, as in successive political epochs, the courts have been inunadated with intimidating pleas for intervention, from the serious to the non-serious.

Former Anambra State governor, Chukwuemeka Ezeife described the renewed phenomen as 'a necessary ingredient of democracy. He avers that so long as politics is a struggle for power, there must of necessity be an avenue for resolution of impasse and other forms of disagreements.

Similarly, a Lagos-based legal practitioner and constitutional expert, Chief Frank Aghedo says 'politics without the judiciary is bound to lead to conflict.'

Both men agree that the incessant court interventions pose no threat to either the elections or the nation's democracy. Pointedly, Aghedo canvassed for intensified legal machinations to 'douse tension, reduce the conflicts and drive the democratic process smoothly.'

The National Chairman of Labour Party(LP) Chief Dan Nwanyanwu who himself has employed the tool in the past in the resolution of a thorny issue, sues for increased vigilance as the elections inch closer. He holds the view that since it is the norm in all democracies including the advanced ones, Nigeria should not be the exception. 'It is normal all over the democratic world. It guarantees confidence for the oppressed, restores the value of democracy, instills discipline in the political process and stabilizes the wheel of democracy.'

His party, the LP had earlier sued the electoral management body, the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC), over the election timetable. In the suit which was brought before an Abuja Federal High Court, the party sought a 're-order of the 2011 polls as spelt out in timetable and provided in the electoral act. It pleaded that the order of the elections as contained in sections 25(1) of the act and which INEC relied on to fix the elections is inconsistent with section 40 of the nation's constitution.

It therefore submitted that the insertion of section 25(1) of the electoral act could deny Nigerian's their rights guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution.

The recourse to the courts is not only limited to the zoning principles of the party, or the timetable.

Sundry issues like allegations of corruption have also come up. Two chieftains of the PDP in Adamawa and Taraba states, Mr Bala Takaya, and Senator Abdullahi Kirim also approached an Abuja High Court seeking to restrain former vice president and presidential aspirant, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku from contesting the party's primaries on the allegations that he was dismissed from the Nigeria Customs Service on account of corruption.

The plaintiffs further alleged that findings in the February 2010 report of the United States Senate permanent sub committee on investigation had indicted him on money laundering and other corrupt practices.

Atiku, who is the Northern consensus candidate in the ongoing PDP primaries has however challenged the suit. His media aide , Shehu Garba describes it as an exercise in futility, since according to him, Atiku's public service track record is impeachable and straight forward. ' Hew has been investigated many times and nothing came out of them. The whole suit is ill-advised. As they say, when a fighter is tired, he resorts to throwing sand.'

Yes, courts are good. My principal relied heavily on the courts in 2006 when the odds were piled heavily on him from the presidency. So, the judiciary is a good omen for democracy in Nigeria. But I want people not to trivialize things by taking very banal matters to the courts. Some may have been decided by the courts before. When we take these trivial issues away from them, they will have more time to adjudicate on more serious issues and remove the incidence of abuse of court process.'

Speaking in the same vein, Senator Anthony Manzo from Taraba State canvases the resolution of political conflicts using internal political mechanism before going to the courts.

' There are internal party structures that could be deployed for resolution of conflicts. What happens these days is that people for one reason or the by-pass these structures and go to court. The courts are overburdened because of these.

' We applaud the fact that it is in furtherance of the law syndrome. However, politicians should be more circumspect and not rely exclusively on the courts for support'.

Elsewhere in Imo, Anambra, Oyo, Enugu, Delta, Kebbi, Kastina, Sokoto, Akwa Ibom, Rivers etc, the courts are busy on political and electoral matters.

In Enugu State, Nwodo had dissolved the state executive committee of the party as was done in 5 other contentious states. The executive led by Vita-Abba, which is loyal to the state governor , Sullivan Chime , went to court to challenge the order and prevent the party from holding congresses. Chime's fears was that Nwodo may use the plank to hijack the party structure.

The matter had reached the Court of Appeal which granted the request and instructed the PDP not to hold congresses . The order was eventually reversed a few weeks later.

The same ding dong affair is being repleted across the various states of the federation. At the last count, there are about 102 political cases pending in various courts across the nation.

The primaries, delegates
One of the most contentious issues ahead of the April elections is that of delegates at the primaries. In the ruling PDP , it has been revolving and has also landed in the courts. The bone of contention is who constitutes the delegates lists.

Hitherto, in accordance with the parties' constitution, the governor had always determined the congress because the delegates tilt more to their favour. But section 77(c) of the aborted revised electoral act sought to remove their cronies from the delegates list before it was finally resolved. Also, in the said amendment of the Act, members of the National Assembly nearly succeeded to crash into the National Executive Committees of the parties.

The uproar it generated forced them to beat a retreat, but not before the governors had gone to court.

In the PDP, the party's presidential nominee is chosen in a series of individual state caucuses and primary elections. In order for a presidential aspirant to win, the person must receive a prescribed maximum number of delegates' votes.

Composition: In the PDP, section 12.40 of its constitution determines those that will vote at the primaries. They include the party's state chairman, the president and his deputy , the governor , his deputy ,ministers, chairmen of board of federal parastatals, Ambassadors, Special advisers , member of the Board of Trustees from the affected states, members of the state executive committee of the party and members of the national and zonal committees from the state. Others are members of the National Assembly,10 state commissioners,10 special advisers to the governor, all elected local government chairmen and vice chairmen, all local government party secretaries, treasures, women and youth leaders , former members of the state working committee, former governors, their deputies, former speakers and their deputes.

In the Action Congress of Nigeria ,ACN, the use of delegates has not been the norm. Rather the party relies on secret ballot by its leaders.

Super delegates: These are delegates who are not bound by the caucuses or primaries. They are usually the sitting president and his deputy who may cast their votes or support for any aspirant of their choice.

APGA delegates
Article 10(i):Delegates to the National convention shall be composed of the National chairman and all members of the Executive Committee, members of board of trustee, the president and vice (if produced by the party), governors and their deputies, ministers,ambassadors, special advisers and assistants to the president who are members of the party, state commissioners and special advisers to the governor produced by the party. Members of the state executive com mittee, all party chairman of local governments produced by the party , 30 delegates from each of the six geo-political zones in the country.