BY ADESOJI OLUWO
The main issues that are currently trending amongst us lawyers include whether or not the Labour Party candidate is qualified to contest the forthcoming gubernatorial election and whether the questions of qualification of a candidate are both pre- and post-primaries issues.
This legal conundrum has suffered several commentaries from lawyers and political analysts. This intervention is to interrogate the legal issues involving the qualifications of candidates; compliance of the political party to the Electoral Act and its party constitution and guidelines in the nomination of candidates and presentation of forged/false documents to the INEC.
In answering questions of qualification of a candidate to contest election, we need to discuss the roles of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in monitoring political parties. It is the law under section 29 (3) of the Electoral Act that once INEC publishes the names of candidates nominated by the political parties in accordance with section 84 of the Electoral Act; such publication is presumed correct and authentic.
The doctrine of presumption of regularity and correctness ensure in favour of INEC under Section 168 of the Evidence Act. See the case of CPC V. INEC (2011) LPELR – 8257 (SC). However, given that the presumption is rebuttable, any aspirant who participated in the primaries of such political party who has reasonable grounds that information submitted by the candidate is false, may file a suit at the Federal High Court within time frame to challenge the candidature of such person. This is done at pre-election stage.
Moreso, a candidate or political party who participated in an election where a candidate of another political party was elected may question the result announced by INEC by way of a petition at the tribunal or court under Sections 133 and 134 of the Electoral Act, 2022. This is done at post-election stage.
The question that may follow is: what are the grounds upon which the conduct and/or outcome of an election may be questioned by an aggrieved party? Section 134 (1) of the Electoral Act, 2022 provides as follows: (1) An election may be questioned on any of the following grounds: (a) A person whose election is questioned was, at the time of the election, not qualified to contest the election; (b) The election was invalid by reason of corrupt practices and non-compliance with the provisions of this Act; or (c) The respondent was not duly elected by the majority of the lawful votes cast at the election.
For emphasis, any election petition presented outside the above grounds will be considered incompetent in law. See OGBORU V IBORI (2004) 7 NWLR (PT. 871) 192 @ 223-224.
Our focus is on non-qualification of a candidate to contest election as a ground for petition. It is trite that the return of a candidate as a winner of a given election can be questioned or challenged on the ground that he was at the time of the election not qualified to contest. As decided by the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the legion of cases, qualification in this context refers exclusively to the qualification to contest an election under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended. This excludes other qualification criteria set by other enabling laws like the Electoral Act. It must relate exclusively to the constitutional grounds for disqualification.
The qualification criteria of a candidate for election to the office of Governor of a State are contained in Sections 177 and 182 of the 1999 Constitution. Where it is satisfactorily proven to the Tribunal or Court that the winner of an election is not qualified to contest, the implication is that the candidate who came second will be declared the winner.
By the provisions of Section 77 (2) & (3) of the Electoral Act 2022, every registered political party (Labour Party inclusive) shall maintain a register of its members in both hard and soft copy and that such a register shall be made available to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) not later than 30 days before the date fixed for the party primaries, congress or convention.
It is clear from the provisions of Section 177 (1) (c) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended, that a person shall be qualified for election to the office of Governor of a state if (c) he is a member of a political party …’
As at the time the register of members of Labour Party was submitted to the INEC, Mr. Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, Labour Party candidate for Lagos State was not a member of the LP. Indeed, he was a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) where he obtained nomination form, attended screening to contest for PDP Gubernatorial ticket which was later won by Jandor.
On the 19th June, 2022, Mr. Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour formally applied for deputy governor candidacy to the PDP flag bearer, Jandor, but his application was refused by the PDP Deputy Gubernatorial Candidate Screening Committee (DGSC) Abuja. In the committee’s words …”Gbadebo Rhodes- Vivour as the Lagos State Deputy Governorship candidate portends danger for the PDP due to the fact of presentation of conflicting information on oaths to the INEC in his previous Senatorial election and to the party which are potent grounds for disqualification as enshrined in Section 182 (1) (j) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended”
The Labour Party governorship primary election was conducted and Mr. Ifagbami Awamaridi emerged as its candidate. Having won the primaries, Mr. Awamaridi’s name and particulars were forwarded to the INEC by Labour Party. However, Mr. Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour joined the party in July 2022 and on 10th August 2022 he was named LP candidate while Awamaridi’s name was wrongfully substituted. This case is currently in court (Supreme court) and if we all know the principality called Lagos APC godfather, this is landmine that must be avoided. Don’t be shocked when Supreme Court will announce that Labour Party has no candidate in Lagos base on the aforementioned.
From the foregoing, it is my candid opinion that by the community reading of provisions of constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended; the Electoral Act 2022 & INEC Guidelines and Party Constitution; votes for Mr. Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour of Labour Party in Lagos State would become wasted votes as he is not qualified to contest this election. It’s not just enough to blindly ride on the wave created by Mr Peter Obi’s Feb. 25th Election and waste this golden opportunity of rescuing Lagos.
Let’s be wise and choose a better alternative with no constitutional land mines.