Chuks Okocha in Abuja
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has advised the 18 registered political parties to go ahead with the business of electing party candidates across board as there will not be any tinkering of the 2023 General Elections Timetable and Schedule of Activities.
This is even as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) has warned that there will be a constitutional crisis in the country and a breach of ECOWAS Protocol on Elections if the 2023 General Elections Timelines issued by INEC is adjusted for whatsoever reason.
Speaking on Channel Television programme monitored in Abuja yesterday, INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, reiterated the position of the commission that the 2023 Election Timetable and Schedule of Activities will not be adjusted for whatever reason.
He insisted that controversy trailing the Amendment to the Electoral Act 2022 by the National Assembly (NASS), the delay in signing it into law by President Muhammadu Buhari and the demand by political parties for adjustments to the Timetable and Schedule of Activities do not affect INEC in discharging its mandate.
“INEC rolled out the 2023 General Elections Timetable and Schedule of Activities after President Buhari gave Assent to the Electoral Act 2022. And at the moment INEC is making use of Electoral Act 2022 and until the Act is amended and Mr. President gives his assent, the commission will continue to work with the Act.”
Okoye insisted that INEC has always carried the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) along in its decisions and criticised the calls for the electoral umpire to tinker with the earlier released election timelines by extending the time frame to enable political parties meet up with the tight elections schedule.
Okoye said : “2023 General Elections have already started with the release of the Timetable and Schedule of Activities based on the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 Sections 76 (2), 116 (2), 132 (2) and 178 ( 2), and as is empowered by Section 28 (1) of the Electoral Act 2022. So we don’t see problems with the implementation of the rules”.
Asked if the commission will shift ground should President Buhari align himself with political parties including the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to persuade it to adjust the Timetable and Schedule of Activities, Okoye said categorically “No”.
“President Buhari is a democrat and I believe he is not favourably disposed to order INEC to do the bidding of political parties asking for adjustment of the Elections Timetable and Schedule of Activities. We are a country of law and order,” he added.
On the insistence of IPAC led by Yabagi Yusuf Sani that the Timetable and Schedule of Activities be adjusted to give the political parties time to conduct their primaries, the INEC top official said they have nothing to complain about.
“The Notice of Election was made public since February 28 this year in compliance with Section 28 (1) of the Electoral Act 2022 which provides not less than 360 days before the elections, early enough to allow parties to organise their primaries but they did not do anything until now”.
“However, elections have started hence it is not possible to shift the goalposts when the football match has already started. Besides, the law has given political parties the free hand to use any of the three options captured by Electoral Act 2022 for their party primaries. Section 84 (8) is clear on this issue. Why wait for a new Act,” he said.
Meanwhile, Clement Onwuenwunor, SAN, who was also on the television programme warned of Constitutional crises should INEC bow to the request of political parties to adjust the elections Timetable and Schedule of Activities.
He said: “INEC is duty-bound to comply with the 1999 Constitution and Electoral Act 2022 as far as the 2023 General Elections Timetable and Schedule of Activities are concerned.”
“I plead to Mr. President not to give Assent to the Amended Electoral Act in order not to give room to the shenanigans of the National Assembly members and politicians.”
“It does not make any sense to continue to discuss the issue of altering the INEC Election Timetables and Schedule because all the 18 political parties have since submitted to INEC the dates for their various Primary elections.”
But Sani of IPAC insists on the commission adjusting the Electoral Timetable and Schedule of Activities, arguing that political parties need more time to get their acts together.
Chuks Okocha in Abuja