The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has reacted to the judgement of the Bayelsa State Elections Petition Tribunal ordering a new poll within 90 days after it nullified the election of Governor Duoye Diri over the alleged exclusion of the Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party (ANDP) during the November 2019 election.
INEC in a statement by its National Commissioner and Chairman Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, maintained that the governorship candidate of the ANDP, Lucky King-George, was not validly nominated to participate in the elections.
He disclosed that the commission excluded the candidate in line with the provisions of the Constitution and the Electoral Act.
INEC insisted that although the party attempted to substitute the deputy candidate who did not meet the 35 years age benchmark as stipulated by177 (b) of the Constitution, it was denied the privilege because in line with the provisions of section 35 and 36 of the Electoral Act “you must, first of all, make a valid nomination before you can carry out a valid substitution”.
“The Commission conducted governorship election in Bayelsa State in November 2019, this party called Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party (ANDP) filed the nomination of its deputy candidate by the name Peter David, as at the date they filed the nomination of this particular candidate, he was 34 years old and by section 177 (b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for you to be a governorship or deputy governorship candidate you must attain the age of 35 years.
“Therefore on the 13th day of September 2019 the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) wrote to the ANDP, telling them of the invalidity of the nomination of the deputy governorship candidate in relation to the election they want to contest, now the party responded to the Commission and agreed that the candidate they nominated was under aged because the fact of his under age was evident in the birth certificate and the declaration of age which the candidate submitted and the affidavit which he swore to.
“Now if you look at the affidavit the candidate swore to, it was sworn on the 19th day of April 2007 and in that affidavit the candidate stated that he was born on the 10th day of February 1985 so on the 24 day of September the party responded to the Commission that the candidate they submitted his name was not validly nominated and then sought to substitute the candidate with the name of one Mrs. Inowei Janet, based on what they did, the Commission wrote back to the party on the 27th day of September 2019 , telling them that the period for the substitution of candidates had elapsed and that the period elapsed on the 9th day of September 2019.
“The Commission also drew their attention to the fact that by the provision of section 35 and 36 of the Electoral Act you must first of all make a valid nomination before you can carry out a valid substitution and that they did not make a valid nomination and therefore they cannot carry out a valid substitution”.
“So this is where the Commission stands as at today, when we receive the CTC of that particular judgment we will study it and know the real basis why the political party went to the tribunal in the first place rather than going to the Federal or State High Court and also knowing the basis judgment was given in favour of the candidate. This is just our interim reaction when we see the CTC of the judgment we will take a proper position in relation to the issues”.
Okoye further said that “the Commission is a public institution regulated and guided by its constitutional and statutory mandate and does not have any personal interest in any of the elections that has been conducted. To that particular extent this Commission has as one of its cardinal principles obedience to orders of various courts.
“So to that particular extent in relation to this tribunal judgment, the Commission is guided by the provisions of section 143 (1) of the Electoral Act which says that if an election tribunal or a Court determines that a candidate returned as elected was not validly elected, then if notice of appeal against the decision is given within 21 days from the date of the decision the candidate returned as elected shall remain in office pending the determination of the appeal.
“If 21 days elapses and the candidate does not appeal then the Commission is under a constitutional and legal obligation to conduct a bye-election in compliance with the judgment of the Court”.