The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has insisted that there was no any ‘loophole’ in its operations that led to the Bayelsa governorship elections, which presented an ‘ineligible candidate’ in the APC and the subsequent nullification of the candidature of the APC governor-elect, David Lyon, by the Supreme Court.
A five-member panel of the apex court led by Mary Odili, had on February 13, nullified the election of Mr. Lyon on the grounds that his deputy, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, presented false information to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in aid of his qualification for the November 16 governorship election in the state.
Speaking with The News Chronicle recently, INEC’s Federal Commissioner and Chairman Committee on Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye, disclosed that INEC was not constitutionally bound to determine the eligibility of a candidate and that it was the duty of political parties, individuals and others to do so.
“The power is given to outsiders, political parties and to individuals to make this determination and not the Commission. Our role as a Commission is to receive the personal particulars of those candidates and not to scrutinize the personal particulars of those candidates”, he asserted.
While quoting the Electoral Act, Okoye delineated the powers of the Commission and other stakeholders under such circumstances.
“Section 31, Subsection 1 of the Electoral Act makes it clear that it is the function of a political party to submit the list of candidates it proposes to sponsor in any election. Secondly, Section 31, Subsection 3 mandates the Commission to within seven days of the submission of the personal particulars of the candidate; to publish those personal particulars in the constituency where the candidate intends to contest an election. In other words, when the candidate fills the form, there is an affidavit attached to it by the candidate saying that he or she has complied with all the constitutional requirements”, he stated.
According to him, while some of the parties concerned failed to do the needful, the opposition party capitalized on that failure to its ultimate advantage.
“Subsection 5 of Section 31 says: any person whatsoever, who has reasonable grounds to believe that any information given by a candidate in the affidavit, or any document submitted by that candidate is false, may file a suit at the Federal High Court, High Court of a State or High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, against such a person seeking a declaration that information contained in the affidavit is false. Then Subsection 6 of Section 31 says: if the court determines that any of the information contained in the affidavit or any document submitted by the candidate is false, the court shall issue an order disqualifying the candidate from contesting election.
“So, that was exactly what the PDP did. The PDP went to court saying that, the candidate of the APC submitted false information in his personal particulars and then on the 12 November, 2019, the Federal High Court in Yenogoa gave an order disqualifying the candidate of the APC from contesting the governorship election of November 16, 2019, on grounds that he submitted false information. A few days later, the APC went to the Court of Appeal and got a stay of that particular order. It was that stay that enabled them to contest the election. The Court of Appeal later set aside the Order of the Federal High Court. The PDP then appealed to the Supreme Court saying, the Court of Appeal was wrong. The Supreme Court delivered judgement saying the candidature of the deputy governorship candidate of the APC was vitiated by his non- qualification and that he shouldn’t have been on the ballot in the first place because both of them who have a joint candidature were not qualified to contest elections in the first place and went ahead to restore the order of the Federal High Court that was given before the election”, he concluded.