Some Senior Advocates of Nigeria and Civil Society Organisations on Saturday condemned the Independent National Electoral Commission for extending the deadline for political parties to conduct their primaries.
In separate interviews with Sunday PUNCH, they wondered why INEC, which had vowed on several occasions not to shift the deadline, went ahead to do so.
Human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), said INEC’s decision to extend the deadline after the APC postponed its screening for presidential aspirants was suspect.
Falana advised INEC to redeem itself ahead of the 2023 poll.
“INEC owes it a duty to the country to demonstrate its independence and impartiality. What has happened is a case of the witch cried yesterday and the child died today. The APC had postponed its screening of candidates. Barely 24 hours later, INEC postponed the deadline for primaries.
“INEC will have to convince the public of its readiness to operate without interference from anybody. INEC must not let the ruling party, lawyers or the courts subvert the democratic process,” he said.
Also speaking, Mr Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN) alleged that it was obvious that INEC extended the deadline to favour the ruling All Progressives Congress, which had not even begun the process of conducting its presidential primary.
Adegboruwa said, “I think that INEC is not able to grasp the essence of its powers under the law. The word ‘independent’, as used by the constitution with respect to the National Electoral Commission, was used deliberately. It is also stated in the same constitution that ‘in the performance of its statutory duty, INEC shall not be under the control or direction of any person or authority’.
“Unfortunately, judging from how INEC is conducting its affairs, it is treating other political parties unfairly. For example, PDP delegates were already in Abuja in preparation for the primaries. If they had an inkling that the primary elections deadline would be postponed and the timetable extended, I am sure that they would have adjusted themselves.
“Hence it is not out of place to suggest that INEC colluded with the APC in order to throw the PDP into some kind of trap so that the candidate of the PDP for the presidential elections would become known and that would give the APC some kind of unfair advantage.”
Also, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Wole Olanipekun (SAN), condemned INEC for postponing the deadline, but said he didn’t think that INEC infringed on any law.
Olanipekun said, “As a lawyer, have they (INEC) infringed on any law? No. However, INEC must not create the impression inadvertently, deliberately or otherwise, consciously or otherwise, that it has given this extension because of a particular political party.”
He added, “You know, the confidence of the people in INEC is being eroded. I think this type of decision will make people lose their confidence in it.”
But Chief Emeka Ngige (SAN), said, “I don’t think it is right for people to say it (the extension) was to favour the ruling APC; it will favour more than the APC, as there are other parties that are yet to conduct their primary elections like the Labour Party and others who are trying to get their acts together.”
Also reacting, the Transition Monitoring Group, comprising over 400 civil society organisations, slammed INEC for the deadline extension.
The organisation said it received the information “with great worries and concerns.”
The chairman of TMG, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, in a statement, said at a time when Nigerians were beginning to have confidence in INEC, “some powerful forces are trying to undermine and pressurise it to do their biddings.”
“A lot of political parties have made efforts in conducting their primaries and if the ruling party is still uncertain about the day to conduct its presidential primary elections that shouldn’t be the basis for the extension”, he said.