The Independent National Electoral Commission has said the general elections may not hold in Rivers State, in the light of the legal battles that ensued in the wake of the primary elections in October.
A Federal High Court in Abuja had stopped the All Progressives Congress from presenting candidates in Rivers and Zamfara following the inability of the party to resolve its internal crises on the conduct of its primaries.
The National Chairman, Voter Education Commission, INEC, Festus Okoye, who spoke on Sunrise Daily, a live programme of Channels Television, on Friday, stated that, in relation to Rivers, the court gave an order that the names of the candidates for governorship, senatorial, House of Representatives and House of Assembly elections should be removed and that their names should not appear anywhere on the ballot or any document emanating from INEC.
Okoye added that the court also ruled that the logo of the political party should not appear on the ballot.
He said, “That is challenging. But I believe that Nigeria is a country governed by the rule of law and all of us are supposed to be bound by the rule of law. If the court gives an order too close to the elections and it is impossible then to conduct the elections, especially for that stream of elections, we would have no choice but to undermine the elections and then move it a little bit.
“Based on the Electoral Act and the constitutional provisions, we still have a small window within which to act. That presupposes that the issue we are going to have will just be state-specific. We are going to conduct such an election as a slightly off-season election away from the general elections.
“So, I think that the Rivers issue is not insurmountable. It’s an issue that we can deal with. We will be looking at what the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court do. So, we’ll follow all these processes very closely to ensure that INEC is not caught off guard.”
According to the INEC official, in the event that the court gives a ruling too close to the elections, the commission is already putting together a plan B and looking at all the variables and eventualities.
“We can take care of it. I think we have everything under control and we are also looking at various scenarios in terms of what happens in the courts. These issues and challenges are part of our electoral process.
“If the political parties paid attention to Section 87 of the Electoral Act and we don’t have challenges with the party primary elections, some of these issues will not arise. But party primary elections are conducted by individuals; anything can go wrong.
“The law and the constitution is that if anything goes wrong with party primary elections, rather than take laws into your own hands, you go and ventilate your grievances before the court. I believe that is what the political parties have done,” he added.
Speaking on the repercussions for voters, Okoye said they might be demoralised, adding that, if a political party was excluded from contesting the elections, other political parties were still on the ballot.
The INEC official said, “We have 91 political parties in Nigeria today. Now, if eventually the court says, ‘You cannot exclude (any party); you must restore (the party)’ and it is too close to the elections to restore (the party), then INEC has the constitutional and legal authority to undermine the elections and move it forward a little bit.
“Then we do civic and voter education and we urge the political parties to also mobilise (the electorate) so that the people who are registered can exercise their democratic franchise because that is their power.”