Between October 2022 and February 2023, there were multiple reports of the political parties’ suspension and/or expulsion of members, notwithstanding that those parties had not-so-long-before submitted the names of the now-suspended/expelled members to the election umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (“INEC”) as their candidates for various legislative seats at the upcoming general elections.
On February 1, 2023, I had the privilege of being one of the first readers of the article which was uploaded to the blog site of F. O. Legal on January 30, 2021, and written by my brother, friend and professional colleague, Festus Ogun. After reading the article, I posted it on my WhatsApp status and encouraged viewers to have a go at it. I however indicated to Festus (privately) and to other viewers that whilst I understood and appreciated the article’s viewpoint and submissions, I found that I could not agree with my brother, this one time. I was then encouraged to prepare and publish my thoughts as a rejoinder to said article, hence this piece that you are currently reading.
In a most simplistic summary, Festus argues that upon conclusion of primary elections, political parties may only substitute the names of their candidates where such candidates die or withdraw from the general election. My brother then submits that once a candidate’s name has been duly submitted to INEC, the candidate’s suspension and/or expulsion from the political party would have zero effect on the candidate’s candidature at the general elections. This, I, daresay cannot be the intendment of the draftsman and of the Legislature.
Most respectfully, I am minded to think that Mr. Ogun either has a less than accurate understanding of the provisions of Sections, 65, 68(1)(g), 106(d), 109(1)(g), 131 and 177 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended (the “Constitution”) or as is more likely the case, at the time of writing the article, he did not call those provisions to mind.
The only possible interpretation of a joint reading of the above-referenced provisions is that notwithstanding the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022 (the “Act”) nor of any other law in Nigeria, it is only members of political parties in Nigeria that are sponsored by their respective parties that can validly contest elections at the state and federal levels of government. While suspension from a political party implies that the suspended member’s membership of said political party is deemed to have been temporarily terminated, expulsion is a definitive termination of said member’s membership. One then wonders how such a person who is effectively no longer a member of the political party who he had hitherto represented, nor of any political party at all, can then be deemed to still be a valid candidate at the general elections. This interpretation is, with all due respect, an overstretched attempt to do justice.
While we all ultimately await the courts’ interpretation, I agree with Festus that by Sections 31 and 33 of the Act, a candidate whose name had been validly submitted to INEC may only be substituted by his/her political party where the candidate dies or voluntarily withdraws from the electoral process.
In light of the foregoing, I am minded to think that the effects of the suspension and/or expulsion of election candidates by their political parties are two-pronged. On the one hand, the candidate can no longer validly contest the general election, and on the other hand, the party would be estopped from substituting his/her name with the name of any other member of the party. It is thus a double tragedy.
The only hope that there may be in this situation is recourse to the court. The suspended and/or expelled politician must quickly contest the suspension and/or expulsion at the relevant court and in the course of doing that, must procure an interim order of the court, inter alia, preventing the party from suspending and/or expelling him/her; and compelling INEC to recognize his candidacy until the eventual determination of the action. That is the only hope.
Our advice however is that, so as not to fall into such a situation, political parties should be assured of the loyalty and cooperation of their members. A failure to do this may lead to a situation where the party would be forced to throw the child out along with the soiled bathwater.