The Independent National Electoral Commission on Friday rejected claims it had disqualified former Governor of the Central Bank, Prof Charles Soludo, and his party, the All Progressives Grand Alliance, from the November 6, 2021 governorship election in Anambra State.
Early last week, a group which allegedly claimed to be a faction of the party raised the alarm, saying the party might be axed by the electoral umpire for non-compliance with stipulated guidelines in the conduct of its affairs.
The group said to be led by Jude Okeke, last Monday, in Abuja, expressed the fears that the electoral umpire might exclude the party from the Anambra governorship election slated for November 6.
The publicity secretary of the group, Ikechukwu Chukwunyere, told newsmen that the Victor Oye led party refused to comply with the statutory 21 days notice on the Special Ward Congress to the Commission.
Chukwunyere specifically said the Oye faction did not duly notify INEC on the plan to hold ward congresses ahead of the governorship poll within the 21 days recommended by its regulations and Section 85 of the Electoral Act.
He went ahead to distribute copies of the INEC letter confirming the non-receipt of APGA’s 21 days notification to journalists, adding that the electoral umpire had communicated its position on the matter to the Okeke’s faction in two separate letters.
By Wednesday, however, Prof Soludo swept to what was described as a “landslide victory” to clinch the party’s ticket.
The euphoria that greeted that victory had hardly died down when news broke on Thursday that the electoral empire had disqualified both the renowned economist and his party from the coming election.
But Festus Okoye, INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, in a telephone interview with The Point, denied the claim and went ahead to state the position of the commission.
He said “The letters issued by the secretary to the Commission and my clarification are clear. We are a regulatory Commission and are empowered to draw the attention of parties to issues concerning their primaries. No paragraph of the letters mentioned disqualification.
“The conduct of primaries is within the domain of political parties as long as the primaries are conducted within the period covered by the timetable and schedule of activities. We monitored the primaries conducted on the 23rd June and will not bar the party from submitting the name of their candidate.
“THE CONDUCT OF PRIMARIES IS WITHIN THE DOMAIN OF POLITICAL PARTIES AS LONG AS THE PRIMARIES ARE CONDUCTED WITHIN THE PERIOD COVERED BY THE TIMETABLE AND SCHEDULE OF ACTIVITIES. WE MONITORED THE PRIMARIES CONDUCTED ON THE 23RD JUNE AND WILL NOT BAR THE PARTY FROM SUBMITTING THE NAME OF THEIR CANDIDATE”
“Any aspirant or political party that is dissatisfied with the conduct of the primaries can challenge it in court.
“All we said is that we did not monitor the delegates’ congress and nothing more. We did not disqualify and have not disqualified any candidate or party from the ballot.”
But before INEC spoke to The Point, a worried Anambra State Governor, Willie Obiano, had maintained that the ruling party in the state did not contravene any electoral provisions in the emergence of Prof Soludo.
His Political Adviser, Chief Ifeatu Obiokoye, who made his position known in a statement said, “The attention of our great party, the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, has been drawn to a letter with Reference No INEC/DEPM/UPPM/1/145 dated the 18th of June, 2021 and signed by the Secretary of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
“In the said letter, it was alleged that our party failed to notify the Commission of the ad hoc delegates’ congress which the party conducted across the 326 wards in Anambra State on the 15th and 16th of June 2021 respectively.
“We wish to state categorically that the above position of the Commission is not in line with the dictates of Section 85(1) of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended, as well as a plethora of judicial authorities in that regard.
“Our party duly complied with requisite statutory notices envisaged under the Electoral Act 2010, as amended as well as other requirements clearly outlined by INEC in its regulations and guidelines for the conduct of political party primary elections published by INEC.
“In line with the said INEC regulations and guidelines, our great party undertook the publication of timetable/schedule of activities, issued statutory notice of primary election dated the 26th of May, 2021 as envisaged under Section 85(1) of the Electoral Act.”
The party further insisted that, “Undoubtedly, our great party, as a responsible entity, has never defaulted in complying with requisite procedural requirements for the nomination of its candidate in the past and will not begin now.”
As things stand now, Soludo and his party, the APGA are not walking the tightrope toward November 6, as had been insinuated in some quarters. With the clarification from the electoral umpire, Soludo can now start preparing in earnest for his campaign.