19th March, 2013
All Progressive Congress accuses the Peoples Democratic Party and Independent National Electoral Commission of collusion to frustrate its registration
The smooth sail the newly formed All Progressive Congress, APC, has had since its emergence on the country’s political waters seems to be troubled by the sudden appearance of African People’s Congress, a hardly known party with the same acronym. But apart from sharing the same acronym, the circumstances of their emergence are strikingly different. Unlike All Progressives Congress, which is an amalgam of opposition political parties, namely, Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN; Congress for Progressive Change, CPC; and All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, the origin of African People’s Congress has remained a mystery to many watchers. In fact, it was literally unheard of until the recent announcement by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, that the party had, indeed, applied to it for registration. Despite the Commission’s claim on its application, the identities of the party’s promoters have remained unknown; except that its letter of application emanated from a certain Abuja-based law firm, Leather World Chambers, and was signed by one Nwokorie Samuel Chinedu. The two political parties having the same acronym, according to INEC, foreshadows the possibility of the grand opposition party’s registration by the electoral umpire.
The current reality was confirmed by the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Kayode Idowu, last week. According to Idowu, “We (INEC) do not encourage political parties with similar names, manifestos, logos and acronyms and this is aimed at avoiding confusion between registered political parties.” He cited a similar situation in which the Commission had declined to register the United Progressive Grand Alliance, UPGA, promoted by disgruntled former chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, Chief Chekwas Okorie, on the grounds that the acronym of his party sounded alike with APGA. Although INEC, in Okorie’s case, cited Section 82, sub-section 2 (c) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, for its action, and may rely on same to rationalise its decision against the All Progressive Congress, the said section is however ambiguous. According to the Section 82 (2) (c): “The Commission shall register the symbol of a political party if it is satisfied that its use will not be offensive or otherwise objectionable.”
Based on the unfolding development, opposition political actors within the fold of the All Progressive Congress have warned of an all-out protest to the INEC, if it failed to register the party. The first salvo was fired by former governor of Zamfara State, Senator Ahmed Sani, on a Hausa radio phone-in programme, Hanu Dayawa, in Kaduna. Yerima, an ANPP chieftain, during the programme warned of a mass protest, on the scale of Egypt’s Tahrir Square’s demonstration which spurred the Arab Spring, to be led by leaders of the All All Progressive Congress, to express their grouse against the Commission. The threat, which obviously did not go down well with the authorities, led to Yerima being questioned by the police.
Kaduna State Commissioner of Police, Olufemi Adenaike, reportedly acting on an order from Abuja, invited the lawmaker for questioning bordering on his threat. Though Sani was later released, the news of his arrest sparked furious reactions from opposition parties and other Nigerians, who saw it as an attempt at intimidation. For many commentators, the action was capable of stifling dissenting opinions and antithetical to freedom of expression. The import of the arrest was not lost on the House of Representatives, which debated the matter and condemned the police. To CPC, the action reflected desperation by the ruling PDP, using INEC to frustrate the merger plan.
According to its National Publicity Secretary, Rotimi Fashakin, the original plan was to ambush the coalescing parties by frustrating All Progressive Congress from meeting the requirements for registration . He, therefore, urged the Commission to prove its neutrality by showing it was not in an unholy alliance with the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, as alleged by its former Presidential candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari. Just last month, in Abuja, Buhari, a three-time presidential candidate, had scathed the PDP that it needed no alliance to retain power in 2015. To him, the party was already “in alliance with the Police, INEC, Judiciary, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, and pension funds”.
But PDP spokesman, Olisa Metuh, in his response, described Buhari’s jibe as “un-presidential”, and accused the former head of state of lifting jokes from the social media in a bid to get at PDP “at all cost”. Undeterred, Buhari, two weeks ago, unleashed another round of expletives against the INEC, this time calling for the sack of its chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega. As a guest speaker at the 4th British-African Diaspora conference held at the British House of Commons in London on 7 March, Buhari alleged that “INEC’s top echelon is immersed in deep corruption,” and that it “would be unable to deliver any meaningful election in 2015.”
He accused Jega of having “a cosy relationship with the executive and judicial arms of government that its impartiality is totally lost”, and called for his sack. Coming on the heels of the controversy over the identity crisis of the two parties, the opposition parties seemed to have found a justification for its outcry against INEC. In a statement he issued last Monday in Abuja, National Publicity Secretary, Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Lai Mohammed, described the comment adduced to the INEC spokesman as “reckless and provocative”. Like Fashakin, Mohammed argued that the statement “clearly betrays INEC as truly having merged with the PDP to frustrate the merger of the progressives” under the new party. Mohammed explained that the African People’s Congress had only written a letter of intent to which INEC had not correspondingly replied with a letter of acknowledgement, let alone verifying its documents. He added that not until that was done, in compliance with the provisions of Section 78 (2) and Section 78 (6) of the Electoral Act, the “phantom” party could not be regarded as an applicant.
Moreover, Section 78, subsection 2 of the Electoral Act reads: “The Commission shall on receipt of the documents in fulfilment of the conditions stipulated by the Constitution immediately issue the applicant with the letter of acknowledgment stating that all the necessary documents had been submitted to the Commission.” Subsection 6 of the same section states that: “No application for registration as a political party shall be processed unless there is evidence of payment of administrative fee as may be fixed from time to time by the Commission.” On this score, and based on INEC’s inability to show it had issued a letter of acknowledgement to the African People’s Congress, or that the party had paid the required administrative fee, the argument seems to be in Muhammed’s favour. The PDP, which had been accused of floating the strange party has denied its involvement, accusing the opposition of sloppiness. Metuh said the opposition parties should be blamed for their predicament, rather than blaming the PDP for the “negligence and incompetence of our grossly inferior opponents”.
But, rather than blame PDP for the opposition party’s dilemma, CPC’s National Secretary, Buba Galadima, blamed it on the All Progressive Congress’merger committee, which he said “was busy playing to the gallery rather than moving faster”.
Galadima added that the committee “should have silently done what they are doing, register the party and then do convention, (but) they have to change the name now”.
The delay Galadima claimed landed the merger party in a quandary, however, does not sufficiently explain the contradictions in the statements credited to INEC’s spokesman, Idowu, or the belief that the electoral body was complicit in plans to frustrate All Progressive Congress’ registration. In one breath, Idowu was, on 8 February, quoted to have said, “INEC is expecting the leadership of the All Progressive Congress to apply for formal documentation.” Few days later, on 17 February, Idowu, in what appeared to be a volte face, described the coalition party as just a political association since it had not fulfilled all requirements for its registration.
Picking on Idowu’s conflicting statements, Lai Mohammed said: “One wonders who the spokesman is speaking for and what interest he represents.”
Joe Igbokwe, Lagos State Publicity Secretary of ACN, could not agree more. “Did INEC not see the efforts being put in place by the progenitors of the APC? Did INEC not see how APC emerged through an excruciating process?” In the same vein, a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Abdulrasaq Balogun, contended that, with “the formation of the APC, the PDP has become jittery that power is leaving its hands in the next election”. Balogun told this magazine that the current situation leaves the APC with no choice than to let the world know the machinations of the PDP and President Goodluck Jonathan in trying to scuttle the merger.
While the issue remains a boiling cauldron, there was an indication last Thursday that representatives of All Progressive Congress would be meeting with the Commission to formally present its grouse.