Can a candidate seeking elective office initiate nomination process in more than one political party? Lawyers say no. AKEEM NAFIU reports
ome senior lawyers have berated politicians who seek elective offices through initiation of nomination process in more than one political party.
The lawyers said the action not only runs contrary to the spirit of the Constitution, but also the Electoral Act.
The men of the legal profession were speaking on the heels of a decision by Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State to join the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) after failing to secure the nomination of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the forthcoming gubernatorial election in the state.
Something similar to what took place in Edo State also happened in the March 2019 gubernatorial election in Imo State when Uche Nwosu, the son-in-law to former Governor Rochas Okorocha, also dumped the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the Action Alliance (AA) to pursue his gubernatorial ambition.
Nwosu’s action later became a subject of litigation culminating in the Supreme Court invalidating his candidature as governorship flag bearer of the Action Alliance (AA) over double nomination.
The apex court, in its judgement delivered on 20th December, 2019, by Justice Adamu Augie, upheld the earlier judgement of the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, which upheld the decision of the Federal High Court, voiding Nwosu’s candidature.
The suit at a Federal High Court was initiated by a chieftain of the Action Peoples Party (APP), Uche Nnadi, on the grounds that Nwosu was not qualified to take part in the election.
In its judgement, the Supreme Court dismissed arguments by Nwosu’s lawyer that the suit at the lower court was stature barred.
Justice Augie said: “The appellant cannot be allowed to benefit from his own iniquity. The action is not caught up by limitation of time.
“This case rest on the issue of illegality and this court cannot be used to enforce illegalities. This appeal is hereby dismissed.”
Obaseki’s PDP move
Following his disqualification from the APC’s governorship primary by the party’s screening committee, Governor Godwin Obaseki moved to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on June 19 to pursue his second term ambition of governing Edo State.
Obaseki eventually emerged as the candidate of the PDP in the forthcoming gubernatorial election in Edo State.
He won the shadow election unopposed after his opponents stepped down.
Three candidates- Messrs Gideon Ikhini and Kenneth Imasuagbon from Edo Central Senatorial Zone as well as Ogbeide-Ihama bought the governorship and nomination forms but none of them eventually contested against Obaseki who came in as aspirant due to the waiver extended to him and his deputy, Mr. Philip Shaibu by the PDP.
Reacting to his victory, Obaseki while thanking the people of Edo State for the confidence reposed in him, said he believed that by the grace of God, he would win his second term bid.
He said: “Today marks a defining moment for our dear state. With today’s election result, it is clear that there is no mountain. I thank my family for the encouragement.
“I salute all our party members for standing tall when it became necessary to do so. I almost quit running for second tenure all because of an over-bearing godfather, but the PDP cover provided us with the umbrella when it was heavily raining.
“I appreciate former contenders in the election, Mr. Gideon Ikhine, Hon. Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama and Mr. Kenneth Imasuagbon, who stepped down and declared their support for me.”
Obaseki’s main challenger for the September governorship election is Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Some senior lawyers have expressed concern about the growing disregard for political parties’ ideologies by many politicians in the country. They said this is why politicians have continued to engage in ‘illegal political forum shopping’ to achieve their ambitions.
The lawyers asked politicians to respect the sanctity of political parties as stipulated in Sections 221, 222 and 223 of the Constitution.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Mike Ahamba, lamented politicians’ lack of commitment to political parties’ ideologies.
He said: “A candidate cannot have two tickets at the same time. It will be illegal to do so. That’s the law and that was what happened in Imo State over the APC ticket.
“The biggest problem that we have in the Nigerian political terrain has to do with morality and decency. Politicians see political party as election platform. If you fail to achieve your aim in one party, you go to another one. Nobody is committed to any party again.
“If politicians are committed to their parties, we will not be seen what we are witnessing in the political space now. I remember when l lost out in my gubernatorial ambition under the ANPP in 2003, another party offered me a ticket to the Senate but I turned it down.
“I did this on the ground that I don’t believe I should leave the
ANPP at that time because I lost nomination. At that time, I was committed to ANPP as a party.
“This is no longer happening at the moment among politicians. It’s all about their ambition and not the party. So, they can do anything to get what they want. All they want is to be in charge whether by hook or crook. This is quite unfortunate.”
Dr. Fassy Yusuf called for an end to what he described as political prostitution.
He said: “It amounts to political forum shopping for an aspirant into a political office to initiate his nomination process through more than one political party. This is political prostitution.
“The case of Nwosu in Imo State should be a precedent and the legality of the present political forum shopping should be tested in the law courts up to the apex court (Supreme Court).
“Albeit morality and law hardly find a common ground, the point should be made that Nigerian politics lacks morality and ideology.
“There is bastardisation of politics to the extent that strange bedfellows flock together. The illegality and immorality in our polity should be holistically addressed otherwise our brand of politics cannot guarantee development.”
Mr. Kunle Adegoke said the law prohibited double nomination of a candidate by two or more political parties for the same election.
He said: “What is forbidden under the law is double nomination of a candidate by two or more political parties for the same election. What the Electoral Act invalidates is knowingly allowing oneself to be nominated by more than one political party or in more than one political constituency.
“Until the completion of a nomination process, a candidate at an election cannot be disqualified for simply seeking nomination in one political party which nomination effort does not come into reality. There cannot be double nomination until a candidate is so nominated.
“That is why under the Electoral Act, a person who sought nomination of a political party but was disqualified and did not have the opportunity to participate in the primary election of such a party is not regarded as an aspirant who can challenge his disqualification in court.
“Up till the holding of a primary election, all activities of a political party including appearing at a screening exercise and disqualifying a person are completely non-justiciable. They are regarded as internal affairs of the party into which the court will not dabble into.
“The only option open to such a disqualified person is to seek his political fortune on the platform of another party. That is the holding of the Supreme Court in APC v. Engineer Suleiman Aluyi Lere which is a recent decision reported in  1 NWLR (Pt. 1705) 254 @ 285 and in which the apex court was so categorical.
“To disqualify a candidate of a political party for simply initiating a nomination process elsewhere which did not go through is to stretch the law beyond the confines of its provisions. The Electoral Act regulates nomination and fielding of candidates and until someone participates in the primary election of a political party, he is not an aspirant who can access the court or be said to have been nominated as to constitute a ground for his disqualification in an election in which he probably was compelled to seek his political fortune elsewhere.
“A conclusion to the contrary shall only be deepening party dictatorship which will be highly deleterious to internal democracy in political parties and attainment of democratic ideals in the country.
“Thus, there is nothing illegal in a candidate of Party B having initiated efforts to seek nomination on the platform of Party A in which process he was disqualified and did not have the opportunity to seek nomination by the appropriate organ that does nomination in Party A”.
Mr. Malachy Ugwummadu said it is illegal and morally wrong for any politician to initiate nomination process in more than one political party.
Ugwummadu said: “Except he does that by proxy, it will be both illegal and morally wrong to embark on such scheming and manipulation.
“Once a candidate, it presupposes that primaries have been conducted in the party by which process he emerged as a candidate. Consequently, his name and particulars will be submitted to the election management body INEC.
“Thus, by what means can he submit the same names and particulars for the candidacy race of another party when by the Electoral Act, the electoral body is mandated to monitor the exercise and appraise the identity of the candidate when it’s eventually submitted to them as the umpire.
“Remember that election is largely a contest among contending and aspiring persons who are constantly watching out for any defect or deficiencies of their opponents. Certainly, such a scenario as painted will be a recipe for contestants to undo and undermine themselves. Remember also that before the general election, names and particulars of Candidates are to be displayed by the electoral body against each party.”
Mr. Kabir Akingbolu also cautioned politicians against embarking on any untidy political sojourn saying the law will surely take its course on such action
He said: “Since it is a single election, it will be improper and untidy for anyone to participate in the primaries of two different political parties. If that is allowed, it will make caricature of the entire process and therefore amounts to nullity at the end of the day.
“This is because the Constitution states categorically that for someone to participate in an election, he must belong to a political party under which platform he would contest. Therefore, it is not possible to belong to two political parties at the same time.
“That apart, the Electoral Act specifically forbids double nomination which means there is no how any person can seek nomination from two different political parties at the same time and for the same election.
“It may also make no difference even where the candidate had been disqualified from participating in the primaries of one political party and he jumps to the ship of another political party. It will amount to time wasting eventually because such untidy political sojourn or forum shopping may earn him complete nullification of his election if he wins.”
Mr. Wale Ogunade said both the Constitution and Electoral Act are not in support of political forum shopping.
“Obviously, the Electoral Act prohibits an instance where a candidate seeking elective position initiated nomination process in more than one political party. The Constitution also frowns at it.
“By virtue of Sections 221, 222 and 223 of the Constitution, anyone seeking elective position must do so on the platform a political party and it is only a political party that can canvass for election through its candidate for political office.
“What we have these days is a situation where political parties give waivers to politicians who newly joined them to contest for elective offices.
“However, if this action becomes a subject of litigation, it will definitely attract court’s sanction because it is improper for a politician to be jumping from one party to another.
“This action does not portend the concerned politician as one interested in the party’s ideology, but someone that is only interested in his or her own selfish ambition.”