The nine guidelines released by the All Progressives Congress for the conduct of its aspirants to the various elective offices ahead of its primaries, are causing disquiet in the ruling party, writes Vanessa Obioha
Despite efforts to downplay the apprehension among its aspirants, especially those seeking to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023, all may not be well with the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). Tension in the party is almost at a boiling point.
Last week, the party released nine guidelines for the conduct of presidential, governorship and parliamentary aspirants ahead of the primaries. The guidelines bar contenders from going to court without first exhausting the avenues for redress and ventilation of grievances. They are also expected to sign undertakings to accept the outcomes of the shadow polls and support whoever emerges as a candidate for the general election.
It also directed them to take oaths not to engage in thuggery, anti-party activities, factionalisation or the creation of parallel congresses and party organs at any level. These conditions are contained on page 17 of the nomination form given to the aspirants. It was gathered that the nine guidelines for the primaries were released as part of the party’s strategy to manage looming crises and intrigues.
The party is said to be having difficulty in handling the unprecedented long list of aspirants seeking to succeed President Buhari. There are strong indications that some of the aspirants are in the race to negotiate their political future, while others are simply in the race to block their colleagues from getting the party’s ticket.
Cross River State Governor, lent credence to this belief when he declared that he would not mind stepping down once the president and the party ask him to do so.
Although the APC leadership claimed that the guidelines were in line with Article 21. 2 (i — xii) of the APC Constitution, many aspirants have faulted the conditions describing them as inconsistent with their fundamental human rights as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution.
The conditions are: “Abide to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the APC and the Federal Republic of Nigeria; Abide by the primary election guidelines of APC and Nigerian Electoral Act; Abide to place APC above selfish interests; I, my primary campaign organisation and my supporters undertake to accept the outcome of the primary and support whoever emerges as APC candidate for the general election.
“Abide not to engage in dishonest practices, thuggery, being absent from meetings to which he/she is invited without reasonable cause; carrying out anti-party activities which tend to disrupt the peaceful, lawful and efficient organisation of the party or which are inconsistent with the aims and objectives of the party.
“Abide not to give wrong information to any organ of the party or unauthorised publicity of a party dispute without exhausting all avenues or settlement or redress within the party; Abide not to file any action in a court of law against the party or any of its officers on any matters relating to the discharge of the duties of the party without first exhausting all avenues for redress provided.
“Abide to always follow the path of justice, honesty and unity amongst fellow contestants and party members. So help me God. Abide not to factionalise or create a parallel congress, election, or party organ at any level.”
But of the nine conditions, most of the aspirants, especially presidential heavyweights, are uncomfortable with the “voluntary letter of withdrawal,” contained on page 18.
The letter, titled: Letter of Voluntary Withdrawal, says: “I…of the above address…vying for…hereby voluntarily withdraw my candidacy from the contest…scheduled to hold on…2023. My withdrawal is in the best interest of our great party, the APC.”
Apart from addressing the letter to the National Chairman of APC, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, each aspirant is expected to endorse the letter before a Commissioner for Oaths or Notary Public.
Many believe that the withdrawal letter is aimed at exonerating the party from any liability should any of the aspirants be dissatisfied with the process and want to proceed to court.
A party source described the withdrawal letter as an indemnity to prevent members from taking legal action against the party if they are not elected or selected as the consensus candidate.
They alleged that the withdrawal clause may lead to either imposition of a presidential candidate or abuse of the consensus clause in the Electoral Act 2022. It was learnt that most presidential aspirants have been seeking legal advice on Page 18 of the nomination form, which they considered a booby trap.
An aspirant, who has purchased the nomination form said: “This is the first time we are seeing this kind of form for aspirants and we see it as an attempt to enforce consensus options through the back door.
This is unconstitutional. Signing that letter means the party leaders can impose any candidate and you will not have any right to challenge them in court. Something is fishy and we must be very careful because there are surreptitious moves not to allow delegates to decide the fate of aspirants.”
Despite this, two aspirants are still waiting for the positions of their legal teams, the other was said to have vowed not to sign such a form and will exclude the controversial form 18 from other documents to be returned to the National Secretariat of the party for submission.
Responding to the withdrawal letter, the National Secretary of the party, Senator Iyiola Omisore, said filling out the controversial form is optional, as the party has not decided on which option to use in picking its candidates.
Explaining why the ruling party inserted a withdrawal sheet for aspirants that procured nomination and expression of interest forms, APC’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Felix Morka, had reportedly argued that the measure was in tandem with the party’s constitution and the Electoral Amendment Act 2022. He added that aspirants are obliged to fill the withdrawal sheet if they decide to withdraw from the race of their own volition.
“Yes, the sheet is part of the form. Our constitution and the Electoral Act recognised three modes for the election of our candidates – direct, indirect and consensus. Now, the aspirants are not required as they complete the form to fill that page. The page is there only for those who make the decision at some point to withdraw from the race.”
However, a constitutional lawyer and chieftain of APC, Dr. Tunji Abayomi, has cautioned the Adamu-led NWC of the party against the controversial Form 18 ‘Letter of Withdrawal’ attached to the Expression of Interest and Nomination forms, describing it as an arm-twisting tactics that defeats freedoms of democracy.
Abayomi noted that in a democracy no one compels aspirants to sign the so-called voluntary letters of withdrawal saying that holding aspirants to ransom defeats the freedoms of democracy.
The human rights activist in a statement tilted, “A note to NWC and APC Chairman” stated that democracy is unalterably placed on written laws saying, “I see nothing in APC, Nigerian Constitution or Electoral Act 2022 or even the norms of democracy that supports subjecting aspirants to any invidious withdrawal before contest.
He specifically called on the National Chairman and members of the APC NWC to as a matter of urgency do something on the issue, saying that democracy is all about the wish and will of the people and not the desire of leaders for a particular end.
Abayomi noted that in view of the new criteria attached to APC Nomination form, it is important to clarify some issues if the present NWC wishes to sustain respect and avoid falling into infamy.
He went on: “First, in a democracy you don’t tell people not to go to court unless you guarantee them the right to due process. The right to approach the court for remedy is a preeminent constitutional right in all democracies.
“Second, in a democracy you don’t ask the people to accept the result of any election unless it is free, fair, unencumbered and democratic. The constitution grants each partaker the right to challenge unfair elections in court.
“In consequence, the additional conditions or criteria at page 18 of your Nomonation Form being contrary to the laws and norms of democracy, particularly the so called voluntary letter of withdrawal before participating in the forthcoming primary and as these conditions are invidious, improper, unconstitutional they should. Attachments area