2023: No place for placeholder in constitution – Falana, others back INEC

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HUMAN rights lawyer, Femi Falana and other senior legal practitioners have backed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to dismiss the concept of “placeholder”.

In a bid to beat INEC’s deadline, recall that the All Progressives Congress (APC), Labour Party (LP) and the New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP) had forwarded the names of their presidential candidates alongside their running mates as ‘placeholders’.

However, INEC’s Commissioner for Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye, said the “placeholder is a unique Nigerian invention” for which the Commission’s law has no provision.

“The constitution makes it very clear that you cannot run alone as a presidential candidate and must nominate an associate to run with you for that position, and as far as INEC is concerned, the presidential candidates have submitted their associates to run with them in the presidential election.

“As far as we are concerned, there’s no form submitted by the presidential candidate where they said ‘we’re submitting this person’s name as a place or space holder. The issue of space or placeholder is a unique Nigerian invention that has no place in our constitutional and legal framework.

“For there to be a substitution of a candidate, the vice-presidential candidate must write to INEC, with a sworn affidavit stating that he is withdrawing from the race within the time frame provided by the law. That’s the only way there can be a substitution of candidates.”

In a chat with newsmen on Wednesday, Falana reiterated INEC’s position, stating: “There is nothing like a placeholder in our laws. They have submitted names and that is it. All they can say is that those people may withdraw later, but there is no provision for placeholders in our laws.

“The constitution recognises the fact that when you are submitting the name of your running mate, there is no primary for it. There is no primary for the office of the vice president or the deputy governor. So, the person nominated by the presidential candidate can withdraw at any time. Even a presidential candidate himself can withdraw. There is no fixation about it. Some of the things being said by some lawyers are rubbish.”

Another senior lawyer, professor of Comparative Constitutional Law and Governance at the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies, Abuja, Edoba Omoregie (SAN), said: “There’s no portion of the Electoral Act 2022 that clearly provides for the use of a placeholder, proxy or interim running mate in the nomination process or in submitting the name of the candidate of a political party in presidential or gubernatorial elections.

“However, as a general rule, what the law does not prohibit is permissible. The Electoral Act doesn’t prohibit the interim arrangement of placeholder. It’s noteworthy that by the said interim arrangement, the individual whose name is put forward is expected to ‘step aside’ in due course.

“By section 31 of the Electoral Act, a candidate may withdraw his nomination by a written communication under his own hands. The withdrawal must be communicated to INEC not later than 90 days to the election. The Electoral Act appears not to specifically provide opportunity for withdrawal by a running mate, and invariably for substitution of a running mate after submission of the name.

“Nonetheless, my view is that since the candidate and running mate are running on the same ticket by virtue of the constitutional provisions that require both a presidential and governorship nominee to submit running mates along with their nomination forms, whatever applies to a candidate must be interpreted as applicable to the running mate. Consequently, I believe a running mate may actually be able to withdraw his nomination as a running mate by communicating to the sponsoring political party, which shall in turn communicate to INEC of the withdrawal”

Also, Dr. Abdulfatai Sambo, an associate Professor of Law at the University of Ilorin, said, “Section 29(1) of the Electoral Act provides that every political party shall, not later than 180 days before the date appointed for a general election under this Act, submit to INEC in the prescribed forms the list of the candidates the party proposes to sponsor at the elections. The 180-day requirement is sacrosanct and cannot be violated without consequences.

“However, Section 31 creates a rider by permitting a candidate (President or VP as in this case) to withdraw his or her candidature by notice in writing signed by him and delivered personally by the candidate to the political party that nominated him for the election and the political party shall convey such withdrawal to the Commission not later than 90 days to the election.”

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