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Plateau LG Polls: PLASIEC, PDP and Politicisation of Court Order

Plateau State governor Simon Lalong
Plateau State governor Simon Lalong

July 04, (THEWILL) – Barring a court order, it appears that the Plateau State Independent Electoral Commission (PLASIEC) has dealt the main opposition party in the state, the Peoples Democratic Party, a technical blow that sits and sinks like a sucker punch. The state elections regulating body announced recently that as of 4pm on June 25, 2021 the chances of the PDP to participate in the forthcoming local government polls had come to naught because it failed to meet a court order that directed it to conduct the election and elect an executive committee to take charge of the party’s affairs in the state.

Having declined to observe the PDP chairmanship and councillorship primaries, PLASIEC claims also that it had earlier been warned by a faction of the PDP to be wary of its indulgence with ‘constituted’ PDP authority or risk running afoul of the court order and stand liable to be charged for contempt of court.

The PLASIEC stated further that it refused to release nomination forms to the PDP, not so much for the fact that the PDP asked that the forms be made available to it at no cost and at a venue of its convenience, but in compliance with its lack of qualification for the exercise as a result of the court order. With the PDP put out of the way, PLASIEC has confirmed that it has 17 political parties to contend with as it implements and monitors adherence to its guidelines in the buildup of activities to the elections.

Outside officialdom, not many seem to agree with the PLASIEC, dismissing its stance as malicious, cowardly, an atrophy of standard democratic practice, predetermined, and simply acting the interest of the man who pays the piper. Expert opinion too does not reinforce the arguments of commission, with the recurrent refrain being that it, not being a party to the said suit, cannot be entitled to a pound of flesh when it made no prayer to the court.

Legal authorities also point at the moral impropriety of PLASIEC to argue a cause in which only other competing and contending political parties have a stake and the locus standi to do so. Many are of the view that as an umpire, PLASIEC has gone beyond the scope of neutrality to becoming an interested party and engaging the PDP on behalf of other parties without recourse to fairness and good conscience. Those who distrust PLASIEC’s claims on this have also pointedly referred to the position in the ruling APC in the state. For one, the APC is being run by an unelected caretaker committee long before the electoral body announced its time-table for the local government elections.

Secondly, the APC in Plateau State, especially after the contrived suspension of the former chairman of the Caretaker Committee, Letep Dabang, is in at least two factions, the one headed and controlled by Governor Lalong, and the other, quite understandably and predictably, by the estranged Dabang. Yet, this group points out also that the issue of factions in the opposition PDP was rested with the inauguration of the Caretaker Committee which has since taken over the leadership of the party in the state.

Besides, the PDP itself is forthcoming and eloquent about its preparedness and competence to participate in the exercise. At a press conference  on June 25, the Party backgrounds its subsisting outlook thus: ‘’you are aware that following a court judgment that ordered for a fresh state congress to elect officers of the party, the National Working Committee of our party dissolved the erstwhile state Exco of the party, and in line with the constitution of our party, put in place an 11-member caretaker committee to oversee the running of the state chapter of the party for a period of 90 days or until a new state Exco is elected”. The PDP insists and clarified further that “relevant government agencies were communicated/notified of the dissolution of the state Exco as ordered by the Court and the constitution of a caretaker committee”.

During the press conference, the PDP also put it on record that “on assumption of office the Caretaker Committee swung into action by continuing with the already started process of participating in the upcoming local government councils elections in Plateau.” It stated further that “based on the election guidelines and timetable released by the PLASIEC, the PDP, in line with its extant laws wrote to notify the PLASIEC of our activities towards the elections (that is notification for conduct of ward and local government congresses/primaries) to elect our Party candidates for the local government councils elections scheduled for October, 2021”.

The PLASIEC says it takes exception that the letter notifying it of the inauguration of a caretaker committee for the PDP in Plateau State was a sheer adaptation of the one written to the INEC on the same subject matter. In other words, the electoral body is of the position that irrespective of the subject matter, the notification sent to it was malicious, make belief, and an afterthought.

If the ousted Exco was outlawed and set aside by the law court and the PLASIEC is pleading the same judgment not to deal with it, what is the problem of the PLASIEC with the caretaker committee put in place in regards of the same court judgment? Why is the PLASIEC having issues with the constitutionality of a caretaker committee when the different parties are being run by the same instrument as enshrined in the parties’ constitutions? Is it not any of the participating parties that should challenge the PDP or any other on its competence to participate and field candidates in the election rather than the PLASIEC that has no advantage to compete for in the same elections? Should the commission decline to observe the primaries of a duly registered, qualified, and competent political party just to preempt its lack of qualification to participate in an election in which it is an umpire?

In its June 25 press briefing, the PLASIEC admitted no less, including saying it has refused to give nomination forms to the PDP, because, going by the laid down guidelines for the elections, it has breached certain requirements, and has thus been disqualified from the exercise.

The PDP reported its frustrations to the effect that “correspondences were done between the Caretaker Committee and the PLASIEC including request for the 2021 LG elections guidelines, request for the release of nomination forms for our candidates, and request for audience with the PLASIEC chairman. All the requests were responded to in the negative as none was granted”.

Convinced by the deliberate frustrations and procedural impediments, the PDP accused the PLASIEC of an agenda to frustrate its chances in the said local government polls before eventually announcig its disqualification on June 25.

The PDP has promised to “resist any attempt to subvert the wheel of justice and deny our people the opportunity to participate in electing their leaders at the local government level through legitimate and legal means”. As at press time, it was learnt that the PDP legal team was putting spanners in the work that will eventually enrich constitutional democracy, election jurisprudence, and the entire gamut of legal literature.

Noting that the court order in issue has no bearing with local government elections, and noting similarly that there is no court order restraining PLASIEC from releasing nomination forms to its candidates, the PDP has called on the election body to do its best for transparency, credibility, confidence, and independence to come to bear on the process leading to free and fair polls. The PLASIEC, under Fabian Ntung Ari, has been quite controversial and asymmetrical in its conduct of election affairs. In the 2018 local government elections on October 10, voters were still waiting to vote, journalists were still in the field monitoring voting and voter turnout, while PLASIEC was announcing ‘results’ of the same elections in Jos. Under him, the electoral body also ensured that four local government areas, arguably the stronghold of the opposition, namely Barkin Ladi, Jos North, Jos South, and Ryom were denied elections and democracy since the last local government elections. Is a new divisor in the works?