Nigerian Electoral Law:
Does A Person Standing For Political Party Nomination More Than Once In One Election Year Constitute Criminal Offense Or Legal Wrong?
By Manfred Ekpe, Esq.
It has been the practice in the Nigerian electoral system for politicians to buy more than one nomination forms for two different elective positions so that where they fail nomination for one position, they stand in for primary for nomination for another position. For instance, a former minister of the Federal Republic, Barrister Godswill Akpabio appeared to have bought nomination forms both for president and senator ahead of the 2023 general elections. Upon failing to clinch the presidential ticket of his political party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, he retired to clinching the Senatorial ticket for his Akwa Ibom Northwest Senatorial District. Several other aspirants did the same, including but not limited to the Senate President, Senator Ahmed Lawan and the Ebonyi State Governor, Mr. Dave Umahi. There has been legal debates predicated on section 115 of the novel Electoral Act 2022, to the effect that buying and thereby signing more than one nomination forms by a person contesting election in Nigeria is illegal and criminal offence. But filtering out personal prejudices political and personal interests sentiments, what does the law say?
Section 153 of the Electoral Act 2022 (hereinafter, the Act), defines the term ASPIRANT thus – “’Aspirant’ means a person who aspires or seeks or strives to contest an election to a political office.”
The same section 153 defines CANDIDATE as “a person who has secured nomination of a political party to contest an election for an elective office.”
An aspirant, simpliciter therefore, is a person striving to contest election but has not been nominated by his political party to stand general election. But a candidate on the other hand, is a person who had won the nomination and becomes a candidate of his party that will face candidates of other parties in general election.
Flowing from the above, the contentious section 115(1)(d) and (k) of the Act says thus —
“A person who—
(d) Signs a nomination paper or result form AS A CANDIDATE in more than one Constituency in an election;”
(k) “…commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a maximum term of imprisonment for two years.”
(Emphasis in subsection (f), mine).
Interpreting this section 115 of the Electoral Act, the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Mike Igini, said that all persons who bought more than one nomination forms risk 2 years imprisonment. With profound respect, this interpretation is faulty and misleading. The provision of the Act clearly says that any person who signs nomination form AS A CANDIDATE, has committed an offence, but not any person who signs nomination form AS AN ASPIRANT. It is settled law that where the wording of statute is clear and unambiguous, it requires no construction. Plain and ordinary meaning must be given to it. See Buhari v. Obasanjo (2005).
At the time that the concerned politicians bought, filled and signed their nomination forms, they were not candidates but aspirants, and so, did not sign those forms as candidates within the contemplation of Section 115. But what the learned Attorney, Mike Igini did was to replace the word “candidate” with the word “aspirant” and then went ahead to interpret the law with that defect in other to achieve the meaning he desired. The law does not allow this. In law, you cannot change where even punctuation marks occur in a write-up, as that would change the meaning of what the writer intended to say, talk less of changing words not intended by the writer. What the learned counsel, Mike Igini, Esq does is tantamount to importing an extraneous word into the wording of statute so as to arrive at a desired meaning. It is trite, as emphasized in a plethora of cases that this in not allowed in law. See the case of Ishola v U. B. N Ltd (2005) 6 NWLR (Part 922)at 422, where the court of appeal said that extraneous matter cannot be imported into the wording of statute to give it a different meaning other than that intended by the lawmakers
At this point the meaning of Section 115 has been exhaustively dealt with so that even our lay friends can see through it. However, it will be necessary to assess the reason why the National Assembly enacted section 115(1)(d) of the Electoral Act 2022 in the first place, as this will help put to rest the unnecessary controversy over the provision. This is to apply the mischief rule of statutory interpretation to dismiss the interpretation of the said section 115 as peddled in the media.
In 1998, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar had won nomination as governorship candidate in Adamawa State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) for the 1999 election, but the then PDP presidential aspirant, Olusegun Obasanjo invited him to be his running mate. Hence Atiku Abubakar, while still a gubernatorial candidate, signed nomination forms as Vice Presidential Aspirant and held ended up holding nomination for both Vice President and governor at the same time. In 2006, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua won PDP nomination for governorship election in Katsina State, but was invited to stand for president. He signed presidential nomination forms while a governorship candidate and ended up being presidential and governorship candidates at the same time. This practice continued since 1998 till the National Assembly ended it by enacting section 115(1)(d) in the Electoral Act 2022 in other to arrest such a situation. As earlier highlighted, that section clearly prohibits A CANDIDATE for elective office from signing nomination form in other to stand for primaries for a other elective office. The intendment of the lawmakers in enacting section 115(1)(d) is also very clear from section 35 of the Act, which stipulates thus—
35. “Where a candidate knowingly allows himself to be nominated by more than one political party or in more than one constituency, his nomination shall be void.”
The wording of Section 35 is very clear. A person must have been a candidate first having passed through primaries successfully, must not knowingly allow himself to be nominated for another position, just like in the case of Atiku Abubakar in 1998 and Yar’adua in 2006 as afore chronicled. It is a rudimentary principle of statutory construction that statutes are read holistically to assign to it its intended meaning. See Awolowo v Shagari & Ors (1960-1980) LRECN, 162 at 203, para A. See also Buhari v. Obasanjo supra.
But what the Learned Attorney Mike Igini did was to overlook the provisions of Section 35 of the Act to arrive at a faulty conclusion.
It was this mischief of double nomination that the lawmakers sought to remedy, which informed the enactment of Section 115(1)(d) of the Electoral Act, and has nothing to do with a person buying and signing two nomination forms for different elective offices during one election season as Mr. Mike Igini purports it to be. It is an elementary principle of statutory construction and interpretation that that statute must be interpreted to reflect the mischief that Parliament intended to remedy. See the English case of
Corkery v Carpenter (1951) 1 KB 102.
Conclusively, there is no law in Nigeria for the time being in force criminalizing the purchase, filling and signing of more than one nomination form for different elective offices by an aspirant. And the law is clear in section 36(8) of the constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as altered) which states that no person shall be tried for an act or omission which was not codified in written law as an offense at the time the alleged act or omission done. Since no written law in Nigeria prohibits the purchase, filling and signing of more than one nomination form in one election season by an aspirant, doing so constitutes no legal wrong or an offense within the Nigerian criminal jurisprudence, and arguing to the contrary, with respect, is misleading. And a mere wish of the criminality of such act has no legal traction and goes to no moment in law. And I so submit.
This work is published under the free legal awareness project of Sabi Law Foundation (www.SabiLaw.org) funded by the law firm of Bezaleel Chambers International (www.BezaleelChambers.com). The writer was not paid or charged any publishing fee. You too can support the legal awareness projects and programs of Sabi Law Foundation by donating to us. Donate here and get our unique appreciation certificate or memento.
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