In Abia State, a lot of drama has been playing out around Section 77 (2) & (3) of the Electoral Act which stipulates that “Every registered political party SHALL maintain a register of its members in both hard and soft copy” and that “Each political party SHALL make such register available to the Commission not later than 30 days before the date fixed for the party primaries, congresses or convention”.
The argument and counter argument on the provision of the Section of the Electoral Act has been going on mainly because of the now established fact that Labour Party in Abia State did not make its membership register available to INEC as required by law.
While those in Labour Party and their supporters have argued that the provisions are inchoate to the extent that no punitive measures were stipulated by the Act for any party that contravenes it, therefore, no party can be penalised in the case of infractions, those in the PDP and their associates argue that members of the Labour Party in Abia State who won elections in the last polls be disqualified.
Is Section 77 (2) & (3) truly inchoate, ineffective and without penalties?
Those who hold the view that Section 77 (2) & (3) have no penalties for infractions are only being clever by half. The word “shall” in the provision means that parties must, without a choice, comply with the provision. According to Cornell Law School, “‘Shall’ is an imperative command, usually indicating that certain actions are mandatory, and not permissive”.
Why the formulators of the Electoral Act have not deemed it necessary to spell out any particular penalties for any infraction on the provision is simply because any further action carried out in the process without complying with 77 (2) & (3) automatically becomes null, void and of no effect ab initio. This is more so because a provision of an Act that requires a mandatory action to be taken by those concerned is not inserted for decoration or just to occupy space. Any action taken by concerned parties in circumvention of such a mandatory clause loses its value and flavour and cannot be recognised by law. Any action not recognised by law does not exist in law.
What this means in the case of Labour Party in Abia State is that since the Party did not submit its membership register to INEC as required, every electoral process and the outcomes of such processes with particular reference to the 2023 general elections cannot be recognised by law, the outcomes are therefore considered inchoate in themselves and non-existent in the first place.
As at the time of conducting the governorship election, it is obvious that Otti was not qualified to contest the election by reason of non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022.
Otti was not a registered card-carrying member of the Labour Party at the time of the conduct of the election and his name was not contained in the Membership Register of LP as was required by law to be submitted to INEC 30 days before the conduct of its primary election; thus rendering the candidacy of their candidate null and void for the purposes of the 18th March 2023 Abia State Governorship election.
INEC confirmed this much via a letter to enquiries made to it in respect to the issue as raised by a lawyer. The Commission affirmed that no register was submitted to it by the Labour Party in Abia State.
What can be indisputably deduced from the above is that Otti was not qualified to contest the election on the platform of the Labour Party (LP) under the law in the first place, in that his name was not in the register of members of the Labour Party submitted to or ought to have been submitted to INEC 30 days before the Labour Party purportedly conducted its Gubernatorial Primary election in Abia State in 2022, an exercise that purportedly nominated him as the Labour Party’s Governorship candidate for the Abia State Governorship Election that held on 18th March, 2023. It has also been confirmed by INEC that Labour Party did not hold primaries in Abia hence could not have sponsored any candidate.
Otti was a Governorship Aspirant under the All Progressives Congress (APC) and purportedly defected from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Labour Party some days after the conduct of the All Progressives Congress Governorship Primaries in Abia State on 26th May 2022.
He duly participated in the Governorship Primary election of the All Progressives Congress held in Abia State which primary election was won by High Chief Ikechi Emenike. After losing in the All Progressives Congress Governorship Primary election to High Chief Ikechi Emenike, Alex Otti defected to the Labour Party few days to the purported Labour Party’s Governorship primary election in Abia State which was said to have held on 8th June, 2022 without INEC monitoring.
The intention of the legal draughtsman with respect to section 77 of the 2022 electoral act must be to cure the mischief of politicians who jump from one party to another. Therefore those who opine that there is no consequence for non-compliance are wallowing in ignorance.à
So, with all the infractions mentioned above, the courts do not even need to make any pronouncement on this but just for the purposes of clarity to all parties concerned.
From the foregoing, the Labour Party and all its purported candidates in Abia State are mere placeholders for now as the courts will surely sack all of them for defying and flagrantly flouting a critical provision of the Electiral Act.
The Law is the Law!
-Moses Ayodele Orji, PhD, is a political scientist and analyst based in Aba