Attempts are underway to revise last week’s release of a list of candidates approved to run in Nigeria’s April 21 presidential election. A legal team for Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who was omitted from the list when it was issued last week by Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has gone to court to have the Vice President included on the list. Abubakar’s attorney Riki Tarfa says that the Commission lacks authority and justification to disqualify the Vice President and that only a court of law has the right to exclude a candidate.
“There is a judgment of the Federal High Court in Abuja to the effect that INEC, the Independent National Electoral Commission, has no power to disqualify a candidate. The judgment was delivered on the seventh of March,” he said.
Last Thursday, the Commission cleared 24 presidential candidates to run in next month’s hotly contested poll. But INEC Commission head Maurice Iwu explained that Vice President Abubakar, the nominee of the Action Congress Party (ACP), was left off because he had been indicted on corruption charges by a presidential panel.
“That is highly irregular and it is illegal,” says Tarfa. “What they have done is to exclude him from standing for an election on the platform of the political party as authorized by law in Nigeria.”
To remedy the situation, Abubakar’s attorney explains, the legal team is going through the courts to get the Vice President’s name back on the INEC list.
“We have filed an action at the Federal High Court last week, looking at the provision of Section 137, which provides for the qualification and the disqualification for a candidate for the presidential elections. By Monday, what we were asking the court was to see if they can accelerate the hearing of the case which he has filed, challenging the action of the Independent National Electoral Commission, seeking on authority a hearing for the action which we filed alleging the action of the Independent National Electoral Commission and seeking for direction that he be restored on the election list for the presidential election coming up in April,” he said.
Although presidential voting is scheduled to begin in just a little over a month from now, Attorney Tarfa says that he believes it should not be a problem for the court to expedite a ruling that would enable the Vice President’s name to be posted on the list of candidates.
“I think it can be managed before the election because the Independent National Election Commission cannot exclude any candidate from an election unless it is ordered by a court of law,” he said.
Nigeria’s President Olusegun Obasanjo and allies from his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) have charged Abubakar of diverting 145 million dollars of public money to private interests. Attorney Tarfa plays down the charges against his client as being limited only to a misdirection of public funds. He notes that the Vice President is protected by an immunity clause from the corruption charges, of which his current political party claims he is innocent.
“The same indictment by both the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and an administrative panel of inquiry set up have been nullified by a competent court of law in Nigeria. So why will INEC now say that they want to exclude a candidate on the basis that the candidate had been indicted by a panel or an administrative body?” he asks.