Human rights lawyer and activist, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), Thursday asked the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to ignore the letter from the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, asking it to postpone the presidential election slated for February 16 to enable the All Progressives Congress (APC) field candidates for the 2019 elections in Zamfara State.
Ozekhome in a World Press Conference described Malami’s directive as an act of desperation capable of undermining Nigeria’s democracy and urged INEC to dismiss it.
He said it was unfortunate that the Attorney General of the Federation who took oath of office to represent all Nigerians could be seen taking sides with a political party to the extent of misrepresenting the ruling of the Court of Appeal, Sokoto State.
He said the Court of Appeal in Sokoto validated the position of INEC to the effect that the APC in Zamfara State does not have candidates for the governorship, National Assembly and state House of Assembly elections coming up on March 2.
In a three-page letter dated February 13, 2019, Malami, had advised INEC to postpone elections in Zamfara State to enable the APC field candidates for the 2019 elections in line with Sectiond 38 and 39 of the Electoral Amendment Act 2010, predicating his decision on the judgment of the state High Court in suit No ZMS/GS/52/2018 between Sanusi Liman Dan-Alhaji and 37 others Vs APC and 144 others; and Appeal No: CA/S/23/2019.
However, Malami, reacting to the deluge of criticisms that have trailed his advice, said Thursday, that he did not write letter to INEC.
In a statement by his Media Aide, Salihu Isah, the AGF described the alleged report as false and misleading.
According to the statement, the AGF noted that all he did was to draw the attention of the Commission to the need of consider a recent judgement of the Court of Appeal in favour of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The statement titled: “AGF letter to INEC dated February, 13, 2019_ A clarification”, read: “The attention of the Office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice has been drawn to a recent publication by certain social media and conventional news outlets stating that this Office had purportedly requested the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to postpone the elections in Zamfara State. The Office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation wishes to emphatically reiterate that this report is false and misleading.
“In our letter dated 13th February 2019 addressed to the INEC Chairman, the AGF in reacting to a petition from M.A Mahmud informing this Office of the subsisting Court of Appeal decision in CA/S/22/2019 which effectively upheld the APC primaries in Zamfara state, wrote to INEC informing them of this development and requested the Commission to comply by extending the time within which the political party may field its candidate in the Gubernatorial elections.
Malami pointed out that the constraining circumstances that led to the delay in fielding a candidate were caused by INEC’s refusal to comply with the Zamfara State High Court Judgment which upheld the said APC primaries.
He said INEC had relied on a Federal High Court Judgement which nullified the primaries, whereas the Court of Appeal decision in reference has now effectively overturned this decision and upheld the said APC primaries.
In supporting his position, the AGF made reference to the provisions of sections 38 and 39 of the Electoral Act, 2010, which allows INEC the latitude and discretion to extend the time within which a political party may duly field a candidate for an election where unforeseen circumstances constrained such a party from doing so within the stipulated time frame.
“It is therefore our position that shutting a candidate out of the elections despite a subsisting Court of Appeal decision mandating otherwise would lead to a miscarriage of justice and certainly not in the interest of giving all parties in Zamfara state a level playing field. Our letter to INEC is therefore in line with the subsisting Court of Appeal decision as well as Sections 38 and 39 of the Electoral Act, 2010.
“It is at this point mandatory to reiterate that the issue for contention by the parties before the trial and appellate court were in no way and by no stretch of imagination extend to the presidential election which at any rate was not an issue contemplated for determination by the trial and appellate court.
“It is therefore obvious that what the insinuations in the social media and some conventional news outlets set out to achieve on the strength of this issue is to confuse the electorate and Nigerians at large and/or to portray the ruling government as insensitive to the electoral process”, he said.
Malami therefore urged the public to note that his office would not in any way interfere with INEC’s mandate to conduct free and fair elections and is fully in support of ensuring that justice is done to all the parties in this circumstance.