The declaration of the National Assembly election petition tribunal, sacking Ngozi Okolie of the Labour Party and proclaiming victory to Ndudi Elumelu of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has the potential of opening a Pandora box on politicians elected under the platform of the Labour Party across Nigeria.
According to the three-member panel, headed by A.Z. Musa, in its ruling, agreed with Ndudi Elumelu that Ngozi Okolie’s nomination was not in tune with the relevant laws on the election.
Elumelu had argued that the Labour Party did not duly sponsor Ngozi Okolie because, at the time of the primary election that produced him as the candidate, Okolie was not a member of the party. Arising from this, the tribunal disqualified Okolie and ruled that Elumelu should be returned as the representative of the people of Aniocha/Oshimili federal constituency.
Although it is expected that the case proceeds to the court of appeal, this development is a potential threat to other candidates of the Labour Party who won their elections to the National Assembly. In the national assembly, the Labour Party has six senators and 34 Reps members. It also has one governor in Abia state and others in some state houses of assembly.
Prior to the Obidient movement, Labour Party was a less significant party in Nigeria. It was not reckoned with as party that could challenge the ruling All Progressives Congress and the main challenger, the People’s Democratic Party. But as soon as Peter Obi left the PDP and ventured into the Labour Party, the party began making waves as the third force, even dwarfing the PDP and the APC.
Peter Obi’s popularity led to the mass defection of politicians to the party, and several candidates for National Assembly rode on his popularity to win their elections. Many came in at the twilight of party nominations. This is where their trouble lies.
Many of them are facing questions about their membership in the party in line with Section 77(2 and 3) of the Electoral Act. “Every registered political party shall maintain a register of its members in both hard and soft copy,” section 77(2) reads.
Section 77(3) states that “Each political party shall make such a register available to the commission not later than 30 days before the date fixed for the party primaries, congresses or convention.” There are indications that many candidates who ran on the party’s platform across the country did not meet the requirement.
Counsel to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) at the Presidential Election Tribunal had also faulted the nomination of Peter Obi based on this section of the electoral law. The lawyers had argued that the LP presidential candidate could not challenge the presidential election’s outcome because he was not duly nominated in line with the Electoral Act.
In the case, President Tinubu’s witness, Opeyemi Bamidele, told the court that Obi remained a member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Anambra state until May 25, 2022, 25 days after the Labour Party had submitted its members register to INEC.
Although the Appeal Court in a February ruling dismissed a suit that questioned the validity of Peter Obi’s membership of the Labour Party and by extension his candidacy as flag-bearer of the party, the appellate court did not actually delve into the merits of the matter but rather ruled on the fact that the matter was a party affair and the plaintiffs were not members of the Labour Party, leading to their inability to demonstrate how they were affected by the party’s decision to field Obi in the election.
Ndudi Elumelu’s contest in the election perhaps has established for him a locus standi- the legal right to challenge the candidacy of his opponent.
The tribunal ruling, if taken to appeal, will either be upturned in line with the court’s February ruling or will force the court to review its own stand on the issue. Should the courts agree that candidates in an election have the locus standi to challenge the candidacy of their opponents, the PEPT will be facing a rather unexpected conclusion as regards Labour Party and Obi’s petition against Tinubu’s victory.