Despite criticisms, Nigeria’s attorney general insists on request to INEC to postpone Zamfara elections

Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (Photo Credit: DailyPost)
Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (Photo Credit: DailyPost)

The Attorney General of the Federation on Thursday defended his request to the electoral commission, INEC, to postpone general elections in Zamfara except for the presidential election.

Mr Malami has come under criticism from many Nigerians including senior lawyers and the main opposition party, PDP, for writing INEC to postpone the elections.

PREMIUM TIMES reported the attorney general’s letter dated February 13 where he asked INEC to postpone the elections based on his interpretation of an appeal court ruling.

“Consequently on the above, INEC is invited to comply with judgment of the Court of Appeal by admitting the results of the APC Zamfara state primaries and to also comply with the provisions S.38 of the Electoral Act which empowers INEC to postpone the election of the governorship, National Assembly and House of Assembly elections,” Mr Malami wrote.

PREMIUM TIMES earlier clarified the alleged ruling of the appeal court on Wednesday. Contrary to the attorney general’s claim, the appeal court did not rule on the substantive matter of whether APC should be allowed to have candidates in Zamfara, the court simply dismissed an appeal by an interested party after the appellant withdrew the case.

Mr Malami’s letter was criticised by the senior lawyers including Femi Falana and Olisa Agbakoba. The lawyers argued that INEC was an independent agency and Mr Malami had no powers to direct it on what to do.

In its reaction to Mr Malami’s letter, the PDP said the directive from Mr Malami was illegal.

The party, in a press conference by its chairman, Uche Secondus, said the letter to INEC was the APC government’s way of controlling the electoral commission.

“The AGF letter is part of APC’s design to arm-twist INEC and the judiciary to take illegal action in their favour. What the AGF is seeking is not backed by law. The AGF is an interested party in this matter and has no moral right to advise INEC,” Mr Secondus said.

Malami Defends Stance

In his response to the criticisms that have trailed his action, Mr Malami argued that his letter to INEC was in order.

In a statement his spokesperson, Salihu Isah, Mr Malami said he did not call for the postponement of the presidential election in Zamfara. He, however, defended his call for the postponement of other elections in the state.

“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.”

The justice minister argued that INEC’s initial reason for stopping the APC from fielding candidates in Zamfara had been overtaken by the appeal court ruling.

PREMIUM TIMES reported how INEC barred the ruling party following its failure to hold its primaries before the deadline. Two courts, one in Zamfara and another in Abuja, gave contradictory rulings on INEC’s decision. While that in Zamfara ordered the commission to accept APC candidates, that in Abuja supported INEC’s decision to bar the APC.

The electoral commission said it would stand by the Abuja court ruling. One of the aggrieved APC aspirants in Zamfara appealed the Zamfara high court ruling at the appeal court in Sokoto but later withdrew the appeal. Based on his withdrawal, the appeal court dismissed the case. It is that dismissal that the APC and Mr Malami now claim to be an appeal court ruling asking INEC to allow APC field candidates.

“It is, therefore, our position that shutting a candidate out of the elections despite a subsisting Court of Appeal’s 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’s decision as well as Sections 38 and 39 of the Electoral Act, 2010,” the justice minister wrote.

“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 argued.

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