THE Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) admitted on Friday that it allowed underage candidates to contest the 2019 general elections.
INEC made the admission as it justified its current stance to declare some candidates ineligible to contest the forthcoming governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states for reasons of either the candidates or their running mates being underage.
Findings revealed that eight nominations were declared invalid in Kogi State for the November 16 election while six suffered similar fate in Bayelsa State.
Further checks revealed that the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Kogi State, Natasha Akpoti, had her nomination declared invalid as her running mate, Khalid Ogbeche, was declared underage and consequently ineligible to contest.
Akpoti has since alleged that her nomination was axed by INEC to ensure victory for the incumbent governor and candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Governor Yahaya Bello.
Candidates disqualified in Kogi State had alleged that INEC allowed underage persons to contest the 2019 general elections and wondered why it was moving against them now.
But INEC, in a statement, on Friday, signed by its National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, said it had alerted political parties prior to the conduct of the 2019 general elections that it would no longer allow parties to field underage candidates for elective offices since it was a breach of the nation’s constitution.
“Members of the public may recall that just before the 2019 general elections, the commission had cause to draw the attention of political parties to the same problem of nominating underage candidates. That communication was a notice to the parties that future violation of such a basic provision of the constitution would be unacceptable and could lead to severe consequences.
“Accordingly, the commission has informed the affected parties that their names and logos will not appear on the ballots for the Bayelsa and Kogi governorship elections due to the invalidity of their nominations,” the commission said.
The electoral body noted that the parties affected by its decision to axe candidates were earlier notified that their candidates were ineligible to contest and further argued that their moves to submit fresh nominations were rebuffed as they could not meet up with the deadline for submission of nominations.
The statement reads in part: “The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) monitored the primaries conducted by political parties for nomination of candidates for the November 16, 2019 governorship elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states.
“On September 12, 2019, the commission informed the public that 64 political parties conducted primaries in Bayelsa State and 59 in Kogi State. Out of these, 52 political parties for Bayelsa State and 49 for Kogi State respectively, submitted the list and personal particulars of their candidates at the close of nomination at 6.00 p.m. on Monday, September 9, 2019.
“The commission also informed the public that from its preliminary review of the list and personal particulars submitted by the parties at the close of nomination, some of the governorship and deputy governorship candidates were below the minimum age prescribed by the constitution and that the commission was considering further action.
“By a letter dated September 13, 2019, the commission notified the concerned political parties of the invalidity of their nominations. In Bayelsa State, six of the nominated governorship and/or deputy governorship candidates were affected, while in Kogi State, there were eight such nominees.
“Some of the affected parties have written the commission admitting their error and requesting to submit new nominees to replace the underage ones. However, this was after the deadline for submission of nominations on September 9, 2019. As such, the commission could not accept any fresh nominations.
“In like manner, since the parties did not submit valid nominations before the deadline, they cannot substitute the candidates on the grounds of death or voluntary withdrawal, in accordance with the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), which assumes the prior existence of valid nominations.”
The statement further revealed that for the Kogi State election, 23 political parties would be fielding candidates out of 49 that initially filed nominations while 45 political parties would be fielding candidates for same exercise in Bayelsa State.
“At the close of the time stipulated by sections 31, 33 and 35 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) for the submission of the names of nominated candidates, 49 nominations were received for Kogi State. Out of these, 41 nominations were valid, while eight were invalid.
“Subsequently, 18 political parties withdrew from contesting the elections. Therefore, 23 political parties will contest the governorship election in Kogi State. For Bayelsa State, a total of 52 nominations were received. Out of these, 46 were valid, while six were invalid. One political party has since withdrawn from the contest, leaving a total of 45 political parties to contest the governorship election in Bayelsa State,” INEC added.
It disclosed that “in compliance with Section 34 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), the full names and addresses of all candidates standing nominated will be published in the relevant offices and on the website of the commission on Monday, September 30, 2019.”