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Former Resident Electoral Commissioner at the Independent National Electoral Commission, Barrister Mike Igini, has said neither the existing political parties nor their candidates participating in the 2023 general elections need police permits to organise public rallies.
Igini who stated this in a parley with newsmen in Abuja also promised to play a neutral, non-partisan role in the 2023 elections as a private citizen following the expiration of his tenure recently.
He said, “The 2022 Electoral Act has declared emphatically and unequivocally that political parties and their candidates do not need a police permits to organize political rallies. This provision is consistent with a plethora of decisions of superior courts of the land that citizens do not need police permit to organize rallies.
“In fact, subsection (3) made it abundantly clear that notwithstanding any provision of the Police Act, the Public Order Act or any other law, the role of the Police and Civil Defence Corp that has been statutorily mandated to work with police on matters of political rallies is limited to the provision of adequate security only. Therefore, notification to police to provide security does not mean seeking permission from police authorities.”
“With respect to the forthcoming 2023 elections and has been an umpire in the last ten years, l will stick to that disposition and maintain neutrality in all my engagements on issues and matters pertaining to the 2023 elections. But surely, the office of the citizen will be active in partnership but not partisanship with well-meaning Nigerians, to educate voters on why they must vote in the 2023 election.
“l will in the days and weeks ahead through various public lectures invite, educate and guide Nigerian citizens on the various provisions of the 2022 Act and more importantly, what they should know about the various innovations that will secure their votes.”
He continued: “Just last Thursday (22nd September), the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies Organized a Roundtable civic public lecture, l participated as one of the speakers on the topic; Electoral Democracy In Nigeria: Challenges And Opportunities in the new 2022 Electoral Act . In this regard, we join in the efforts to clear some of the fears and doubts that are deliberately being created to dissuade or discourage people from participating in elections in the country.”
On the laws guiding political campaigns in the new Electoral Act, Igini said the entire provisions of sections 91,92,93,94,95 and 96 “are intended to deal with the recurrent issues of denial of access to public facilities and media platforms” adding that “they are mandates for unhindered access to the use of state-owned or publicly owned venues and event centres like stadia, civic centres that may be used as venues for rallies or other such political events, as well as access to publicly owned media platforms.
The sections, he stressed, also make provisions for equal airtime parity for candidates at prime time news slots.
“No candidate(s) should be denied access to state-owned facilities for use in the forthcoming political campaigns leading to the 2023 elections because these facilities belong to all Nigerians whether as members of any ruling party or as members of opposition parties. The laws also restrain hate speeches that we are already being treated with gradually, given some volatile comments from supporters of political interest groups trending in the social media,” he added.
He lamented the reports of candidates denied use of public facilities in some parts of the country, saying, “I have read some of these reports and it is quite unfortunate that political intolerance is already being exhibited and more disturbing if not worrisome, is the report concerning the action of policemen that are statutorily mandated under the new Act to always provide adequate security for political rallies and processions for political parties and their candidates upon notice of such rallies.
“Section 91 emphatically says the Commissioner of Police in each state shall provide adequate protection for political rallies and shall be supported by personnel of the Nigerian Civil Defence Corp.
“Subsection (4) of this section says “No registered political party in Nigeria, its aspirants or candidate shall be prevented from holding rallies, procession or meeting at any time for their constitutional political purposes and the police shall resolve any conflict of time and venue between and amongst parties where such arises in a consultative manner and not an imposition.”
On the role of the judiciary in the light of the new Act, Igini noted that the last hope of the common man remains the bedrock of any democracy.
His words: “If it ( judiciary) fails to demonstrate courage by interpreting the provisions of the Electoral Act strictly in order to give meaning and purpose to the ballot as the best means of the expression of the will of the people and thus hold both the political parties and the Election Management Body (EMB) accountable where there are violations and breach of the laws, it will have failed the Nigerian people.
“The starting point of demonstrating judicial courage and commitment to electoral justice would be the ongoing pre-election cases that emanated from the party primaries in the various federal High Courts across the country.
“We are all witnesses to the impunity of political leaders’ imposition of individuals that didn’t participate and emerged from party primaries monitored by INEC in line with section 84 of the 2022 Act and the shocking decisions coming from the courts at the moment.
“The way and manner our colleagues in the bench handle these matters will give Nigerians insight to how the judiciary will deal with the outcome of 2023 election petitions, he said, stressing that the question on the lips of Nigerians now is “will our judges pander to vested political interest or stand on the side of strict interpretation of the provisions of the 2022 Act, Regulations & Guidelines of INEC and uphold the rule of law for the growth and sustenance of our democracy?”
For Nigeria to be great, Igini called for effective management of her diversities, saying, “The truth is that diversities can be a source of blessings to any society if well managed. But where leaders are unable to integrate diverse viewpoints and affirm unifying themes, diversity can lead to a breakdown of law and order. We have to acknowledge and respect our diversities in appreciation of the fact that the broad outline of the 21st century offers opportunities for those who can live together and develop new ties that bind them together.
“Leaders must find common grounds to build a peaceful community by resolving problems on the basis of principles, not positions. There is a pervasive air of arrogance in the land, total disregard for truth and anger everywhere. At great moments of challenge, frustration and hopelessness, leaders must lift people’s spirits and restore belief in the future.
“We all as leaders must sustain hope by taking charge and demonstrate the courage of our conviction, by arousing positive thoughts and images, by doing the right thing and putting the country on the party of social harmony. Credible and committed true leaders must keep hope alive for the citizens, he added.