As the race for the 2023 general elections formally began last week, the need for scrutiny of candidates justling for various positions has become more important for political parties and gladiators.
At this stage of the electoral process, the least you would expect from a candidate or party is to be found on the wrong side of the law, the Electoral Act and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) guidelines that is. But in Bauchi state, the All-Progressives Congress (APC) appears to be walking a tight rope and undermining itself wittingly or inadvertently, going by the allegation of faulty documentation of its candidate, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar Baba (rtd).
Again, the last person you would expect to run foul of the law is a top notch, well-decorated retired general of the Nigerian Airforce, whose glorious career was crowned with the highest honour in his profession as the Air Marshal; having also served as the Chief of Air Staff from July 12, 2015 to January 26, 2021 before veering into the murky waters of politics. He got elected as the candidate of the ruling party for next year’s election in May this year.
Therefore, when information filtered in that the accomplished Air Marshal’s documents filed to INEC in what is called form EC-9 were either not adequate or perceived to have been doctored, the issue got tongues wagging about his sincerity of purpose and how a man of such a stature could make such a mistake, to have left out vital information in such an important form. Or was it deliberate? Form EC-9 is an INEC document to be filled by those wishing to stand for any elective office; it contains personal particulars such as age, nationality, sex, address, educational qualification etc.
As simple as providing this basic credential is, it could be a banana peel for anyone aspiring for office, if wrongly done. And since the opposition, the media and CSOs are always out searching for loopholes in their claims to sanitise the electoral process, it is not a surprise, this became Sadique Baba’s albatross, as revealed in a Premium Times publication recently. The publication in a nutshell not just drew attention to Air Marshal Sadique Baba’s credentials, but questioned their validity including his nationality.
In this era of deep politics, any serious candidate desirous of winning clean would have to come to equity with clean hands, otherwise the result could be disastrous. While I hope this will not be the case with the amiable ex Chief of Air staff, it does not look like he has done due diligence with regards to his earned academic laurels, otherwise what does it take to collect and submit citizenship form, birth certificate (or declaration of age), primary and secondary school certificates if he could submit first and second-degree certificates?
Quoting a Civil Society Organisation (CSO) named Accountability and Democratic Project (ADEP), the Premium Times report said the group called on INEC to disqualify Sadique Baba for “withholding vital information in the document he supplied to the commission”.
Coming under further scrutiny, the retired Air Marshal was accused of not providing information about his citizenship of Nigeria. He has been accused of being a Cameroonian (laughable you may say but politicians need any straw anyway), and for not providing all supporting documents about his date of birth and academic qualifications.
In that petition to INEC signed by ADEP Executive Director, Ahmad Muhammad, the group demanded for more transparency and accountability by those seeking public office and as provided by the commission, in a petition to the same commission.
“As part of our scrutiny of candidates aspiring for political office for the February 2023 election, we are currently going through submissions made by candidates to your commission as required by the law. In the course of this, we have found with concerns the submission made by the candidate of the APC for the governorship of Bauchi state, AM Ababakar Sadique Baba (rtd) where he filed incomplete information and withheld important credentials that should be part and parcel of his form EC-9.
“A cursory look at the form shows the candidate claimed that he was born in Azare. He also claimed to have attended St Paul’s Primary School and finished in 1973 and graduated from GSS Bauchi in 1978. Curiously, However, the candidate did not annex documents to prove all these claims that are vital to his overall credentials”.
The ADEP Executive Director (Ahmad Muhammad) further “stated that persons aspiring for positions must prove that they are citizens of Nigeria beyond reasonable doubt which Mr Sadique Baba failed to do. Surprisingly, however the very document that should prove to us the citizenship of the candidate in question was not supplied.
“Anybody reviewing the documents is also left doubtful about the primary and secondary schools the candidate claimed to have attended as there is no evidential document to confirm that. We view this as a flagrant disregard of the electoral Act and the INEC guidelines as all candidates are clearly directed to attach all credentials, they claim to possess to the EC-9 form”
The CSO also said the deliberate omission of the information in the form keeps it “guessing if the APC candidate was not hiding something. This deliberate omission also keeps us guessing if AM Sadique Baba has anything he is hiding thus choosing to declare only a part of the credentials he claims to possess are necessary requirements for him to stand as a candidate in the upcoming elections. It is in this light that we write your good office to draw attention to this grave disregard for the law and ask that you apply the law appropriately by disqualifying the said Abubakar Sadique Baba. The call is hinged on the fact that the candidate is guilty of disregard for the guidelines as clearly indicated, and for holding unto information which he has sworn to possess so far”, the Executive Director revealed in the said petition addressed to the INEC chairman.
In addition to the publication of names and addresses, Section 31(3) of the Electoral Act requires “INEC to publish particulars of a nominated candidate in the constituency where he/she intends to contest the election…”. One element of the requirement is the “publication of personal particulars of candidates which should be ‘within 7 days of receipt of candidates’ list’. This has since has elapsed, thus validating ADEP’s petition to INEC. Considering his pedigree, it should be a given that Sadique Baba should have his documents intact, genuine and legitimate. The question now is, if he had these ‘documents’ and they are genuine, why did he not make it public? Conversely not making it public raises questions and concerns. There is either a case of invalid, inadequate documentation or failure in such certificates which may make it shameful for a man of his calibre to present to the public. That also raises another question of how he was able to rise to the top of his career if he didn’t submit these documents to the right quarters.
While it was easy for the Bauchi APC to waive the enquiry by the press aside, the larger implication is that AM Sadique Baba’s (rtd) candidacy can be challenged on grounds of the Electoral Act fraud which says “that the person whose election is questioned, had submitted to INEC an affidavit containing false information of a fundamental nature in aid of his qualification for the election”. I’m afraid, on this basis, Sadique Baba’s candidacy can be a subject of litigation in a competent court or tribunal if not now, possibly in future, if he secures a victory in the March governorship election. This will not be a good development for both the candidate and the party; therefore, the party should make hay now, while the sun still shines.
Section 140(3) of the Act goes further to say that an election of a person not ‘qualified to contest’ can be nullified, while an offence of providing “false information or documents for inputting false data into the voters register” is punishable with a fine or imprisonment. All these may seem far off, but a smart legal team and pliable court could upturn a legitimate victory on the basis of this technical ground, which might not augur well for the gentleman and the APC.
In the last few years, Nigeria is referenced as a model in democratic transitions in Africa, especially since 2015, when ex-president Goodluck Jonathan successfully handed over to the opposition, coupled with the string of transparent off-season elections conducted so far by INEC. This should not be truncated. INEC should also be cognisant of the concerns of citizens expressed through petitions, protests or complaints.
Zainab Suleiman Okino is an online publisher and a syndicated columnist. She chairs the Editorial Board of Blueprint. She can be reached thus: [email protected]