The sudden discovery that another group, the African People's Congress has applied to the INEC for registration as a political party comes as a setback to the three opposition parties working towards a merger under the banner of the All Progressives Congress which has same acronym with the new group. How far can the new group go in stopping it from using the acronym?
Major opposition parties in the country after series of meetings and negotiations last month finally announced that they have made a headway in their quest to merge resolving to come under one platform and register a new party to be known as All Progressives Congress (APC).
But the merging parties, made up of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP) had to submit to certain guideline before approaching the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to register it as a political party.
Part of the guidelines it had intended adhering to later turned out to be the recommendations of the 2010 Electoral Act which stipulates that parties merging under a platform must submit to the INEC documents which include a logo, Constitution and a list of those that make up the leadership of the party as well as proof of ratification of the individual party's decision to be part of the merger.
But as the merger involved more than three parties, the parties involved set up committees to handle each of the aspects with an additional one to ensure compliance with INEC guidelines.
But as it was making steady progress to fulfil all the statutory requirements and after covering much ground by adopting a logo, a name and a flag, and had gone far to put down a constitution a spanner was thrown into the works, as another group with the name African People' Congress (APC) submitted an application to INEC seeking to be registered as a political party.
The bone of contention there is the acronym of APC which the merging parties had made popular and which the new applicant seems bent on appropriating.
To make matters worse, INEC which is the legal authority to register parties acknowledged the proposal of the new group while maintaining it does not have any other application from the merging parties before it and stressed that it treats applications on first come first serve basis.
Chief press secretary to the INEC chairman, My Kayode Idowu said the commission would process the application before giving its final nod stressing that the commission cannot register two parties with the same acronym.
What this implied to many is that the merging group is about to be denied the use of the name they had made popular while accusing fingers pointed at the People's Democratic Party (PDP) for trying to scuttle the merger so as to frustrate the parties from coming together.
The merging parties suspected the matter could not be a mere coincidence and wasted no time in responding to the statement from INEC.
The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) accused INEC of engaging in bare-faced lies and manipulation of facts by saying the African Peoples' Congress has applied to the commission for registration.
National publicity secretary of the ACN, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said INEC's claim is not supported by the relevant sections of the Electoral Act regulating the registration of a political party as he said no party with that acronym has completed the process of registration to determine which is should reserve the right to use the acronym.
"The truth of the matter is that no party today with the acronym APC has applied to INEC to be registered, even the phantom African Peoples' Congress - which is being sponsored by the PDP to lay claim to the acronym - has only written a letter of intent, which has not even been discussed by INEC, not to talk of the commission taking any decision on it."
The ACN maintained that Legal World Chambers, which submitted the application for registration on behalf of the new group has not submitted any of the documents stipulated by the Constitution to the commission saying they have only written a letter of intent and therefore INEC could not have issued them any letter of acknowledgment, not to talk of starting the process of verifying the documents
"At this point they cannot even be regarded as applicants," said Mohammed.
The party further called attention to Section 78 (6) of the Electoral Act, which says: "An application for registration as a political party shall not be processed unless there is evidence of payment of
administrative fee as may be fixed from time to time by the Commission"
ACN said it is aware that the applicants in question have not even paid any administrative fees and therefore INEC could not have commenced processing their application, because there is no
application before INEC as they have only written a letter of intent.
Where the APC is said to have goofed
But watchers of political events have blamed the All Progressives Congress (APC) for making the name of their intended party known before concluding the process of registration saying discretion should have been the watchword since in politics various schemes and subterfuges should be anticipated.
Even the PDP which the merging parties have alleged is behind the move to scuttle their attempt to merge, blamed the merging parties fro the ensuing confusion saying the All Progressive's Congress did not do its home work well.
National publicity secretary of the PDP, Olisa Metuh said the reality on ground has shown that the leaders of the APC "were all the while grandstanding, writing footnotes and glossary even when the first chapter of their history is yet to be successfully written."
He said, "Nigerian are confronted with an irony! It is an irony of a political party who without adequate planning, without a solid working rhythm, yet wishes to be entrusted to its effete shaky shoulders, the fate of over 160 million Nigerians.
"How can a group which could not conclude the basic as in due registration of its name be able to manage the affairs of Nigeria at this moment of critical challenge," he asked.
The process of registering a political party in Nigeria which has gone through various transformations has remained that political associations seeking registration as a political party are required to submit an application to the INEC headquarters not later than six months preceding the commencement of a general election.
In addition to the application it is required that the intending party should forward to the INEC the name of the proposed party; the names, signatures and residential address of the chairman and secretary of the association filing the application; evidence of payment of prescribed fee, and 20 copies of the association's constitution and manifesto and a provision that the members or other governing bodies and administrative personnel at the national level reflect the federal character principle of the Constitution of the Federal Republic; a provision showing that its constitution and manifesto conform with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act.
Where the new group erred
But I has been observed that the African People's Congress only submitted a letter of intent without any further interactions with the commission's officials while the group has not forwarded any further document to the INEC other than the one page application.
From all indications, the promoters of the African Peoples Congress are not known as they could not be traced even at the address they supplied to INEC.
Since those behind the group are hiding, it would be difficult to expect that they would meet with other requirements like submitting the list of leaders of the new party and Constitution for INEC to verify its claims to register it as a political party
Moreover, there is no record that it has paid the mandatory fee as required.
The Electoral Act recommends that "If the association has not fulfilled all the conditions under the section, the Commission shall within 30 days from the receipt of its application notify the association in writing, stating the reasons for non-registration while a political association that meets the conditions stipulated in the constitution and this Act shall be registered by the commission as a political party within 30 days from the date of receipt of the application, and if after the 30 days such association is not registered by the commission unless the commission informs the association to the contrary, it shall be deemed to have been registered.
APC denies making a mistake
But the merging parties deny making any mistake, saying they followed the right procedure and that nobody can blackmail them on that.
Mohammed who quoted the Electoral Act to support his argument said in respect to merger, Section 84(1) says: Any two or more registered political parties may merge on approval by the Commission following a
•Formal request presented to the Commission by the political parties for that purpose.
• Political parties intending to merge shall each give to the Commission 90 days notice of their intention to do so before a general election.
•The written request for merger shall be sent to the Chairman of the Commission and shall be signed jointly by the National Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer for the time being of the different political parties proposing the merger and shall be accompanied by:
•A special resolution passed by the national convention of each of the political parties proposing to merger, approving the merger.
•The proposed full name and acronym, constitution, manifesto, symbol or logo of the party together with the addresses of the national office of the party resulting from the merger; and
•Evidence of payment of administrative costs of N100,000 or as may be fixed from time to time by an act of the National Assembly.
•On receipt of the request for merger of political parties, the Commission shall consider the request and, if the parties have fulfilled the requirements of the Constitution and this Act, approve the proposed merger and communicate its decision to the parties concerned
before the expiration of the 30 days from the date of the receipt of the formal request. Provided that if the Commission fails to communicate its decision within 30 days the merger shall be deemed to be effective.
•Where the request for the proposed merger is approved, the Commission shall withdraw and cancel the certificates of registration of all the political parties opting for the merger and substitute a single certificate of registration in the name of the party resulting from the merger.
Mohammed further explained that, "It is clear from the foregoing that the PDP, in its usual characteristics, was only playing to the gallery by wrongfully castigating the leaders of APC.
He said though the full name, acronym, constitution, manifesto and logo of the new party are ready, the component parties have yet to hold their individual conventions to ratify the merger, hence could not have presented a formal request for registration to INEC.