With the 2022 elections barely 24 days away, there have been various reports of candidates stepping down for other candidates or even alignments and coalitions.
These reports have been debated, discarded and sometimes addressed by the candidates. True or not how do these reports affect the political ecosystem?
Can a candidate decide to withdraw from the election whenever he feels like it? What are the procedures for withdrawals? What has the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said about this?
This explainer answers all these questions and more.
Reports of withdrawals and alignments
On January 24, 2023, reports circulated the social media space, especially Twitter, suggesting that the Labour Party (LP) presidential candidate, Peter Obi, was considering stepping down for Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
This report gained prominence after it was posted by Nigeria’s minister of state for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential Campaign Council.
In 2018, Obi was named the vice presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party for the 2019 presidential election.
At the time, Obi actively canvassed for support for his principal including attending town halls, interviews and rallies. As of 2022, there were reports and indications that Atiku was to retain Obi as a running mate.
This was not so as Obi defected from the PDP to run on the platform of the Labour Party.
Counter-narrative on stepping down
Days after reports of Obi’s alleged withdrawal, Kenneth Okonkwo, the spokesperson for Labour Party Presidential Campaign Council, on Wednesday, February 1, 2022, asserted that Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the PDP was considering stepping down.
The counter-narrative being promoted by Okonkwo was that Atiku was planning to step down for Obi.
According to the actor-cum-politician, “It’s gratifying to hear that Atiku is considering stepping down for @PeterObi in the Presidential race. Coming at the heels of Atiku’s confession of using SPVs to siphon Nigeria’s money, according to Michael Achimugu, this is the wisest thing to do by him.
“This is the only way the talk he is initiating can make sense. Please disregard any other assertion from the lying PDP because the only honourable thing left for Atiku to do is an unconditional stepping down for @PeterObi to usher in a new Nigeria. Vote wisely for @PeterObi.”
For context, Michael Achimugu, whom Okonkwo stated as his source is currently not on good terms with Atiku.
Achimugu, who claims to be Atiku’s ex-aide, had in January accused the PDP presidential candidate of corruption while he was Nigeria’s vice president.
In the leaked audio, Achimugu claims that Atiku was narrating how he siphoned funds using Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV).
The SPV according to the audio, were companies incorporated to carry out various activities as regards contracts. They are not companies with specific duties. This claim was fact-checked by the CDD.
Possible political alignments?
Although Atiku did not make any claims about stepping down, while speaking to the BBC, he admitted to the possibility of a coalition.
The former vice president stated that he was in talks with the presidential candidates of the New Nigerian People Party (NNPP), Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso, and Labour Party (LP), Peter Obi, for possible support in the forthcoming general elections.
Atiku who insisted that Obi and Kwankwaso were not a threat to him said, “I see no threat because we are not together with them (Kwankwaso and Obi)”.
“We are in talks with them, one of them may possibly come,” he told the BBC.
Are coalitions still possible three weeks before elections?
According to the 2022 Electoral Act, a candidate can only withdraw (or step down) 90 days before the election.
“A candidate may withdraw his or her candidature by notice in writing signed by him and delivered personally by the candidate to the political party that nominated him for the election and the political party shall convey such withdrawal to the Commission not later than 90 days to the election,” Part IV of the Electoral Act reads.
With less than 24 days left to the general elections, a candidate that decides to withdraw their candidacy would just be making a public proclamation, which would not be recognised by the INEC.
INEC rejected Ezekwesili’s withdrawal in 2019
A good precedence would be the withdrawal of Oby Ezekwesili, the presidential candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN) in 2019.
Her withdrawal, which was barely 23 days before the 2019 general elections was not accepted by the commission.
Rotimi Oyekanmi, the chief press secretary to the INEC chairman, noted that in the 2019 schedule of activities, November 17, 2018, was the last day for withdrawal or replacement of candidates.
Oyekanmi added that though Ezekwesili cannot be forced to participate in the election, still she cannot withdraw because that contravenes the law.
As such, Ezekwesili’s name was not removed from the list of candidates nor was her party from the ballot papers. She would later poll a total of 7,223 votes at the announcement of results.
The last day for withdrawal from the presidential elections was November 26, 2022 — 90 days before the presidential election.
If either Atiku, Kwankwaso, or Obi decides to withdraw their candidacy to align with any other candidate at this time, then such a proclamation would be termed invalid or even illegal by INEC. This invariably means that they are still in the presidential race by default.
The only condition for the exclusion of a candidate is death. In the case of death, the political party has 14 days to replace the deceased candidate.
Can a candidate win elections if he withdraws now?
If a candidate decides to withdraw from the race at this time, such withdrawal will not be recognised by INEC. While the candidate can collapse their structure for another candidate, Nigerians can still decide and will still vote for them as seen with Ezekwesili in 2019.
When a candidate who has announced his withdrawal less than 90 days before the election goes on to win the election, such a candidate can still be sworn-in as president, except if he decides to resign.
CDD Election War Room recommends that Nigerians disregard any claim suggesting a candidate has withdrawn to support another candidate, except such candidate publicly says so themselves. This withdrawal should also have been reported by multiple credible media houses.