WEDNESDAY COLUMN by USSIJU MEDANER
It has become a cyclical rhetoric in Nigeria now; every week is accompanied by new incident. If we are not groaning under a fresh attack, we will be dealing with some cooked up propaganda from certain quarter, or experiencing consequences of maladministration of some institutions or sectors within the nation.
Last week it was Bayelsa state in the news. Most Nigerians are still struggling to grasp what really happened; how did the Supreme Court arrive at the decision to sack the about to be inaugurated APC governor of the state for the sin of his chosen deputy and leave an obvious vacuum as to what come next? Who is to be blamed for the turn of event in the state; the Court, INEC or the party APC? As a nation, what should we take from the overall occurrence in Bayelsa state? How does the opposition begin to see the court henceforth? Has the court they abused to high heavens in Imo state got a new name?
These and more I intend to ruminate on. I did notice that nothing articulated has been submitted from all sides of the divide. PDP has been jubilating without being able to justify why the highest court of the land would take such an unprecedented judicial decision that probably has already spell doom for future electoral litigations. The APC has been getting angry at both the court and the main opposition party without coming to the realization that they prepare the way for the anomaly and deserve a larger junk of all blames as regard what led to the judgement. INEC came out with the claim that they obey the Supreme Court judgement in Bayelsa just as they obey the court ruling on Imo; a very unbelievable assertion coming from an intelligent institution that ought to know that there was no resemblance or unique compares between the two cases.
And the Supreme Court has in a lot of way contradict itself; one, just five year ago, immediately after the demise of Prince Audu, the APC flag bearer in the governorship election before the announcement of the final result, the Supreme Court ruled that the governorship candidate and his/her deputy are two separate entities and as such James Faleke could not automatically inherit the Audu ticket to become the governor of Kogi State. But the same court just ruled in Bayelsa state that the governor and his deputy are one entity that are inseparable and if one is disqualified, it automatically affect the other.
It was the same Supreme Court that decided and submitted in 2007 that governor Celestine Omehia and his deputy Tele Ikuru though on the PDP ticket can be separated, so much that when Omehia was replaced with Rotimi Amaechi, Tele Ikuru retained the deputy governorship position.
It was the same court that axed governor Alamieseigha in Balyesa and retained his deputy, goodluck Jonathan to become the new governor. All along, the Supreme Court has been consistent in ascertaining that the governor and his/her deputy are separable entities. How come suddenly, the language changed?
While we all are still groping the court decision to axe the governor elect alongside his deputy, the order of the court that INEC give certificate of return to the candidate of the PDP by implication of its statement is more worrisome. Going by the spirit and statement of the national electoral law, it is unconstitutional; and precedence laid by the same court, it is odd. In 1999, the court nullified the election of Adamu Muazu on the ground that the deputy governorship candidate was not qualified to contest the election; consequently, the Supreme Court order a fresh election in the state in which Adamu Muazu contested again with a new deputy and won.
Are we dealing with a different Supreme court that do not have to recourse to it’s own decisions. How could the same court hurriedly order the recognition of another party and candidate of the winner of the election?
Section 179 of the CFRN 1999 (As Amended) was very clear and dictates what decision to be taken in such scenario as played out in Bayelsa. Subsection 3 states that “in default of a candidate duly elected in accordance with subsection (2), there shall be a second election in accordance with subsection (4) of this section at which the only candidates shall be – (a) the candidate who secured the highest number of votes cast at the election; and (b) one among the remaining candidates who secured a majority of votes in the highest number of local government areas of the state, so however that where there are more than one candidate with a majority of votes in the highest number of local government areas, the candidate among them with the next highest total of votes cast at the election shall be the second candidate”
By virtue of the stated section above, if the Supreme Court has concluded that the APC candidate has defaulted by submitting an unqualified deputy, it is just constitutional dictated that just as it was interpreted in Bauchi state and in consonant with the law that the APC candidate and its PDP counterpart slug it out in a fresh election.
The Supreme Court also tactically ignored the provision of sections 186 and 187 (1) (2) that clearly states whatever affect the governor affect the deputy but not the other way round.
Nobody seemed to understand what prompted the court to go against itself and do it in a way that cast so many aspersions on its integrity and neutrality. At this point the doctrine of irrevocability of the judgement of the Supreme Court becomes questionable; an institution equated to god must possess the high calling of neutrality and stand unquestionable. The end cannot have been heard of the behavior of the court in case of Bayelsa.
Like a script cleverly drafted and been acted by willing actors, INEC saw no error in the ruling and was more than willing to immediately implement it; not as if INEC could refuse to implement the ruling, but the body language could tell when the institution wonder why such a ruling could be delivered. I think there are more than meet the eye as far as the court ruling over Bayelsa Government Seat is concerned.
INEC said they are obeying just as they did in Imo. So pathetic and unbelievable; if till now, INEC has not seen what happened in Imo state as a clear due carriage of law; if INEC has not among its ranks commence an in-house scrutiny to understand why non-cancelled votes would be literarily ignored to the detriment of a particular party and candidate and set committees to bring to book all that were involved in that aberration, then there is a hell lot of problem with the institution and the future of the nation democracy cannot be hinged on the shoulder of such an unreliable umpire.
For the record, it is tantamount to fallacy of content to in any way compare the Imo case with the Bayelsa case; they are two parallel cases with no similarity in cause and carriage. The Bayelsa case is hinge on separatability or otherwise of a governorship candidate and his deputy while the Imo case is a simple case of whether non-cancelled votes could be ignored at the collation center.
At this point, I could not but agreed with those who are of the opinion that so many INEC top officials and members of the bench at the court are loyalist of a particular party. This may not be far from the truth considering the fact that they were mostly engaged/recruited and favoured to the position while that party was in control.
INEC as it exists now has become a burden to the nation and the national electoral processes; since 2015, INEC has literally become responsible for increasing number of election related litigations across states of the federation. It has now become the job of the political parties and the court to decide winners of elections in Nigeria. In 2019 alone, we had 1689 number of litigations arising from the inefficiency of INEC, and the political parties taking advantages of many loopholes crated perhaps intentionally by the commission. Not to considered the wasted resources as a result of this litigations as much as the contribution the legal war made to the poo of the continued insecurity in the country.
Then, I am worried about what APC stands for as a party and what is to become the lot of the party if it so continue to play the game of democracy as it has been doing since 2015 when it first came to power. The party watched the opposition and a few elements usurp its authority and take control of the legislative arm of government in 2015 and could not do anything about it. The opposition was busy strategizing, spreading lies and propagandas, instigating the populace among other to discredit the ruling party and there has never been any serious and equivocal response.
We all remember the story of Zainab Bulkachuwa in the build up to the presidential election petition at the Appeal court; the PDP came out decisively, exerted pressure on the judiciary to excuse her from the Appeal Court panel hearing the PDP petition against the APC president elect, because of her remote relationship with an APC stalwart. They claimed that as an interested party to the case, she cannot be part of the panel; but in the constitution of the Supreme Court panel for the Bayelsa election, the wife of a major PDP leader, Peter Odili was the chairman of the panel for a litigation, not only involving the PDP but also in the south-south which is their home, and APC was okay with it. They played dumb and are now crying wolf.
How could the APC leadership claimed they were not aware of the discrepancies in the names on the documents submitted by the deputy governor; the party national chairman and the deputy secretary signed that form without either forwarding the case to the party legal unit or instructing him to go with just his secondary school certificate. The leadership of Adam Oshiomole has done much damage to the party than blessing; impunity is on the rise, we are now signaling the very virtues that wreck PDP in 2015 and even with more careless abandon.
At this rate and with the current pointers, the party APC might have a serious battle to fight in 2023 if it fails to put its house in order beginning from now; it is high time the party consciously began to deal with internal rancor and dwindling internal democracy within its rank. From Zamfara to Rivers state and now Bayelsa state; until the party strengthened its internal working mechanism, stop imposition of candidates, stop conducting sham primaries and stop thinking they can always get around their errors, the party might have begun the long walk to extinction.
Finally, I want to believe here would be no need to report the Federal government, the INEC and the Judiciary to the UN, the USA and stage a walk on the streets of Abuja any longer. Our democracy is no more at risk and the judiciary is now the last hope of the common man. And so, I do hope if another judgement tomorrow does not favour the opposition, they would not forget today.
God Bless The Federal Republic Of Nigeria!