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Legal Fireworks And Growing Tension In Zamfara APC

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TOPE FAYEHUN writes on the seemingly unending tussle in the Zamfara State chapter of the ruling APC

Despite the victory it recorded in both  the Presidential/National Assembly and March 9 gubernatorial elections, there seems to be no end in sight to the ongoing crisis in Zamfara State chapter of All Progressives Congress (APC).

Although APC candidate, Alhaji  Muktar Idris, was declared winner of the governorship election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), other faction in the party still opined that his candidature must  be subjected to the Court of competent jurisdiction. Hence, his victory at the poll remained uncertain.

Prior to the election, the yet-to-be-resolved internal bickering among factions loyal to the incumbent governor, Abdulaziz Yari, and a group led by Chairman, Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream), Senator Kabiru Garba Marafa, started like a family disagreement that would soon be resolved before it degenerated to a level that the national leadership of the party cannot even manage again.

It all started when the two factions disagreed over the candidates that would fly the party’s flag for the gubernatorial and legislative elections until INEC hammered them with rejection of their candidates because of their failure to conduct primaries before the stipulated deadline.

However, both parties, including a faction loyal to the senator representing Zamfara Central and that of the governor, approached Courts to stop each other from fielding candidates for the party in that election.

Fortunately, after tensed legal fireworks, the electoral umpire rescinded its decision to allow the party to participate in the elections following a court order.

However, against all odds, Muktar Idris emerged winner of Zamfara governorship election. He secured 534,541 votes out of the 810,782 votes cast across the 14 government areas of the state.

Announcing the result, the Returning Officer, Prof. Kabir Bala said “Muktar Idris of APC having met all the requirements of the law and scored the highest votes was declared as the winner and returned elected as the governor of Zamfara State.”

He said that Bello Matawalle of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) scored 189,452 to emerge second while Senator Saidu Dansadau of National Rescue Movement scored 15,177 votes and Sani Abdullahi of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) had 3,865 votes.

Despite this development, analysts observed that the face-off between the two factions of the party may hamper Idris’s opportunity of ruling the state.

Apart from this, pundits also expressed concern that the lingering crisis, if not urgently settled by the “power the be”, is also capable of scuttling APC’s chances of retaining the state.

Presently, the electoral umpire has yet to release the Certificate of Return to the Governor-elect. The electoral commission hinged its decision to withhold the Certificate of Return on the fact that it was served with a copy of the court judgment of the Court of Appeal, Sokoto Division, concerning the sponsoring of candidates by APC in Zamfara, saying it was studying it.

The Court, while delivering the lead judgement, which was adopted by two other justices, Tijjani Abubakar and Jamilu Tukur, Justice Tom Yakubu was said to have held that the lower court failed in its duty to properly evaluate the evidence before it.Yakubu said judges have the legal power to produce judgement and reach decisions with reason, noting that in the instance case, it was not done. “I am convinced that the lower court has failed to evaluate the evidence before reaching the decision.

“The Appeal Court has power in law to access pieces of evidence on appeal, which we have done. Based on available facts, the respondents did not contradict the INEC evidence on conducting the said primary election,” Yakubu said.

The presiding judge, said, “Documented evidence has upper consideration than oral ones.”

The judges agreed that the judgement should serve as “bitter lesson” for political parties as they ought to follow legitimate guidelines and rules.

“Domestic affairs of political party activities must act within the confines of the law in dealing with party members and elections,” the judges agreed.

Prior to the announcement by INEC,  counsel to Senator Marafa and 141 others, Chief Mike Ozekhome, had called on INEC to withhold the Certificate of Return of all candidates of the party in the state in view of Court of Appeal judgement that nullified their primary election.

Ozekhome also appealed to INEC to ignore claims by Zamfara State government that Court of Appeal, Sokoto Division, judgment has nothing to do with the primary held on October 7, 2018.

He further argued that the Zamfara State Government was erroneously sitting as an appellate court in its own case by claiming that the judgment has nothing to do with the election.

According to him, everything that was founded on APC primaries in the state was null, void and of no effect whatsoever.

Ozekhome added that the very pillar upon which Zamfara APC primary elections that produced the candidates have now legally collapsed by the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Sokoto Division. He said the foregoing is in accord with law and simple logic as it is naturally impossible to place something on nothing and expect it to stand, saying it must collapse like a pack of cards.

His words: “To situate the aforesaid development in its true legal perspective, it follows that all the candidates of APC who purportedly participated in the National and State Assembly elections held on March 9, 2019, were never candidates in the eye of the law.

“We beseech INEC most earnestly to note therefore that there is absolutely no legal basis for any of the APC candidates that allegedly emerged victorious from the said sham elections to be issued with any Certificate of Return.”

But counsel to APC, Magaji Abubakar Mahmoud, said the court did not make such an order in its judgment. Mahmud faulted the decision of INEC to withhold Certificates of Return on the ground of a letter written to the commission by counsel to the appellants.

In a letter dated March 26, 2019, written on behalf of the governor-elect and 38 others to INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, Mahmoud said, “It’s bad practice for counsel to resort to letter writing, thus misleading a responsible organization like the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC by twisting facts.”

He further stated, “We wish to state that issues of law of this nature are regulated by an order of court or court of law and not by the opinion of counsel via a mere letter from chambers.

“May we further emphasize that in the entire judgment of the Court of Appeal, there was neither a positive order made against our clients nor in favor of the appellants.

“Thus, it will be wrong of the commission to rely on the mere speculative letter of the appellants’ counsel at this stage when elections have already been concluded and winners have emerged. The only institution that is empowered to make a positive order in respect to this subject matter is the court of law, and no court of law has made or given an order to that effect.”

Quoting section 235 (3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, the solicitor states that, “the law is trite, right of appeal to the Supreme Court is constitutional and no court or any person can take it away by mere letter.

“We urge you and the entire commission to discountenance the letter of Mike Ozekhome, wherein there was no position order at the court of Appeal.”

He further argued that the judgment of their Lordships which did not contain any positive order in favour of the appellants was supported by the provisions of section 285 (13) of the 1999 Constitution (4th alteration as amended).

The counsel hinted that the Zamfara State chapter of the party, the state’s Governor-elect, Idris, and other winners of the 2019 general elections, have resolved to approach the Supreme Court for a final resolution of the crisis that engulfed the party in the state.

Mahmoud who said the letter was meant to notify the commission about the judgment of the Court of Appeal delivered on March 25, 2019, noted that the court only allowed the “Appellant’s appeal and set aside the judgment of the trial court, but did not “make any positive consequential order.”

Although, the matter has since gone to the Supreme Court and the the Apex Court has yet to fix a date for its decision and the position of the law is that until the superior court makes a pronouncement on the matter, the appellate decision subsists.

But political observers observed that despite withholding his Certificate of Return, Alhaji Muktar Shehu Idris participated fully in the retreat held by the Governors Forum for outgoing and in-coming Governors in Abuja last week.

Some of the observers said, “It was surprising that nobody questioned his presence at the event which was a clear subversion of the rule of law.”

According to analysts, “This wanton disrespect for the court was a continuation of a noticeable disturbing pattern in the country where some powers feel they can act above the law and get away with it.

“This open confrontation with the judiciary must not be allowed to pass just like that. The only difference between an orderly society and anarchic one is the rule of law.

“The moment individuals can ride roughshod above the rule of law without consequence, anarchy is surely at the door .”

However, analysts observed that both factions may lose out in the power struggle if nothing urgent is done to save the party in the state.

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