It is a well-established fact that election crisis have always been a dominant feature in African democracy in general and Nigerian politics in particular. Consequent upon this, the Judiciary is considered to be a dependable arbiter in resolving the crises when they arise. This is why in Nigeria, thousands of election petition cases flood the judiciary, making their resolution a daunting task. However, it is worthy of appreciation that there is a judiciary that is equal to the task of ensuring that party politics did not diminish the nation’s nascent democracy.
To ensure that the masses, especially at the grassroots, are allowed to choose their own leaders, the Judiciary has always ensured that their votes count. This is why apart from the election petition cases filed at various tribunals that had been set up months before the general elections in February and March, there are some cases that were already in courts before the elections were held.
Notable among such cases are from Rivers, Zamfara and some other states that had ‘unresolved’ party primaries. That of Rivers State was put to rest by the Supreme Court last week. The apex court dashed the hopes of the All Progressives Congress, APC, to challenge the outcome of the 2019 general election in the state.
The court, in a unanimous ruling by a seven-man panel of Justices led by the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad, dismissed the appeal filed by the party to reverse court judgements that led to the exclusion of its candidates from vying for any elective position in the state.
The APC had, through its lawyer, Mr. Jubrin Okutekpa, SAN, approached the apex court, praying it to set-aside its previous decisions that validated lower court judgements that barred it from participating in the State elections. The ruling party urged the Supreme Court to invoke its original jurisdiction under section 22 of its Act, and review all the circumstances that resulted to the exclusion of all its candidates.
It prayed the apex court to set aside the judgement of the Rivers State High Court which held that it did not conduct valid primary elections to nominate candidates for various positions in the state. The APC further asked the Supreme Court to reverse its previous position that its appeal against the verdict of the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal, was merely academic. Delivering ruling on the matter, the apex court said that it was satisfied that the appeal by APC was grossly incompetent and deserved to be dismissed in its entirety. The lingering crisis of Zamfara APC primaries has also been moved to the Supreme Court and is expected to be decided on soon.
Although the case in Zamfara state differs from that of Rivers, the Supreme Court is expected to critically look into the various arguments. In it, there was allegation that INEC rushed to announce that Zamfara APC has not conducted primaries even before the expiration of the deadline. The Independent National Election Commission, INEC, also said its office in Zamfara state reported that APC Zamfara state had not conducteddid not conduct primaries. However, the Zamfara state office of the electoral body managed to released its report on the primaries, published list of the political parties that conducted primaries in Zamfara state, each with its winners in all the positions, APC included.
The case had also led to the non-issuance of Certificates of Return by the electoral umpire to the governor-elect of the state, Alhaji Mukhtar Shehu Idris and all the State House of Assembly members-elect.
Last week, Alhaji Idris, who won the election asked INEC to release his certificate of return having being declared winner of the March 9, 2019, governorship election in the state. It is note-worthy that the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, that came a distant second in the election, failed to score the required number of votes in all the local governments in the state. The electoral body had withheld the certificates of return of the governor-elect and other members of the state’s House of Assembly-elect, following the judgement of the Court of Appeal division in Sokoto state.
Shortly before the governorship election in the state, a High Court in Zamfara, in resolving the controversy surrounding the primary election of the APC ruled that the party conducted primary election in Zamfara State, and ordered INEC to accept the list of candidates submitted to it by a faction of the party.
The party had maintained before the court that the primary was monitored by officials of INEC which is also in line with the electoral guideline for the conduct of elections in the state. Less than a month after the election was conducted and winners declared, an aggrieved party in the election approached the Court of Appeal, Sokoto, to challenge the judgement of the high court.
The court, in its ruling, set aside the judgment of the High Court of Zamfara State directing INEC to accept the list of candidates submitted by a faction of the APC after having found that there was flagrant breach of the Electoral Act 2010 and the Party Guidelines for the conduct of the party’s primary election.
Also, on February 22, the Court of Appeal in Abuja, quashed a high court judgement which upheld the decision of INEC not to accept the list of candidates of the All Progressives Congress in Zamfara State for the 2019 general elections.
In a unanimous judgment by a three-man panel of justices, the Court of Appeal set aside the judgment of an Abuja Federal High Court delivered on January 25 on the grounds that the court had no jurisdiction to examine the merits of the actions of the APC, adding that the matter is statute barred having been filed outside the 14 days provided by law and therefore incompetent.
The panel, led by Justice Abdul Aboki, which also included Justice Peter Ige and Justice Leonard Adah, ruled that the action was brought despite another suit at the Zamfara State High Court in suit no: ZMS/CS/52/2018, which made it an abuse of court process. An appeal has also been filed at the Supreme Court against the Appeal Court judgement to determine the case one way or the other but whichever way it goes, the APC may suffer the consequence.
Like never before, the intervention of the national body of the party is needed at this point to consolidate their victory at the polls. In a letter to the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmud Yakubu, attached to the notice of appeal filed at the Supreme Court, the governor-elect drew his attention to the notice of appeal. He said through his counsel, Mahmud Magaji, SAN, that ‘’It is worthy of note that the purported judgement of the Court of Appeal, was not a positive direct order. But, assuming there is even a court order arising from the said judgement, we still have 21 days within which to appeal, thus, putting into abeyance the said judgement until after the laps of the said 21 days.
‘’Finally, we urge INEC to abide fully with the provision of section 143 of the Electoral Act by releasing the certificate of return to Zamfara state governor- elect as well as all the state members-elect.’’
According to the Electoral Act, section 143(1) states, ‘’If the election tribunal or the court, as the case may be, determined that if a candidate returned and elected was not validly elected, then, if notice of appeal against that decision is given within 21 days from the date of the decision, the candidate returned as elected shall, notwithstanding the contrary decision of the election tribunal or the court, remain in office pending the determination of the appeal.’’
Section 143 of the Electoral Act also states, ‘’If the election tribunal or the court, as the case may be, determined that, a candidate returned as elected shall, notwithstanding the contrary decision of the election tribunal or the court, remain in office within which an appeal may be brought.”
Stakeholders in the state and observers had hoped that the case would not be allowed to degenerate to the level it is presently. According to them, the APC National Headquarters should have called all warring factions to order. To them, this is not the time to take sides. The elections in the state have been won and lost. The APC had a beautiful showing at the election by winning the governorship and all the seats in the State House of Assembly.
With this brilliant performance, all the national body of the party needs to do now is to sit at a roundtable and resolve the issue, not minding the appeal at the Supreme Court. During the roundtable, the party should not lose sight of the fact that there may be one side out of the two sides that does not care if what the party had built in the state since 2015 till date is destroyed in one day.