It is almost certain that the last has not been heard of the recent judgment of the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja, which upheld the judgment of the Election Petition Tribunal that Alhaji Yahaya Bello was duly elected as the Governor of Kogi State. It will be recalled that Bello was nominated by his party, the All Progressive Congress (APC) to replace Abubakar Audu, who died before the conclusion of the November 21 2015 governorship polls. Audu was clearly in the lead in the elections when INEC declared it “inconclusive”, arguing that the margin of his lead was less than the total number of cancelled votes. After Audu’s sudden death, INEC asked APC to name his replacement for a supplementary election. The party after several horse trading in which the internal political configurations of Kogi state played out, selected Alhaji Yahaha Bello, who contested the governorship primaries with Audu. James Faleke, who was Audu’s running mate, felt that he should have been the rightful choice and declined Bello’s offer to be his running mate in the supplementary election slated for December of that year. Contesting without a running mate, Bello defeated the incumbent Governor Captain Idris Wada in the supplementary election.
Both Wada and Faleke challenged Bello’s election in the Election Petitions Tribunal chaired by Justice Halima Mohamed. Not only did Wada allege “gross irregularities” in the elections, he also asked the tribunal to determine whether Bello was qualified to be declared Governor when he had not taken part in all the electoral processes that led to the supplementary poll. He also argued that Bello went into the December 5, 2015 supplementary poll without a running mate. Faleke on his own contended that the governorship election was concluded on November 21 2015 and that Bello could not inherit the votes which he and Audu got as a joint ticket. He contended that he (Faleke) should be declared the governor of the state following Audu’s death.
The tribunal dismissed Faleke’s contentions for lack of merit. For Wada, it argued that he lacked the locus standi to challenge the process that produced Bello as APC’s governorship candidate in the state since he was not a member of the party.
The ruling of both the Election Petitions Tribunal and the Appeal Court in the Bello case raises a number of interesting issues: For instance the ruling that Faleke cannot lay claim to the votes polled before the death of Audu because the votes were meant for the party and not for the candidates contesting the elections, is likely to renew conversations on whether legislators who decamp to other parties under any reason should retain their seats. Following the ruling in the Bello case, it could be argued that the law recognises only parties, not individuals in the legislature. This means that there may be need for conversations on the appropriate relationship between an individual contesting for office under the banner of a party and the party itself as well as the relationship between the party which sponsored a candidate for office and that candidate after winning office. Right now this relationship seems vague and the ruling in the Bello case has only amplified that vagueness. What is the real meaning of party supremacy as intended by framers of our constitution?
Another interesting issue from the Appeal Court ruling of August 4 2016 is on the wider implications of Section 141 of the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended). It should be recalled that Section 141 of the 2010 Electoral Act was more of a legislative intervention following the ‘injustice’ in the Amaechi vs. PDP case, where Rotimi Amaechi, who did not present himself to the Rivers State’s electorate, was declared the Governor of Rivers State on the argument that he should have been the rightful governorship candidate of the party in Rivers, rather than Celestine Omehia. Section 141 of the 2010 Electoral Act was therefore a legislative intervention to ensure that only candidates who participated in all the processes in the election could benefit from the spoils of election. The interpretation of this section in the Bello case appears to suggest the need for another legislative intervention to clarify certain gray areas not envisaged by that section.
Initially the Faleke camp believed that section 141 of the Electoral Act would be used against Bello, since he merely participated in the primaries and not in the election proper and therefore could not be said to have participated in all the processes of the election. But Faleke was to learn that he too did not fully comply with that section because he did not take part in the party’s primaries that produced Audu as the party’s governorship candidate as he was chosen as Audu’s running mate only after the conclusion of the primaries. I believe that section 141 of the Electoral Act as interpreted in the Bello case raises the question of whether a Governor elect who is suddenly appointed to a higher office (as Atiku was in 1999) should be succeeded by his Deputy or runner-up to such a Governor during the primaries – bearing in mind that most running mates are appointed only after the conclusion of the primaries?
As many Nigerians eagerly await the legal fireworks at the Supreme Court, the generality of the people of Kogi state will be praying for a rapid conclusion of this process so that the government will settle down to the many challenges confronting the state. Obviously with concurrent judgments from both the Election Petitions Tribunal and the Appeal Court, Bello appears to be in a strong position since his opponents will now have to show that there had been miscarriage of justice at the two lower courts.
I am happy that after the Appeal Court ruling Governor Bello sued for peace and called on Faleke and Captain Wada and others challenging his declaration as the Governor of the State to join him in the onerous task of rebuilding the State. The Governor needs to demonstrate that his extension of the olive branch to his opponents was not mere rhetoric or even subtle triumphalism. Not only should he genuinely reach out to his opponents, he should also reach out to members of his party in the state. It should be recalled that members of the state’s party executive not long ago passed a vote of no confidence on him and asked him to resign for allegedly sidelining them in appointments and embracing the opposition PDP. Paradoxically a key plank of Bello’s victories at both the Elections Petitions Tribunal in the state and in the Appeal Court ruling was the supremacy of the party. Now given the notion of party supremacy embraced by both the Elections Tribunal and the Appeal Court, it will be an interesting conversation, whether a Governor should be made to resign if members of the state executive of his party pass a vote of no confidence on him and ask him to resign.
Prosecuting election petitions is not only a big distraction, it also does not come cheap. Most states of the federation, including Kogi state, are currently in financial distress. The state is for instance one of 11 states dragged to the International Criminal Court for non-payment of salaries by the rights group Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP). Since the discovery of crude oil deposits in the boundary areas of Kogi, Anambra and Enugu States, the affected communities have hardly known peace. Criminality is on the rise (as in most other states of the federation) – just as unemployment and growing poverty.
There can only be one state governor at a time. While it can be argued that the legal challenges in the state are beneficial to our jurisprudence and help in deepening our democracy, at the end of the day what most peace- loving people in the state yearn for most is the forging of elite consensus on how to resolve the numerous developmental and social challenges facing the state.