One of the fallouts of the tribunal ruling in the matter of the Taraba state governorship election is the debate on whether the governor’s primary held at the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) headquarters in Abuja was lawful.
According to the tribunal judges, the primary ought to have held at Jalingo as enshrined in electoral laws. The attempt by Governor Darius Ishaku lawyers to establish that Jalingo was unsafe for the primary was not accepted. But then Ishaku’s lawyers were right. At the time of the primaries, Jalingo was indeed not safe as we would promptly extrapolate from this piece.
At the time of the local government congresses meant to produce the delegates across the 16 local governments in Taraba, Alhaji Garba Umar (UTC) was in charge as the Acting Governor. At this point too, his plans to substitute his boss, the ailing Governor Danbaba Suntai, had reached fever pitch. Apart from literally conquering the House of Assembly and the state Executive Council (EXCO), UTC was angling to control the party machinery.
In fact, attempts upon attempts to force a change in leadership led by Victor Bala Kona were foiled. Bala Kona himself did not help matters as he prevaricated on the matter, seemingly confused about where his loyalty lay in the early months after Suntai’s air crash.
He was to however fall out with UTC when the Acting Governor began to work tirelessly to remove him (Bala) from office. The PDP structure at this point was essentially in the hand of the Suntai camp. And if UTC didn’t change the structure and machinery, he knew that his ambition was as good as gone. He had to act fast. At the end of the day, UTC settled for just one strategy: to control the delegates that would determine the outcome of the party primary.
This is an old trick whereby the governors have total control of the statutory delegates and those to be elected. The delegates system, for all its merits, normally excludes all the other contenders as the incumbent governor has an overriding control of the process.
So, come Election Day, UTC swung into action. The goal was to hijack the process from the PDP by the executive. To cut a long story short, the delegates’ election was one of the worst in the history of elections. The acting governor ensured he took over the process in the harshest way possible. The party Returning Officers were waylaid and beaten to order.
At the collation centre in Jalingo Motel, fierce soldiers and police men watched as UTC’s thugs intimidated their way through. Politicians like Hon. Abel Peter Diah, Abu Tanko Yusuf and a host of others were brutalised. What the UTC camp did was to throw away the list of delegates that managed to emerge through the skewed polls. Their names were crudely substituted with those churned up by the acting governor’s camp on foolscap papers (evidences of this were later tendered in court).
At the end, two sets of list emerged: what became known as the UTC list and the PDP list made up of duly elected members. But the government of the day naturally favoured the UTC list. The favoured list was made up of handpicked politicians whose sole goal was to anoint UTC as the flag bearer of the party.
A section of the PDP in the state led by Danladi Shehu, the deputy state chairman, was in cahoots with UTC and accepted the list. The PDP led by the state chairman, Victor Bala, had no option but to seek redress in court. The court cases went back and forth. At last, the court ruled that the matters of primaries are strictly in the hands of political parties. For the UTC’s camp, the verdict was a favourable one. It meant that the government favoured list, designed to benefit the acting governor and his cronies, was going to be used in the conduct of the primaries.
Back in the state, all was set for the primaries when UTC was suddenly removed from office by an order of the Supreme Court. An unfazed UTC wanted to go ahead with the primaries in spite of his removal from office.
His calculations were simple: the list of delegates would still favour him as they were made up his loyalists. On the other side, the PDP too was set for the primaries. A stage was set for confusion as UTC delegates flocked into Jalingo and took over the stadium and were bent on carrying out their primaries. The situation was tense and a clash was imminent. The INEC and party officials sent to Jalingo from Abuja for the exercise could not even go to the venue due to the tense atmosphere. They ran back to Abuja.
Sensing danger, the PDP headquarters agreed that the best thing to do was to wade into the matter. Their solution was that neither of the controversial lists of delegates would be used. Rather, the statutory delegates lists made of party officials and elected officials of state would be used. Abuja too would be the venue as Jalingo was already tensed up. Other states like Adamawa were also asked to conduct their primaries in Abuja. It was strictly a party affair as even the court ruled.
Eventually, the statutory delegates arrived in Abuja and the primaries held at the Wadata Plaza-headquarters of the PDP under the watchful supervision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and party officials.
How the APC got an official of INEC to testify in court that primaries did not hold is not hard to fathom: INEC is romancing the party in power.
Taraba Mandate Group