PERSPECTIVE – Another surprise from PDP’s bag of tricks

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By Ehichioya Ezomon

Time and again, the Peoples Democratic Party has demonstrated a capacity for declaring any election it loses – and unfavourable court judgments therefrom – as a mandate stolen from the party through manipulation of the electoral processes.

No matter how credible the poll, how roundly it’s beaten, and the margin of the lead, the PDP would hold its main rival, the All Progressives Congress, in cahoots with the electoral umpire and security agencies as denying it the position(s) on offer.

When the PDP lost the October 2020 Ondo gubernatorial race, on the back of its surprise win of the Edo State poll the previous month, the party resorted to its pastime of blaming the APC.

The PDP refused to admit its miscalculation in the choice of its deputy governorship candidate, leading to divided votes the party could’ve secured to stand a chance at the balloting.

The voting over, PDP shifted attention to the courts, to “retrieve our stolen mandate” it didn’t win, as the Independent National Electoral Commission posted results from polling units on its portal for “real-time viewing.” Disappointed by the Election Petitions Tribunal and Appeal Court, the PDP moved to the Supreme Court.

As the apex court also refused it judgment by a split decision of four to three, the PDP loudly interpreted the minority ruling as ousting the APC’s caretaker committee and its chairman, Governor Mai Mala Buni, and called on the INEC to delist the APC.

But when the APC publicised the aspects of the ruling that touched on the two thorny issues, it’s mum in the PDP camp, prompting speculations that the party might finally rest the case.

Keen watchers of the polity weren’t deceived, though, as they predicted the PDP would pull another surprise from its “bag of tricks” to assail the APC, and the party didn’t disappoint.

The PDP has upped the ante by demanding that Buni be sacked as governor of Yobe State, for holding dual “executive” positions simultaneously, and “breaching” the amended 1999 Constitution of Nigeria and the constitution of the APC.

Malam Buni was elected governor in 2019, and in 2020, he’s appointed by the National Executive Committee of the APC to head the Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee, even as he retains the position of governor.

This formed the premise of the PDP appeal at the Supreme Court, arising from rulings of the lower courts that affirmed the declaration of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) as winner of the Ondo poll.

The PDP and its candidate, Eyitayo Jegede (SAN) had argued that Akeredolu was wrongly nominated, as Buni, who forwarded His name to INEC, was in violation of section 183 of the 1999 Constitution, and article 17(4) of the APC constitution.

Section 183 of the 1999 Constitution states that: “The Governor shall not, during the period he holds office, hold any other executive office or paid employment in any capacity whatsoever,” while article 17(4) of the APC constitution stipulates that: “No officer in any organ of the Party shall hold executive office in government concurrently.”

So, to the PDP, the Supreme Court should hold that Akeredolu wasn’t qualified to contest the 2020 poll, as Buni breached the law by forwarding Akeredolu’s name to INEC.

But the court, in a split decision of four to three on July 28, 2021, ruled that Akeredolu was lawfully nominated, as Buni only represented the APC that fielded Akeredolu for the election.

The court held that “the law is and remains that the provisions that govern sponsorship and nomination of candidates in an election are: Sections 31 and 87 of the Electoral Act, 2010, as amended.”

“That sponsorship of a candidate in an election is that of the party and not the individual Officer… forwarding the name of the candidate,” the court ruled, adding that, “there is no provision in the Electoral Act prescribing any form for forwarding or submission of the sponsored candidate of a political party in an election.”

On PDP’s plea to disqualify Akeredolu on the basis of Buni violating section 183 of the 1999 Constitution, the Justices held that “no other Law/Act can be relied upon to disqualify a candidate in an election save for the provisions of Section 182 of the CFRN.”

“Sections 177 and 182 of the CFRN, which make provisions for qualifications and disqualification of candidates for Governorship election, are exhaustive and leave no room for any addition.”

The Justices declared that failure of the appellants to join Buni as a respondent was fatal to their case, rejected their entreaty to be declared winner, and affirmed Akeredolu as duly elected.

But in a minority ruling, three of the Justices questioned the validity of the Buni-led caretaker committee, which it declared illegal, and held that the APC erred by allowing a sitting governor as its national chairman, against section 183 of the 1999 Constitution.

The Justices also ruled that it wasn’t mandatory for the appellants (Jegede and PDP) to join Buni, as the governor was an embodiment of the APC that’s a respondent in the matter.

The PDP, relying on the minority ruling, and the unanimous opinion of the Justices that politicians should obey the laws of their parties, has gone to court again, to demand Buni’s sack as governor.

The PDP also prays the court to disqualify Buni’s deputy, Idi Barde Gubana, from taking over as governor, and install PDP’s Amb. Umar Iliya and Dama Baba Abba Aji, as governor and deputy governor.

Besides, the PDP seeks a declaration that Buni’s actions, as the chairman of the APC caretaker committee, while he remains the governor of Yobe State, “are wrongful, null and void.”

 

In an originating summons filed at the Federal High Court in Abuja on August 12, 2021, through Chief Emeka Etiaba (SAN), the PDP poses several questions for the determination of the court:

* Whether the 1st defendant (Buni) did not breach the clear provisions of section 183 of the 1999 Constitution when, as the governor of Yobe State, he accepted the 3rd defendant (APC) appointment as its caretaker Committee Chairman and proceeded to occupy the office.

* Whether the 1st defendant, who is the governor of Yobe State and the Caretaker Committee chairman of the 3rd defendant (APC), has not ceased to hold the office of Governor of Yobe State, having regard to the provisions of section 183 of the 1999 constitution.

* Having regard to the clear provisions of section 187(1) of the 1999 constitution and the state of law, whether the 2nd plaintiff (Dama Baba Abba Aji), can lawfully occupy the office of the governor or deputy governor of Yobe State upon the cessation of Governor Buni occupation of the office.

 

The PDP urges the court to order the Chief Judge of Yobe State or any other relevant judge, “to immediately swear in Umar Iliya and Dama Baba Abba Aji as governor and deputy governor of the state, respectively, as the offices have become vacant.”

The PDP, aiming to swing the matter it failed to achieve at the polls, and through the lower and appellate courts, may appear as an interloper, a “busy body” prying into the home affairs of a rival.

Anyway, didn’t Jegede say he declined to join Buni as respondent because the governor has immunity? Has Buni waived the immunity, or the PDP really believes he has forfeited the governorship by chairing the APC caretaker committee?

The APC has slammed the PDP as engaging in “abuse of court processes” that the APC hopes the court would punish. Secretary of APC’s caretaker committee, Sen. Akpan Udoedehe, said the PDP “is obviously executing a desperate and poorly-scripted plot at deflecting attention from its crisis of confidence.”

“The PDP is an ignominious rabble-rouser and has no locus to take any action on the internal affairs of the APC,” Sen. Udoedehe said, adding, “the Supreme Court has already affirmed the status and legality of the CECPC and that is all there is to it.”

The PDP is, indeed, hurting, as cacophonous voices have risen against the party chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, to resign his position in the National Working Committee.

So, what better way to arrest the rumpus than for the PDP to “regain its stolen mandate” in Yobe State! And what a master stroke that would be ahead of the crucial 2023 general election!

  • Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.

 

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