Two years after, pre-election crisis still rocks the seat of the caliphate
Last December 9th, the Supreme Court, while giving judgment on a suit filed by Senator Umaru Dahiru challenging the emergence, two years earlier, of Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, as the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), ordered that the case be commenced afresh from the High Court level.
The court had refused to align with the position of Tambuwal that since his party’s December 4, 2014 primary election has been overtaken by the April 11 governorship poll that he won, the litigation should be regarded as a mere academic exercise, a position that the Court of Appeal supported.
But the apex court, in a verdict that further raised the state’s political barometer, declared that the political parties’ internal electoral exercises are the very foundation on which the structures of governorship elections are built.
Dahiru had alleged that the APC primary election that was conducted at Sokoto’s Ginginya Memorial Stadium was held in a rancorous atmosphere devoid of proper coordination with the party’s guidelines and that the entire party machinery was illegally skewed to have the governor returned as the candidate despite wide opposition from majority of party faithful.
In the litigation that commenced on January 27, 2015, several weeks before the main election and which had traversed the full legal routes to the apex court, Dahiru also alleged that Tambuwal was not qualified to be the candidate of the party because the governor failed to fulfill the conditions stipulated by the party’s regulations for a member to be regarded as a standard-bearer.
While Tambuwal argued that Dahiru’s pleas, which were mainly requesting that the internal election should be cancelled, are frivolous and should be thrown away, the Supreme Court held that the case has merit and should be treated by the courts as such.
In ordering fresh trial, the judiciary had extended the debate on the controversy that surrounded Tambuwal’s candidature and prolonged the distraction being caused on governance by a party divided within its own ranks.
In broader perspectives, the controversy has thrown more light on the failure of political parties’ internal mechanism of accommodating new entrants into their folds and Nigeria’s inability to unburden the system of distractive litigations before inauguration of new administrations.
Tambuwal, as the Speaker of the House of Representatives, was one of the pillars of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that collapsed under the yoke of 2015 presidential election politics and culminated, for the first time in Nigeria’s history, in a defeat for the incumbent president.
With Tambuwal who was made Speaker by opposition elements to the detriment of a PDP leadership that couldn’t rein in its lawmakers and other recalcitrant members of the party, the politics in Abuja was practically heated to a boiling point making many analysts to predict that the end of Nigeria as a nation would come with the conduct of the 2015 election.
By the time the intense politicking that stretched the ruling party’s control of many of its leading members to the limit, reached its peak, five serving governors and scores of legislators at the two chambers in Abuja and numerous state lawmakers, have decamped from the party and pitched their tents with the newly-formed APC, an amalgam of leading opposition parties that had the common dream of taking power from the PDP.
The then two-term governor of Sokoto State, Aliyu Wamakko, who was one of the governors that abandoned the PDP for the APC in November 2013, had before the new political template, been grooming Dahiru, who followed him to the new party the following January, as his possible successor.
While Tambuwal held sway in Abuja as one of the rallying points of opposition politics even while still within the ruling party, defying all attempts to have him impeached, one of which led to a televised fracas on the hallowed floors of the Green Chamber, Dahiru, who was the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, was oiling a statewide machinery in preparation for the governorship election.
The state’s politics was however jolted by Tambuwal’s declaration of intention to contest the top seat following his formal decampment to the APC on October 28, 2014, less than 40 days to the scheduled primary election that would produce the candidate for the exercise.
Although this was contrary to the provisions of Section 87 of the Electoral Act 2010 and the APC Guidelines for Nomination for Public Offices (2014), which stipulated a certain period of membership before an aspirant can contest the shadow election, the provisions were said to have been waived to accommodate the new entrants.
The Speaker was reported to have settled for the governorship seat after making public his failed intention to have a shot at the presidency, a move that was said to have initially received the blessing of core South West politics before the cult-like following of Muhammadu Buhari in the North and the legendary Spartan lifestyle of the Daura General swayed the odds in his favour.
The inability of the powers behind the waivers, who were mainly operating at the party’s headquarters in Abuja where maneuverings for eventual decimation of the PDP were first line considerations, to carry the home crowd along, is believed to be one of the factors that led to the current litigation and the attendant distraction to politics and governance.
Although inside sources at the Sokoto Government House deny any distraction claiming that government is running at optimal level, outside sources said there is no way the protracted case would not affect government operations.
Many opposition elements and aggrieved members in the ruling party are said to be hoping for a success of the Dahiru case to bring a halt to the Tambuwal administration.
For the opposition PDP, which is waiting in the wings to reap maximally from the intra-party division in the APC, the litigation is an opportunity to take the trophy from the ruling party.
The PDP and its candidate in the election, Senator Abdulahi Wali, had applied to be joined in the matter claiming that with sufficient grounds for cancellation of the primary election, Wali should be declared as the winner “being the candidate that scored the second highest number of votes at the governorship election.”
The position of the PDP was that if Dahiru’s suit succeeds in destroying the process that produced Tambuwal as the candidate, Wali should be the beneficiary, being the only one with a clean mandate from his political platform. Last May however, in one of its earlier rulings, the apex court threw out the motion describing the PDP as “interlopers that lacked locus standi to join the case.”
Besides, the polity is being heated with speculations that Dahiru, by virtue of his former position as head of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, would use his influence to sway the bench in his favour, a position that was seemingly buoyed by the apex court pronouncement that refused to end the trial.
But Tambuwal’s Special Adviser on media, Imam Imam denied that the prolonged trial is having negative impact on government. He told The Guardian yesterday that the matter is a straightforward case between the party and only one member among many.
According to him, the litigation has no effect, “none whatsoever” on the activities of government or the party “because the entire party machinery in Abuja and in Sokoto, is in full support of the primary election that produced Tambuwal as the governor of Sokoto State.
“During the conduct of the exercise, all the necessary processes were followed to the letter. It is also noteworthy to state that it is only Dahiru that is in court. All other party chieftains are in support of the governor with no exception because they were all party to the clean process that produced him.
“As a family however, the APC is praying for a quick end to the litigation so that the false impression being created that that we are a divided house will be erased.”
But from indications that emerged from the commencement of the fresh trial last week at the Abuja High Court, a quick end to the litigation could take a long time to come as the matter has taken a new dimension that may further prolong the case.
Dahiru, through his lawyers, has sought a new prayer that he should be declared the outright winner of the governorship election since, according to him, he ought to have been the only custodian of the party’s mandate in the first place.
Being a new angle to the issue, Tambuwal’s lawyers have prayed for time from the court to react to the new development arguing that it was a deviation from the directive of the apex court that the case should be retried in its original form. The matter has been fixed for 28th of this month.
As the case begins a fresh path through the country’s labyrinth of judicial process, analysts believe the option of an out-of-court settlement, at least to guarantee political harmony in the state, should be explored by all the parties.
This, it is argued, will calm frayed nerves, douse the tension and put the APC in the best position to contest the 2019 general elections in a position of strength.
Being one of the major fallouts of the unprecedented politics of 2015 that almost drove the country to the edge of the precipice, a closure of the chapter would open a new frontier of political development that many other states with similar experiences recorded.
Sokoto is one of the very few states where pre-election matters are still in the front burner almost two years after the conclusion of the main election and about the only one where intra-party defections of the last days of the PDP administration, is still affecting intra-party politics.
In Kwara where current Senate President, Bukola Saraki and the governor, AbdulFatah Ahmed, decamped to the APC, the likes of Dele Belgore, erstwhile candidate of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) found their way out of the party to the PDP thereby expanding the political space for broader participation.
A very competent source within the seat of power however told The Guardian that efforts are being made to explore all options including accommodating the litigants and other aggrieved members with the ultimate aim of stopping the distractions and strengthening the foundation of the unity of the party in the state.
According to him, “the leaders of the party in the state are aware of the need for peace. We cannot afford to spend the next two years in court as we did the last two. The effect on the party and government will be too much.”